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MESSIAH AND HIS KINGDOM 3: ISAIAH DEVOTIONAL JOURNAL 31

Isaiah 11:1-12:6   Link to LXE

continued from Journal 30

The Remnant

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 11Isaiah 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.

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1 “Scripture taken from the St. Athanasius Academy SeptuagintTM. Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

 

Isaiah: A Personal Devotional Journal–8

One of my favorite biblical phrases from a years’ old memory is, “clear shining after rain.” It’s found in 2 Samuel 23:4, in David’s last words. It’s phrased like that in the King James and New King James:

2 Samuel 23:4 And he shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises, A morning without clouds, Like the tender grass springing out of the earth, By clear shining after rain.’ (NKJ)

I believe this to be a prophecy of the King, the Lord, as Ruler of humankind. The feeling and images aroused by these words–the joy–are what springs to my heart as I continue in Isaiah 4:2-6. These five verses provide such a sharp contrast to the chapters preceding them, that they are like “clear shining after rain.” The entire passage from Brenton’s Septuagint reads:

Isaiah 4:2 And in that day God shall shine gloriously in counsel on the earth, to exalt and glorify the remnant of Israel.
3 And it shall be, that the remnant left in Sion, and the remnant left in Jerusalem, even all that are <1> appointed to life in Jerusalem, shall be called holy.
4 For the Lord shall wash away the filth of the sons and daughters of Sion, and shall purge out the blood from the midst of them, with the spirit of judgement, and the spirit of burning.
5 And he shall come, and it shall be with regard to every place of mount Sion, yea, all the region round about it shall a cloud overshadow by day, and there shall be as it were the smoke and light of fire burning by night: and upon all the glory shall be a defence.
6 And it shall be for a shadow from the heat, and as a shelter and a hiding place from inclemency of weather and from rain. (LXE)

{1) Gr. written for life}

Every verse in this portion connects with other portions of Scripture, many in the New Testament.

But first, whom is Isaiah addressing in this portion? Verses 3:16-4:1 appear to have been spoken in their entirety by the Lord, since they flow unbroken from verse 16, which says, “Thus saith the Lord,…” (LXE, Seputagint, Brenton). That section is all judgment against “the daughters of Sion.” (For an analysis of who these daughters may be, see Journal 7.)

In great contrast to the prior section, Isaiah 4:2-6 is a segment of restoration, not judgment. According to the Septuagint, it is addressed to (that is, written about), the remnant. This word occurs three times in two verses (that’s lots! See the text above.) For a word analysis of the “remnant”, see Journal  2 and Journal 3. In the ESV and NET, the word remnant does not appear. In verse 4:2, the ESV uses the word “survivors,” and in verse 3, the phrases, “he who is left,” and “remains.” The NET writes, “those who remain,” in verse 2, and “those remaining,” and “those left,” in verse 3. These words, “survivors,” “remains” and “left,” are lexical synonyms provided by Thayer (for all three phrases) and BDAG (for the latter two phrases). The Greek words themselves are καταλειφθὲν and ὑπολειφθὲν. (1)

No matter which version one uses, the text is clear that Isaiah here refers to a different group of people than the previous text. Verse 4 declares that the Lord will “wash away the filth” and “purge out the blood from the midst of them” with “the spirit of judgment, and the spirit of burning.” That is to say, the people described in Isaiah 2 and 3 have been washed away and purged out. These verses talk about the “survivors,” the “remnant,” those who are “left,” and those who “remain,” after the purging has been completed. These verses are not a prophecy of what shall happen to the unrepentant sinners, those whom Isaiah says never repent, those who choose to cling to their ways, those who never turn back to the Lord with an admission of their wrongdoing. Those people will be removed. These words are for (about) the ones who remain after that process has been completed.

Why is this important? 

I have presented a case for two distinct audiences whom Isaiah addresses or speaks about. One audience is the bulk, the majority, of the nation. The second audience is the remnant. The destruction of judgment is determined for the bulk. Repentance and cleansing are prophesied for the remnant. The alternative to this explanation is that the Lord does not mean what he says and does not say what he means.

The bulk of the text so far has described the great anger of the Lord against, as he says, “my people.” He makes statements such as the following:

Isaiah 2:20 For in that day a man shall cast forth his silver and gold abominations, which they made in order to worship vanities and bats; 21 to enter into the caverns of the solid rock, and into the clefts of the rocks, for fear of the Lord, and by reason of the glory of his might, when he shall arise to strike terribly the earth. LXE

Isaiah 3:25 And thy most beautiful son whom thou lovest shall fall by the sword; and your mighty men shall fall by the sword, and shall be brought low. 26 And the stores of your ornaments shall mourn, and thou shalt be left alone, and shalt be levelled with the ground.

Am I saying that if one of the wicked people with whom the Lord is so angry repents, that the Lord will not forgive them? No, of course not. But nowhere in the context of chapters 2:5 through 4:1 do we read of any of the wicked repenting. If they did, of course they would be saved. Where Isaiah 2:19-21 is quoted in the New Testament, Luke 23:30 and Revelation 6:16, repentance is also not a theme. Old Testament history bears out that in the period before the exile, the time period when Isaiah was writing, there was never a national repentance. The people were removed, the temple was destroyed, and the nation around Jerusalem flattened.

