A believing remnant whom God will spare from his devastating judgment has been a theme from the beginning of Isaiah. Eleven times Isaiah speaks of a remnant of Israel in chapters 1 through 12. Six of these references occur in chapters 10 and 11. The time frame of chapters 10 and 11 take the reader to the advent of Christ and at least as far as the present. Nowhere in the first twelve chapters does Isaiah ever say that all Israel will be saved. While I do believe that other portions of Scripture indicate this, it is not here, not now.
Isaiah 10:22 And though the people of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant of them shall be saved. 23 He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because the Lord will make a short work in all the world. (LXE)
Paul uses the above passage and others to explain how it is that Gentiles receive the Gospel and salvation. Simultaneously, for the most part, the bulk of Israel rejects that same gospel.
Romans 9:27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand 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)
God Remembers His Remnant
God does not forget his remnant of Israel. Chapter 11 picks up the theme begun in chapter 10. Isaiah weaves together the salvation promised the remnant with the salvation promised the Gentiles. Notice how he does this in the following verses.
Isaiah 11:10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall arise to rule over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust, and his rest shall be glorious. 11 And it shall be in that day, that the Lord shall again shew his hand, to be zealous for the remnant that is left of the people, which shall be left by the Assyrians, and that from Egypt, and from the country of Babylon, and from Ethiopia, and from the Elamites, and from the rising of the sun, and out of Arabia. 12 And he shall lift up a standard for the nations, and he shall gather the lost ones of Israel, and he shall gather the dispersed of Juda from the four corners of the earth. 13 … 16 And there shall be a passage for my people that is left [verb form of “remnant”] in Egypt: and it shall be to Israel as the day when he came forth out of the land of Egypt. (Isa 11:10 LXE)
The Remnant and the Gentiles
Jesus, Messiah, the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1 and 11:10), became the chief cornerstone of the Christian church. “In that day,”–the day of Messiah–the church included both the remnant of Israel and Gentiles. In addition to the verses already mentioned in Isaiah 11, Isaiah 12:4 makes this abundantly clear.
Isaiah 11:16 closes with mention of “the remnant of My people” (SAAS) (1). The very next verse, Isaiah 12:1, opens with the word, “And…” Grammatically, this “and” is a strong conjunction, και (kay). This word “and” connects the two paragraphs, which speak of the same topic. Therefore, when God addresses the people as “you” in chapter 12, he speaks to the same remnant, who is now worshipping him. God states the following.
Isaiah 12:1 And in that day thou shalt say, I will bless thee, O Lord… (LXE)
The conversation continues unbroken, as God speaks further to the same group of people, his remnant.
Isaiah 12:4 And in that day thou shalt say, sing to the Lord, call aloud upon his name, proclaim his glorious deeds among the Gentiles; make mention that his name is exalted. (LXE)
For proper understanding of the book of Isaiah, it is important to note that Isaiah includes both a Jewish remnant and Gentiles who turn to God in the day of Messiah. The New Testament, especially the book of Acts and the writings of Paul, bear ample witness to the fulfillment of these prophecies spoken more than 600 years earlier by the prophet Isaiah.
The prophet Isaiah uncovers a portrait of a glorious Messiah in Isaiah 11:1-5 and paints a picture of a glorious, peaceful kingdom in Isaiah 11:6-9. The vision includes Gentiles and the remnant of Israel and Judah in Isaiah 11:10-16. The images point to a heaven on earth. Up to this moment in Isaiah, there has been no mention of a suffering Messiah, nor of the cross. These will come later in the book. The entirety of Isaiah 12 is a joyous peal of praise on behalf of Jewish and Gentile believers.
Paul in Romans 15:12 cites Isaiah 11:10. The Greek versions of each are identical in the portion contained in the quotation marks.
Romans 15:12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” (Rom 15:12 ESV)
This passage and those similar to it demonstrate that the inclusion of Gentiles among Messiah’s kingdom people is not a historical, “great parenthesis,” as some dispensationalists teach, but that it was God’s plan from the beginning. Nor is this plan “hidden” in the Old Testament. Rather, Isaiah openly and clearly states it.
Reading the Septuagint translation of its ancient Hebrew text(s) (not necessarily in the Masoretic tradition) (1), casts much light on New Testament authors’ perception of the Old. This is because the Septuagint translation does not shy away from the prophetic revelation of Christ within its pages.
In the example below, the verse on the left is from the Septuagint. The one in the middle is based upon the Masoretic tradition. The text on the right is a translation of the Greek in which the New Testament was written. One can readily see that Paul drew heavily from the Greek Septuagint in his quotation of Isaiah 11:10.
The cumulative effect of many such verses is that a casual reader of the Old Testament might miss the full Christological intent of many Old Testament prophecies. (To learn more about the Christological revelations inherent in the Septuagint, readers may consult the following links Why the Septuagint? Part 1 and Why the Septuagint? Part 2, both of these written by JustOneSmallVoice’s author, Christina Wilson.) Christ is the rejoicing of the Christian heart (see Isaiah 12–all). Why would we want to obscure his presence in the Old Testament to the extent that it takes biblical scholars much time and effort to methodically uncover it? Fortunately, the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believing readers everywhere can point out Christ in a matter of seconds. This is why some scholars know where to look.
