By Christina M Wilson
Isaiah’s Tale of Two Peoples (1) continues to the last verse of chapter 66. Isaiah presents two very different outcomes for two distinctly different groups of people. The text “switches” back and forth between these two groups. Both groups of people are national Israelites.
A Word About Names
The word “Israel” in any of its linguistic forms (Israel, Israelite(s), etc.) occurs only once in Septuagint Isaiah after Septuagint Isaiah 63:16. Readers can find the phrase “children of Israel” in Septuagint Isaiah 66:20.
20 And they shall bring your brethren out of all nations for a gift to the Lord with horses, and chariots, in litters drawn by mules with awnings, to the holy city Jerusalem, said the Lord, as though the children of Israel should bring their sacrifices to me with psalms into the house of the Lord. (LXE)
The entire verse is an extended metaphor. In the prior verse, God speaks through Isaiah to prophesy that missionaries will go forth from Jerusalem to distant Gentile lands. They will bring back Gentile believers (converts) as though they were thank offerings equivalent to the sacrifices and praise of the “children of Israel.”
This is the only occurrence of the word Israel in all of Septuagint chapter 66. Compare the Masoretic of Isaiah 66:20.
So what is the point? The point is that when the Lord addresses an audience in Septuagint Isaiah 66, he does not address Israel as a whole. Since the first verse of Isaiah 65, God when he speaks addresses either of two distinct groups within biblical national Israel. He no longer addresses the nation as a whole.
Two Groups Within Biblical National Israel
God addresses only one of Israel’s two groups of people as Sion (or Zion in the Masoretic, Isaiah 66:8) and Jerusalem (Isaiah 66:10). The word Sion likely refers to the people, while Jerusalem may refer to their location, and at times to the people and location combined. God loves Sion and Jerusalem, because these are his faithful ones who humbly and meekly tremble at his word (Septuagint Isaiah 66:2), i.e., obey him.
The other group of Israelites practices disobedience to God, while outwardly claiming to be true worshipers. While they practice ceremonial activities toward God (Isaiah 66:3-4), they do so while transgressing against his heart and will (Isaiah 66:3-4, 17, 24).
Much of Volume 2 of Isaiah involves switchbacks within the text that alternate between these two groups. Both groups belong to national biblical Israel. But God abundantly blesses only one of the two groups. One group obeys God; the other group disobeys. Eventually, Isaiah’s use of the names Sion and Jerusalem lands firmly upon the obedient. For a few examples of God’s sifting these two groups, see the prior posts Devotional 2.57, Devotional 2.58, and Devotional 2.59.
Again, it is important to realize that both groups ethnically belong to national biblical Israel. This explains why God no longer addresses “Israel” as a whole. The text has reached a point of final sifting. God addresses his obedient children as Sion and Jerusalem. The disobedient he addresses as transgressors (Septuagint Isaiah 66:3 and Isaiah 66:24).
The Light of Hindsight a Valid Approach
When it comes to today’s readers interpreting for themselves the Old Testament, I am firmly fixed on the belief that the New Testament teaches us that we should definitely apply the light of the New upon the Old to gain understanding of God’s intent. Which is more valuable? To understand the Old Testament as an imaginary listener might possibly have understood it several thousand years ago? Or to understand the Old Testament as God wrote it and intended it to be understood in the light of his Son, Jesus Christ?
When we read Isaiah today, we have the knowledge of God’s Servant Christ in his fulfilled reality, the guidance and light of God’s Holy Spirit living within the hearts of believers, and the facts of history shortly after our Lord’s appearance. God does not call us to return to the darkness surrounding most Israelites in the days before the heavens, the earth, humanity, and history permanently changed. In view of the resources available to us, it would be foolish for us to do so.
A New Testament Hermeneutic
The following verses all speak of God’s manner of “hermeneuticking” (interpreting by application of hermeneutics) the Old Testament in light of the advent of God’s Servant, Jesus Christ. Jesus’s own hermeneutical key was himself.
John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (ESV)
Luke 24:25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!… 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted [Greek, “hermeneuticked,” διερμήνευσεν, Strong’s 1329] to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. ESV)
Peter presents the Old Testament prophets peering forward in time. They asked to whom or when their prophecies applied. Peter answers that the Holy Spirit revealed to them that they spoke of Christ. And, further, those prophets served not their own audiences of their own day, but a future audience. That audience, says Peter, is his audience. His audience consists of those who have received the “good news,” or the gospel message.
We are part of that same audience, because the “age” has not changed. We continue to live in the age of evangelization, the missionary spread of the Gospel, and the harvest into God’s “temple” of new believers from all over the world (including today’s Israel.) Now, if the Old Testament prophets looked forward to us, then Peter surely is encouraging us to take our light when we look back on them.
1 Peter 1:11 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)
And in the following verse, the Apostle Paul bluntly states that the “things” that happened to God’s Old Testament people God intended for us.
1 Corinthians 10:11 These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. (NET)
Further, Paul specifically states that those alive in his day were those upon “whom the ends of the ages” had come. In my vocabulary, end means end. There will be no further historical ages. We are in the last age, the final age. A literal, plain speech approach to Paul’s words can only mean this one thing, “… our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.”
Hermeneutics and Switchbacks
So, what does all this have to do with switchbacks? Hasn’t this post wildly departed from Isaiah 66? Not really. I have been describing the hermeneutical method I use as I interpret these last verses in Isaiah.
1 This is an imaginary title I have chosen for Volume 2 of Isaiah.