Tag Archives: Isaiah

Israel and the Nations According to Isaiah: A Brief Survey

I enjoy reading large “chunks” of the Bible rather than taking in little “sound bytes” each day, because it better helps me understand the whole flow of a book in the Bible. Yesterday, I read through Isaiah. It doesn’t take as long as you might think…maybe an hour or less, and that was even with jotting down a few notes.

I know people like Derek Leman have written copious amounts about Isaiah and I will never match that level of scholarship. I’m just a guy who reads the Bible sitting on the patio in my backyard on a gorgeous southern Idaho summer morning. On the other hand, God didn’t write the Bible just for theologians and didn’t reveal His Word just to the highly educated:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

Matthew 11:25 (NASB)

I’m not knocking education. I believe in learning as much as you can. I’m just saying that the rest of us aren’t locked out of the Bible because we don’t have advanced degrees in theology or divinity.

I’ll try to keep this short (yeah, right) and I won’t share everything I wrote down about reading Isaiah, but I want to illustrate something about Israel and the nations from what I believe is Isaiah’s (and thus God’s) point of view. I want to illustrate that in Messianic Days both Israel and those nations who choose to cleave to Israel’s God will be serving God. What this means for us is that we Gentile believers, we non-Jewish disciples of Jesus (Yeshua) are not and do not ever become Israel. We have our own part to play in the redemptive plan of God.

A short tour of what it says about Israel and the nations in Isaiah. Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptural quotes come from the Stone Edition Tanakh:

If [Israel] would grasp My stronghold, then he would make peace with Me; peace would he make with Me. [Days] are coming when Jacob will take root; Israel will bud and blossom and fill the face of the earth like fruit.

Isaiah 27:5-6

Admittedly this is midrash, but the sages understand “My stronghold” to be the Torah, indicating that in Messianic Days, the Jewish people are still expected to grasp the Torah tightly and to observe the mitzvot.

Chapter 40 in its entirety speaks of the end of the Jewish exile and the return of the Jewish people to their Land, to Israel.

But you, O Israel, My servant, Jacob, you whom I have chosen, offspring of Abraham who loved Me — you whom I grasp from the ends of the earth shall I summon from among all its noblemen, and to whom I shall say, ‘You are my servant’ — I have chosen you and not rejected you.

Isaiah 41:8-9

Notice the language mentioning Israel and Jacob and the offspring of Abraham. This would seem to eliminate the possibility that God is talking about Jews and Gentiles. I suppose “offspring of Abraham” could be leveraged toward the Gentiles since Abraham is supposed to be the Father to many nations (Genesis 17:5) but Jacob and Israel used together can only mean the Jewish people. No non-Jewish person in their right mind would call themselves a Son of Jacob. Even modern converts to Judaism refer to themselves as “ben Avraham” (sons of Abraham).

Fear not, My servant Jacob and Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. Just as I pour out water upon a thirsty [land] and flowing water upon the dry ground, so shall I pour out My spirit upon your offspring…

Isaiah 44:2-3

This connects to the New Covenant made with Israel and Judah and the giving of the Spirit as we see in Ezekiel 36 and Acts 2. Verse 6 in the same chapter says God is:

King of Israel and its Redeemer.

Verse 21 states:

Jacob and Israel, you are My servant.

Isaiah 45:14-17 is the “confession” of the nations and God says:

They [the nations] will prostrate themselves before you; they will pray before you, ‘Only with you [Jerusalem] is God, and there is none other, except for God’

Isaiah 45:16

JerusalemThe nations will pray to God and prostrate themselves before “you” where the “you” is Jerusalem. That hardly sounds like “mutual submissiveness” as J.K. McKee puts it in his book One Law For All.

Verse 20 states:

Gather yourselves, come and approach together, O survivors of the nations…

Then verses 22 and 23 say:

Turn to Me and be saved, all ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other. I swear by Myself, righteousness has gone forth from My mouth, a word that will not be rescinded: that to Me shall every knee bow and every tongue swear.

And then in verse 25:

All the seed of Israel will be vindicated and will glory in Hashem.

Over and over there is a clear indication that God expects both Israel and the nations to serve Him and in the Messianic Age, He continues to distinguish between Israel and the faithful Gentile nations.

So how can we Christians become Israel?

But there’s more.

If you had hearkened to My commandments, your peace would [flow] like a river and your righteousness like waves of the sea.

Isaiah 48:18

Further indication that God continues Jewish Torah observance both in the past and I believe present into the Messianic Era. This dovetails into my belief that one of the vital roles of Gentiles in Messiah is to encourage and support Jewish repentance and return to the Torah.

He said: It is insufficient that you be a servant for Me [only] to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the ruins of Israel; I will make you a light for the nations, so that My salvation may extend to the ends of the earth.

Isaiah 49:6

This idea of “light” turns up more than once, and as far as Israel being the source of the salvation of the world:

Salvation is from the Jews.

John 4:22 (NASB)

From verse 9 to the end of chapter 49 speaks of the return from exile for the Jews, God’s remembering Israel, that Jerusalem is rebuilt and resettled, and, going into the beginning of chapter 50, how Israel is encouraged to repent.

Here’s another tie-in to the New Covenant:

Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, the nation with My Torah in its heart…

Isaiah 51:7

This is God referring to Israel, the Jewish people as “the nation with the Torah in its heart…” Yet another indication that Torah observance is connected to the righteousness of Israel, even into the days of Messiah.