In Isaiah 4:2-6 then, as regards a national restoration, this will occur only insofar as the nation as a whole repents. How far into the future does this prophecy extend? After Isaiah wrote these words, Babylon did destroy the nation and remove its people. Afterwards, a post-exilic remnant returned, Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple, Herod rebuilt that temple, Jesus prophesied its destruction (Luke 23:28-31), Jesus died and rose again for the whole world, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 70 A.D., and the Jewish people were brought back by the Allied powers after the war. Has the nation as a whole repented? Not yet. However, this glorious portion of Isaiah speaks to a repentant remnant. Whether that remnant will include the entire bulk of the current or a future nation remains to be seen. Whatever happens does not change the necessity of repentance.

If the reader does not hear Isaiah speaking alternately to two different audiences, they are left to think that God is saying in 4:2-6 and throughout Isaiah, Oh, it’s okay. I know I sound angry in these chapters, but don’t worry. Everything will turn out all right in the end. You don’t have to do anything. I will cleanse all your sins and everything will be wonderful in the end.

But that’s not what Isaiah teaches. He teaches that God will cleanse the nation by removing those who persistently disobey his commandments to do good, care for the poor, remain faithful in his worship, follow his law. Those people, the bulk, will be removed, and the ones who survive that process, because they repent and look to God, have a glorious future. They are the remnant God chooses to bless.

God is not “schizophrenic,” as in that word’s popular, metaphorical usage, as one who frequently and unpredictably changes. “Numbers 23:19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (ESV)

Learning to spot the changes of audience in Isaiah helps enormously in understanding the singular pupose of God in this book.

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1 The Septuagint, which is the Old Greek and its more modern counterparts, was translated from a Hebrew textual tradition that was not the Masoretic. (Yes, way back in the olden days, way back, there was more than one Hebrew textual tradition.) Most of our modern English translations follow the Masoretic. However, much of the New Testament derives its quotations from an unknown version of the Septuagint, not the Masoretic tradition of Hebrew text.

Most likely because of its translation and transmission history, the Septuagint is uneven in places. I generally don’t use it as a stand-alone Bible, but then, I don’t use most translations that way. I have a personal compulsion to check several versions for matters of interest, regardless of what I am studying. In general, though, I prefer the Septuagint for most of the Psalter and for this portion of Isaiah, as well.

Long ago, as a young Christian, I began with the NASB as my devotional and study Bible. After I discovered Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint, I noticed that the NASB often “neutered” (my own description) phrases about Christ in the Psalms. It has a tendency to obscure Old Testament passages with reference to Christ, that is, in comparison to the Septuagint. Where the Septuagint points to a definite Person, the NASB often chooses an indefinite pronoun or abstract noun. These are such general observations as to be academically useless, but I am speaking from my personal, devotional point of view. The Septuagint does not shy away from presenting Christ in the Old Testament, whereas certain modern translations do. This is why I grew to love the Septuagint and to prefer translations that remain more faithful to the original text, such as the ESV, and in former days, the King James Bible.

 

Isaiah: A Personal Devotional Journal–3

Isaiah 2:6 reads, “You, LORD, have abandoned your people, the descendants of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and embrace pagan customs.” (NIV)

The word “abandoned” in 2:6 is a different verb than the “left behind” verb of Isaiah 1:9. It means to let go of something, to “loose” it. So, for instance, if someone were holding the hand of a drowning person, or of a person hanging over a cliff, and “abandoned” them, the verb would indicate a letting go of their hand. Another example would be if an army were to withdraw from an area being threatened by an enemy force, leaving the inhabitants behind to fend for themselves, it would be “abandoning” them.

Interestingly, in comparison with the Septuagint Greek of Isaiah, Hebrews 13:5, originally written in Greek, uses both the verb “abandon” from Isaiah 2:6 and the word “left behind” of 1:9–

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” (ESV, unless otherwise noted, all quotations will be from the ESV).

The first verb is the one found in Isaiah 2:6, explained above. The next verb in Hebrews 13:5, “nor forsake you,” is the Greek verb found in LXX 1:9. This meaning is more subtle. It indicates the part that is left behind after something else has been chosen. For when the Lord says, “I will never forsake you,” it means he will never choose others but not you. Think of the foolish maidens who weren’t present with their lamps lit when the bridegroom came. The bridegroom selected the one wise maiden who had her lamp lit and was eagerly waiting for him. The bridegroom chose her and “left behind,” or forsook the others (Mat 25:1-13). Hebrews tells us that the Lord says that will never happen to his followers. He will never let go of them (“leave you”) and never depart to live without them (“forsake you”). οὐ μή σε ἀνῶ οὐδ᾽ οὐ μή σε ἐγκαταλίπω, Heb 13:5, Nestle).

