By Christina M Wilson
Before moving on to Isaiah’s next theme of condemnation versus blessing in Devotional 2.73, let us consider a brief recap. Isaiah has carried us deep into the vision of God’s heart for the future of his people. Ceasing to be angry, he will forgive their transgressions and shortcomings. He will send his Servant to them as a sacrifice (Isaiah 53:4-9). The prophet speaks of resurrection for his Servant and the victory of justification (Isaiah 53:10-11). He will inherit many children (Isaiah 53:12), largely from among the Gentiles (Isaiah 54:1-3). (See also Septuagint Isaiah 53 and 54.) The good news of God’s favor and blessing upon his reconciled children continues through all of chapters 54, 55, and up through 56:8. Then, quite suddenly, the comfort ends. The text picks up once more the strain of condemnation for Israel’s stubbornly rebellious leaders, which the prophet develops in previous chapters. Here is where we begin the section for today, Septuagint Isaiah 56:9-57:13a (LXE).
Sadly, the text returns to the theme of condemnation for Israel’s stubbornly rebellious leaders in Septuagint Isaiah 56:9-57:13a. Isaiah uses no “time markers” in this portion. That is, he makes no statements, such as, “Now we look forward to what comes after the Servant… ” Or, “This looks backward to just before the exile into Babylonia.” In fact, the text presents not a single transition word or phrase. The prophet simply shifts gears abruptly. Therefore, the reader must read, reread, compare text with text within Isaiah, and prayerfully consider to what time this portion refers (see 1 Peter 1:10).
Bearing these thoughts in mind, it would appear that Isaiah returns to the time just before the exile. The leaders sacrifice to idols and erect memorials to their false gods. They even sacrifice their children “in the valleys among the rocks” (LXE, 57:5).
Who Is the Speaker?
The Lord himself speaks throughout the section immediately preceding 56:9 (LXE). Readers must go all the way down to 57:10 to find definite indications that the Lord continues to speak. This, however, appears to be so. It is the Lord who describes the infidelity of the “lawless children.”
57:3 But draw you near hither, you lawless children, the seed of adulterers and the harlot. (LXE)
Twice, the text refers to the ones whom the Lord condemns as “children” (See 57:3 just above). These are not “foreigners” or “Gentiles” or “immigrants” (proselytes). Hear what Isaiah writes.
57:4 … are you not children of perdition? a lawless seed? (LXE)
The Lord further describes these false children and names their actions.
56:10 See how they are all blinded: they have not known; they are dumb dogs… 11 Yes, they are insatiable dogs, … and they are wicked, having no understanding: all have followed their own ways, each according to his will. (LXE)
57:8 … Did you think that if you should depart from me, you would gain? you have loved those that lay with you; 9 and you have multiplied your whoredom with them, and you have increased the number of them that are far from you, and have sent ambassadors beyond your borders, and have been debased even to hell. 10 … you said not, I will cease to strengthen myself: for you have done these things; therefore you have not supplicated me. 11 Through dread of whom have you feared, and lied against me, and has not remembered, nor considered me, nor regarded me, yes, though when I see you I pass you by, yet you have not feared me. (LXE)
As so frequently in Isaiah, the Lord sifts his people Israel into two groups. In the first group are those who will die horrible deaths and not receive mercy for eternity.
57:13a When you cry out, let them [the idols you worship] deliver you in your affliction: for all these [the idols] the wind shall take, and the tempest shall carry them away… (LXE)
In the second group are those upon whom he will display his mercy.
57:13b … but they that cleave to me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain. (LXE)
The text returns to the second group in verses 13 through 19.
Blessings for Those Upon Whom God Shows Mercy
Verse 13b, the transitioning sentence, is written above. Verse 14 mildly echoes Isaiah 40:3-4.
57:14 And they shall say, Clear the ways before him, and take up the stumbling blocks out of the way of my people. (LXE)
The First Blessing
God will send his first blessing to all those willing to receive it. The first blessing is his Servant, who will suffer as a sacrifice for their sins.
The Septuagint differs from the Masoretic in 57:14. Notice that the Septuagint (see above) includes a personal object phrase, “before him.” In this entire section of Isaiah, focused as the Lord is on the Servant, “him” would refer to the Lord’s Servant. In paraphrase, “Clear the ways before my Servant.” The literal meaning of “clear” is “cleanse” (New English Translation of the Septuagint, NETS), or “purge” (a translator’s note in Brenton). This is exactly what John the Baptist does when he calls the people of the land to repentance in preparation for the coming of the Lord (Matthew 3:1-3). The stumbling blocks the verse mentions are literally “thorns” (NETS).
Then, after the above verse, notice below how beautiful is the comfort God gives to both his sacrificial Servant and the people.
57:15 Thus says the Most High, who dwells on high for ever, Holy in the holies, is his name, the Most High resting in the holies, and giving patience to the faint-hearted, and giving life to the broken-hearted: 16 I will not take vengeance on you for ever, neither will I be always angry with you: for my Spirit shall go forth from me, and I have created all breath.
