By Christina M Wilson
Septuagint Isaiah 61 describes the results of the Servant’s advent for the people of the Lord. Who are these people? Prior passages in Isaiah establish that God will bless Israel’s faithful remnant. Prior texts also establish that God will not bless the rebellious of the nation of Israel, even though they may be ethnic Israelites by descent (Isaiah Devotional 2.81). Further, the text of Isaiah continually makes reference to the inclusion of Gentiles as recipients of God’s blessings through his Servant (ibid; see also Isaiah Devotional 2.80).
So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:6)
In a sense, when God brought Gentiles into the blessings he bestowed on the remnant of Israel, he made the two one. What does Paul talk about in Ephesians 1:9-10 and 2:11-21, if not this? Consider also Romans 9-11. One can also read many of the parables of Jesus with the thought of “Jew” and Gentile in mind. Consider, for example, the parable of the great dinner (Luke 14:15-24) and the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).
Concrete or Spiritual?
Many Christians cling to the idea of two separate peoples of God. The first group comprises Israel of the Old Testament extended forward until the dawning of eternity. The second group comprises Christians. They place these groups on two separate tracks. To the first group, they reserve certain concrete blessings, such as land. To the second group, they assign spiritual blessings. But is this what Scripture teaches?
The current chapters in Isaiah are difficult to decipher. Does Isaiah intend the blessings he describes (land, gold, wealth of the Gentiles, position, honor–Septuagint Isaiah 60:9-21; 61:4-7) to be considered as concrete (physical, material) or spiritual? I propose that how one answers this question will determine one’s hermeneutic, rather than vice versa. How one reads Scripture is largely a matter of faith and preference, rather than a set of hermeneutic rules.
Contrasts Between the Spiritual and Concrete
My faith, heart-preferences, and subsequent hermeneutic have always caused me to read God’s word with spirit as a guiding principle, rather than adhering strictly to the concrete. I believe that when Isaiah speaks of the outpouring of the Spirit in Septuagint Isaiah 57:16; 59:21; and 61:1-3, he meant these words to be taken literally. The pouring out of God’s Spirit is much more than a sea change. It is impossible to overstate the significance of the permanent entrance of the Spirit into the human hearts of believers. The pouring out of God’s Spirit changes how we hear and read Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:9-16).
Jesus taught the same. The apostle John wonderfully presents two contrasting viewpoints in John 3:1-10 and John 4:5-15. Both the elevated rabbi, Nicodemus, the “teacher of Israel,” and the lowly, anonymous “woman at the well” represent the Old Testament viewpoint in which concrete realities dominate.
1. When Jesus teaches Nicodemus that he must be “born again” (John 3:3, 6-7), Nicodemus can perceive these remarks in concrete terms only. His is an Old Testament way of thinking. Likewise, when Jesus describes to the woman at the well the “living water” that he can provide, she perceives his remarks in concrete terms (John 4:10-15).
2. Jesus’s own viewpoint, however, was spiritual (John 3:3-8 and John 4:23-24). Nevertheless, Jesus continued teaching by means of parables. Parables express spiritual realities by means of concrete images and actions. Jesus knew that his audience could not yet receive pure spiritual truth, because the Spirit had not yet been given (Matthew 13:10-14; John 14:26). Paul speaks of this very topic in 1 Corinthians 2:1-16.
Hallmarks of Each
In a very general sense, some premillennialists tend toward concrete interpretations. Those, on the other hand, who see a single advent and a single and final second coming tend towards interpretation of certain concrete images as references to spiritual realities. In the same general sense, some premillennial interpretations tend to exclude Gentiles from many of God’s Old Testament promises. Whereas non-dispensational interpretations include believing Gentiles as recipients of God’s Old Testament promises, even though certain texts present these promises in concrete terms. I am far from alone in my interpretation that God intends the promises and descriptions of believing Zion in Isaiah 60 and 61 to include the multitudes of Gentiles who listen and obey God’s invitation to them to “Come.” God locates himself among his people, whom he calls Zion (Isaiah 51:16). And God includes among his people Gentiles whom he joins with the remnant of believing Zion (Septuagint Isaiah 60:3-4).