How blessed is this reassurance given in the New Testament. But not so in Isaiah 2:6 and forward through 4:1. There God is very angry with his people and has indeed abandoned them. How can this even be?

Going back to Hebrews 13:5, we find that when the writer says, “For he has said… ” the quotation is actually from the Old Testament, not from our Lord in the New. In Joshua 1:5, the LORD (Yahweh, Jehovah) is speaking directly to Joshua just after Moses dies. He’s reassuring Joshua that he would always be with him, “I will not leave you or forsake you.” Joshua remained faithful to the Lord for his whole life, dying in faith. And, God kept all his promises to the people when he brought them out of Egypt.

But just as all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the LORD your God has given you, (Joshua 23:15).

There is a tough knot in the core of Christendom. Paul dealt with it in Romans. That is a belief that certain people feel they can claim the promises of God as an absolute guarantee that God can never, never break. “He said so, therefore… ” “If he doesn’t do what he promised, then he’s not God. Therefore, he needs to bless Israel.” Or, “I’m born again; therefore, God has no choice but to take me to heaven when I die.”

But nowhere in Scripture does it ever say that God rewards overt, willful, persistent disobedience (rebellion, changing of allegiance). In fact, Scripture everywhere claims the opposite. Joshua 23:15 begins with, “But… ” and continues with, “So the LORD will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the LORD your God has given you, 16 if you transgress the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.” That’s clear as day. And Isaiah is warning in 2:6-4:1 that what Joshua foretold in chapter 23 is about to happen unless the people repent.

“But, but, but…if God requires my faithfulness, isn’t that works? I’ve been taught, Once saved, always saved.” And, “I can never lose my salvation. Trusting in my faithfulness to God means not trusting in the completed work of Jesus Christ. His grace is sufficient to cover all my sin, even my unfaithfulness.” Show me a Scripture that says that.

Everywhere, but everywhere, the Bible teaches allegiance to God as a continuing prerequisite to his salvation. “But, but…” To say that we have no responsibility and no choice regarding that allegiance is to deny Scripture. God does not drag us into heaven against our will. The whole book of Hebrews is a warning against forsaking Jesus Christ. Chapter 11 is an exhortation to faithfulness. Christians so often quote the latter portion of 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and leave off (Yes! our verb) the first portion, which is a warning against loving money instead of trusting in Christ, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have… ”

Christians often say, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” (Heb 13:8). We need also to quote Malachi 3:6, “‘For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.'” If God does not change but is always the same, then the God who spoke Isaiah 2:6 hasn’t changed or gone away. Christ’s death on the cross doesn’t make that God of Isaiah disappear. So how do we reconcile these two extremes? A God of grace who always keeps his promise to bless and a God of wrath who punishes the wicked?

What needs to be reconciled? Grace and human responsibility. God’s indelible promises and his enduring wrath against his wicked people.

In answering these seeming contradictions, it seems impossible to escape the concept of the faithful remnant. First, the Bible everywhere teaches that people are saved by means of faith, that is, their belief in, hope on, obedience to, and allegiance toward God. “By grace you are saved through faith…” (Heb 2:8). But second, on the other hand,–although we haven’t gotten there yet, we will get to the rest of Isaiah 2:6-4:1–but in that passage God describes his aversion and repugnance to the wicked ways of his people. Isaiah 2:6 says that he has already “abandoned your people, the descendants of Jacob.” So on one hand, Isaiah 2:2-4 speaks of their final blessing, and on the other hand God abandons and punishes. What gives?

Reading all the way through Malachi 3 reveals the solution:

16 Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.
17 “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.
18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. (Mal 3:16-18 ESV)

These verses explain in a nutshell the concept of the faithful remnant. These are the ones whom God saves throughout the Old Testament and in the New Testament through Christ. Paul also explains the distinction between the two groups in Romans 9 and 11. Read those chapters with Isaiah in mind. God’s grace always forgives those who repent and believe (trust in, rely on, obey, and show allegiance toward) him. The rebellious (traitors), no matter their lineage, he rejects.

So, is this faithfulness of the remnant a matter of their own virtue, a matter of works righteousness? No. Paul explains, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Rom 11:5-6). It’s faith, but it’s a faith born of grace.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)

Nevertheless, we are the ones who must live out our lives. God does not live our lives for us. Down here on the ground, faith looks like a struggle. It looks like a struggle because it is a struggle. And living out our faith looks like choice, because without contradicting grace, it is a choice. It’s a gift and a choice at one and the same time. Faith is a choice that God’s grace allows and helps us to make. Those who perish do not make that choice, even when given plenty of opportunity. The lesson, as Paul teaches in Romans 11, is to accept the blessing of salvation with humility and thanksgiving, not taking it for granted, living in holy fear, lest the fate of abandoned Israel become our own. And we are to pray for Israel, that God’s grace would awaken and arouse them to living faith.

But this is what Isaiah is about: these two groups and God’s actions and promises for each. There is blessing for the one, and destruction for the other. Lord willing, we will continue.

 

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