The Septuagint text above does not exclude the possibility that the first occurrence of the word “you” in verse 16 is God speaking directly to his Servant. The Servant is ever-present in Volume 2 of Isaiah (beginning in chapter 40). He is either directly in the text or hovering over it. God says, “I will not take vengeance on you for ever.” The word “you” is singular. This statement accords completely with the entirety of chapter 53. God did take vengeance on his Servant as a sacrifice unto death for the sins of his people (53:8). Yet, it was not forever. Septuagint Isaiah 53:10-12 describes what later comes to be known as Christ’s resurrection.
The Second Blessing
The second occurrence of “you,” almost immediately after the first one in 57:16, is plural. This “you” refers to the people. God will send his Spirit upon them. This is exactly what happens on the day of Pentecost in the upper room (Acts 2:1-4; 17-18). Having the Holy Spirit of God dwell among us restores what was lost in the Garden–life in God’s presence. And, the New Testament teaches that the blessing God gives to believers after the Servant’s sacrifice, resurrection, and ascension is even better than what Adam and Eve have in the Garden. There, God walks with them (Genesis 3:8-10). In the New Kingdom of God’s Son, the Holy Spirit lives in them.
A Third Blessing
A third blessing is comfort and peace. Verses 17 and 18 summarize Chapter 53. They refer to the Servant.
57:17 On account of sin for a little while I grieved him, and struck him, and turned away my face from him; and he was grieved, and he went on sorrowful in his ways. 18 I have seen his ways, and healed him, and comforted him, and given him true comfort; (LXE)
After these, verse 19 refers to the people who receive the Servant.
57:19 peace upon peace to them that are far off, and to them that are near: and the Lord has said, I will heal them. (LXE)
It is possible that the phrase, “the Lord has said,” in verse 19 refers to the Servant. Indeed, part of the Servant’s ministry includes healing.
Outcome for the Unrighteous
God, as speaker, closes chapter 57 with a summarizing statement of doom and gloom for the “ungodly.” These are they whom he describes and addresses in verses 56:9-57:13a. These are the “lawless children, the seed of adulterers and the harlot” (LXE).
57:20 But thus shall the unrighteous be tossed like waves, and shall not be able to rest. 21 There is no joy for the impious [ungodly], said the Lord God. (NETS)
An Unusual Tense
Notice that the translation just above says, “… said God.” This tense is unusual in Isaiah. It occurs in 39:6; 54:6; 57:19, 20; and twice in 66:9. The aorist translation “said” represents a “snapshot,” rather than the continuous nature of present tense. A “snapshot” is like a summary. In a sense, it expresses finality more than the present tense. For example, if a speaker “says” something in present tense, even though the statement may occur in the past, there seems to be an option that the speaker might change his mind. Present tense indicates ongoing speech. But if a speaker speaks (or spoke) in aorist tense, then that’s it. That statement sums up the long and short of it. In other words, it appears that God is not going to change his mind about this one. He speaks directly, clearly, and simply concerning the outcome for the ungodly.
An Important Conclusion
The Septuagint text presents in plain speech two different types of people within Israel. These are the ungodly (57:20), as distinguished from “the faint-hearted” and “the broken-hearted” (verse 57:15). This portion of Isaiah clearly teaches two distinct outcomes, mutually exclusive, for these two groups of people. One group will receive blessings of forgiveness, peace, comfort, and the Holy Spirit. The text indicates that God will not bless the other group.
The Apostle Paul writes a single, isolated, cryptic comment in Romans 11:26, “all Israel will be saved.” This statement protrudes like an hermeneutic thorn that creates in its wake immeasurable havoc among Christian denominations. But I think it fair to say that Paul does not draw his stated conclusion from this portion of Isaiah. Up to this point in the entire book, God does not make “blanket” promises that apply to “national” Israel as a whole.
Here in chapters 56-57, God through the prophet clearly presents two types of Israelite. He will save the one, but not the other. God applies his promise of blessing to the broken-hearted of his people, those who are amenable to his Servant. The other group he labels with the harshest of terms and appears to cast out of his kingdom. Please, I am not arguing with Paul, I am merely stating that in this portion of Isaiah, there is no statement to the effect that “all [national] Israel will be saved.”
Consistently in Isaiah, “Israel” appears as a heterogenous group. God in Septuagint Isaiah does not give promises of salvation as a blanket statement to the nation of Israel as a whole. Rather, he gives his promises to his people. Sometimes he calls these people “Israel,” or “Zion.” But chapters 56-57 indicate in plain speech that God does not welcome into his assembly everyone found to be of Israelite descent. And, in Septuagint Isaiah 56:3-8, God welcomes among his people the eunuch, the foreigner, and worshipers from “all nations” (all those whom “national Israel” formerly excluded). The “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) is not an ethnically or socially identifiable group identical with national Israel. Rather, the “Israel of God” are those who submit to God’s salvation through the sacrifice of his Servant. Some of these are ethnic Israelites, and many are not.