Isaiah 11:12 And he shall lift up a standard for the nations, and he shall gather the lost ones of Israel, and he shall gather the dispersed of Juda from the four corners of the earth. (LXE)
The Greek reads, “καὶ ἀρεῖ σημεῖον εἰς τὰ ἔθνη…” (LXT) The SAAS (St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint) (2) translates this phrase as, “He shall set up a sign for the Gentiles…”
Textual Notes for This Verse
The word translated “standard” in the majority of texts is translated as “sign” in the SAAS (see above). “Sign” is the word that John uses repeatedly in his gospel to indicate the miracles of Christ that point to his divinity (see for example John 2:11; John 3:2; John 6:30; and John 12:37.)
4. Finally, there is a passage in John which can seem something of a non sequitur in its context.
John 12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. [read, “Gentiles”] 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit…. 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 …32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:20-33 ESV)
INTERPRETATION: Some “Greeks,” or Gentiles, wanted to see Jesus. Addressing them primarily as Gentiles, Jesus immediately began talking to them about his being “lifted up from the earth.” He meant that he would be crucified on the cross. Jesus states that when he is crucified, he “will draw all people to myself.” “All people” is a single, straightforward Greek word meaning “everyone.” That includes Gentiles. So, when Greek Gentiles seek to speak with him, Jesus explains the one means by which Gentiles–and those of the circumcision–can be drawn to him. That one way is the cross.
Now immediately after this passage in John 12:20-33, Jesus speaks of himself as the “light,” and warns against their walking in the “darkness” (confer Isaiah 9:1-3). John the writer then breaks in and talks about the “signs” Jesus had done among all the people, including the Jewish leaders (see Isaiah 11:12–same word, “sign”.) Right after that, John quotes Isaiah two times and mentions him a third time (John 12:37-41). Clearly, John–interpreter supreme of Jesus’s life–was steeped in the prophecies of Isaiah.
Isaiah 11:14 And they shall fly in the ships of the Philistines: they shall at the same time spoil the <1> sea, and them that come from the east, and Idumea: and they shall lay their hands on Moab first; but the children of Ammon shall first obey [them]. (Brenton, LXE, 1844)
Isaiah 11:14 But they shall fly away in ships of allophyles; together they shall plunder the sea and those from the rising of the sun and Idumea. And they shall first lay their hands on Moab, but the sons of Ammon shall obey first. (Moíses Silva, NETS Isaiah, 2009)
When a reader lays aside presuppositions concerning Philistines as military enemies of Israel, it is well within the scope of reasonable possibility to read this verse as a prophecy of the missionary journeys of Paul and other early church evangelists to regions around the Mediterranean Sea. This is especially true in light of the other references to believing Gentiles in these chapters. Paul definitely accomplished some of his missionary journeys by boat on the sea.
The phrase, “… the children of Ammon shall first obey them,” need not be interpreted according to a presupposition that a military battle is being referenced.
1 First, the entire context of Isaiah 11 speaks of the peace between sets of former enemies in Messiah’s glorious kingdom.
2 Second, the passage is primarily about Messiah, not about a restored Israeli kingdom. One of the hallmarks of his kingdom is peace. An abrupt switch to Israel’s military targets would seem out of place, especially in light of verse 10. Isaiah 11:10 clearly states that “the root of Jesse,” Messiah, “shall arise to rule over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.”
3 Further, the context is missional. Verse 9 states, “… for the whole [world] is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as much water covers the seas.”
4 Finally, both Brenton’s translation and Silva’s indicate that the word “them” is not in the Greek text. The Greek simply says, “The sons of Ammon shall obey first.” Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:25-26 speak of the “obedience of faith.” The word “obedience” is a noun form of the Greek root that forms the verb “obey.” In context, “Ammon shall obey” is likely the positive response of faith to the preaching of the gospel. The context of the Romans 16 verses is in fact the revelation of Jesus Christ to the Romans, including Gentile believers.
In Isaiah 11:16, the prophet speaks of a remnant of his people in Egypt and a safe passage out, leading toward Israel, just as in the Exodus. In the following verse, Isaiah prophesies what God’s people will say to Him. In 12:4 is the prophecy that these redeemed of Israel shall exhort one another to “proclaim his glorious deeds among the Gentiles.”
Isaiah 11:16And there shall be a passage for my people that is left in Egypt: and it shall be to Israel as the day when he came forth out of the land of Egypt. 12:1 And in that day thou shalt say, I will bless thee, O Lord; … 2 Behold, my God is my Saviour; I will trust in him, and not be afraid: for the Lord is my glory and my praise, and is become my salvation… 4 And in that day thou shalt say, sing to the Lord, call aloud upon his name, proclaim his glorious deeds among the Gentiles; make mention that his name is exalted. (LXE)
In other words, Israel will no longer exclude and reject Gentiles from their worship of God. Rather, in this prototype of the good news of God’s favor, they will gladly share His glory with the Gentiles.
to be continued
1 Books that explore the textual tradition of the Septuagint are: 1) Dines, Jennifer M. The Septuagint. London and New York: T&T Clark, 2004; 2) Jobes, Karen H. and Moises Silva. Invitation to the Septuagint. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000; 3) Law, Timothy Michael. When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013; and 4) Marcos, Natalio Fernandez Marcos. The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Version of the Bible. Translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson. Netherlands: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000.