Isaiah straddles two eras. He lived in the era of concrete Israelite history. (This does not imply that Isaiah could not see spiritual realities the Lord showed him.) And, he prophesied to both concrete historical events (for example, the exile and return) and spiritual events–i.e., life in the Spirit in the Kingdom of Christ, as inaugurated on the day of Pentecost (Isaiah 44:3; 48:16; 59:21; Acts 2:1-4).
But Isaiah spoke to a people who knew only the concrete things of God. Humankind died to God after the fall in the Garden. People were cut off, separated from God. God’s living presence within humankind occurs on the day of Pentecost, when God sends his Spirit to dwell in and among believers in Christ. Pentecost follows the atonement–the putting away of sin and restoration of right standing with God (i.e., a return to holiness in Christ). Before Pentecost, Christ the Servant is already crucified, resurrected, and ascended. After this work, then Christ sends the promised Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Galatians 3:14).
Hear what the Apostle Paul says concerning life and the Spirit.
Romans 8:5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him… 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (ESV)
Because of the theological significance of Gentiles also receiving the Spirit of God, the Jerusalem council knew that Gentiles did not need to follow the circumcision precept of Moses in order to partake of fellowship with ethnic Jews who believed in Christ (Acts 15:7-9; Isaiah 43:5-7). The Spirit excels the flesh. Gentiles receive the greater blessing of the Spirit. What sense would it make to withhold from them the lesser blessings of concrete flesh (i.e., land, etc.)?
Septuagint Isaiah 61 follows God’s announcement of the New Covenant of the Spirit in Isaiah 59:21. It opens with the Servant’s proclamation of the promised Spirit upon him. These are the words that the Servant/Christ read aloud as he began his public ministry (Luke 4:16-21). The Servant is Christ. The word Christ means “anointed.” Anointed with what? God anointed his Servant with the Spirit (John 1:32-34).
Without doubt, Isaiah 61, especially in the Masoretic, lends itself to the interpretation of Gentiles becoming subservient to ethnic Israelites. (But even if this were true, Isaiah never introduces a “millennium.”) However, this interpretation does not agree with the vast bulk of Scripture, including other portions of Isaiah (some which lie ahead of us still). In my opinion, viewing Gentile believers in God’s Servant as co-workers with believing ethnic Israelites accords best with the bulk of Isaiah recorded outside of chapter 61.
There is but one God and one salvation of God through his Servant/Christ. And, God built this salvation upon the foundation of the prophets (Old Testament) and apostles (New Testament). Gentile converts come to God’s original olive tree, which is believing Israel. They acknowledge the God of Israel as the one true God. They acknowledge the believing remnant of Israel as the firstfruits of God’s salvation (Romans 11:16). In this sense Gentiles will serve Jerusalem (Isaiah 60:11-14), much as Christians today serve the Church. The remainder of Isaiah 60-61 bears witness that Gentiles are welcome co-participants and parents of the children of God’s people Jerusalem (Isaiah 60:1, 3-4).
Does God Favor Israel?
Does God favor Israel? Absolutely. God chose the ethnic family of Abraham, narrowed to the children of Jacob, to be his “special” people. He chose them to be the showcase of his love, grace, and justice. Through their ethnic seed, the Servant/Messiah was born (Romans 3:1-2; 9:4-5).
Nevertheless, God’s ultimate plan for his people Zion centers on his Son, the singular seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16). Ethnic Israelites, as well as every other ethnicity on the entire planet, will find their only permanent blessing in and through God’s anointed Servant/Christ. God’s spiritual blessing of eternal life in the very presence of God is primary. All concrete blessings, whatever they may be, are secondary.
I am a Gentile believer in Christ. Speaking as a Gentile, a former outcast of God’s kingdom (Ephesians 2:1-3, 11-12), my heart screams, “No!” to any biblical interpretation that would separate the Lord’s people into a hierarchy based upon ethnicity. We are all one in Christ (John 17:21-23; Ephesians 2:11-22, 14-16).
Septuagint Isaiah 61:10 … Let my soul rejoice in the Lord; for he has clothed me with the robe of salvation, and the garment of joy: he has put a mitre on me as on a bridegroom, and adorned me with ornaments as a bride. 11 And as the earth putting forth her flowers, and as a garden its seed; so shall the Lord, even the Lord, cause righteousness to spring forth, and exultation before all nations.
… next time, Lord willing, Septuagint Isaiah 62