At the start of chapter 52, the prophet speaks of Jerusalem and how the “uncircumcised and defiled people will no longer enter you.” Of course he could have meant uncircumcised of heart, but it doesn’t actually say that. Reminds me of the following:

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.

Revelation 22:14-15 (NASB)

MessiahDepending on your point of view, Isaiah 53 either describes the Messiah or Israel. If it’s a Jewish point of view, then it describes the wonderment of the nations at the miracle of Israel’s redemption, once again establishing that the nations exist outside of Israel and this redemption is that of the Jewish people as a nation.

The sages midrashically interpret the beginning of Isaiah 55 as “Come! Study Torah!” but it also speaks of the Davidic covenant as “an eternal covenant” which obviously references the eternal Messiah. Verse 5 says:

…a nation that had not known you will run to you…

and at least in English, “you” could either be Messiah or Israel.

Isaiah 56 is the first time in the entire sixty-six chapter book that says anything specifically about how the nations will serve God. I was wondering if the word “foreigner” in verse 3 might indicate “resident alien” and somehow distinguish between Gentile disciples of the Messiah and the rest of the nations, which could bolster the claim of some that these “foreigners” merge with national Israel, but these foreigners, also mentioned as such in verse 6, are contrasted with “the dispersed of Israel” referenced in verse 8. Actually, verse 8 says:

The word of my Lord Hashem/Elohim, Who gathers in the dispersed of Israel: I shall gather to him even more than those already gathered to him.

So we have the dispersed of Israel gathered and then we also have others who are to be gathered, most likely the aforementioned foreigners from the nations. This is not unlike the words of the Master:

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.

John 10:16 (NASB)

Although we have one shepherd and are in one flock (ekklesia), we of the nations are not of the same fold as the Jewish sheep of Israel.

And the foreigners who join themselves to Hashem to serve Him and to love the Name of Hashem to become servants unto Him, all who guard the Sabbath against desecration, and grasp my covenant tightly…

Isaiah 56:6

This is the main indication that foreigners among Israel will also observe or at least “guard” the Sabbath (some Jewish sages draw a distinction between how Israel “keeps” and the nations “guard”), and the question then becomes, grasp what covenant tightly? Is this a reference to some of the “one law” sections of the Torah that laid out a limited requirement of observance of some of the mitzvot for resident aliens which includes Shabbat?

I won’t attempt to answer that now since I want to continue with a panoramic view of Isaiah in terms of the relationship between Israel and the nations (and since it requires a great deal more study and attention).

Nations will walk by your light and kings by the brilliance of your shine.

Isaiah 60:3

This could be seen as the nations walking either by God’s light or Israel’s, but in either case, the nations are still being differentiated from Israel. Verse 5 says:

…and the wealth of the nations will come to you [Israel].

In verse 9, God is referred to as “the Holy One of Israel,” and verse 12 states:

For the nation and kingdom that does not serve you will perish.

This indicates that there are nations that serve God and nations that don’t. Any nation not playing ball, so to speak, is utterly destroyed, which means the only nations left on Earth besides Israel, are serving God. If all Gentiles serving God became Israel, then there would be no nations to serve God, only Israel, and Isaiah’s prophecies would be false.

Referring to Israel, verse 21 says:

Your people will all be righteous; they will inherit the land forever.

This refers to Jeremiah 31 and Romans 11 where we read that God will forgive all the sins of Israel and all Israel will be saved. It also says that the Jewish people will inherit the Land of Israel forever. No other people need apply for citizenship of national Israel in the Messianic Kingdom.

Foreigners will stand and tend your flocks and the sons of the stranger will be your plowmen and your vineyard workers. And you [Jewish Israel] will be called “priests of Hashem.”

Isaiah 61:5-6

sukkot jerusalemYes, we’re all going to “make it” if we keep the faith, both the survivors among the nations and the remnant of Israel, but our relative roles seem to be very distinct, though according to Rabbinic commentary, this may more reflect the “Spiritual preeminence” of Israel.

Moving on to the end of the book, Isaiah 65:1 says that God can be found by those who are not looking for him, which means that God is ultimately accessible to all, every one of His creations. Isaiah 66:10 says we are to be “glad with Jerusalem and rejoice in her” which may also address the people of the nations rejoicing at the redemption of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation. Verse 12 again speaks of the “wealth of the nations” seemingly bankrolling this entire rebuilding effort.

In verse 19, God says he will put a sign upon some of the people of the different nations and tongues and send them to the survivors of the nations to declare His Glory.

The last words of the prophet speak of how we will worship in those days:

It shall be that at every New Moon and on every Sabbath all mankind will come to prostrate themselves before Me, says Hashem. And they will go out and see the corpses of the men who rebelled against Me, for their decay will not cease and their fire will not be extinguished, and they will lie in disgrace before all mankind.

Isaiah 66:23-24

That sounds more like a memorial and a cautionary tale than a worship service.

Over all, and this is just the short list, what I see in Isaiah is that not only do we faithful Gentiles never become Israel, but even under the best of circumstances in the Messianic kingdom, we are not at the top of the heap or anywhere near it. We serve, not only God, but Israel and the Jewish people. Yes, we guard the Sabbath, we pray and offer sacrifices in the rebuilt Temple, we come before God on each New Moon and Sabbath festival, but we are the tail and not the head.

Addendum: I had a conversation with my friend Tom about the core of this blog post yesterday afternoon over coffee and realized he had a more “one law” perspective. He believes there is a population of redeemed nations who are grafted into Israel vs. nations in general who do not cleave to God. He pointed me to Zechariah which I’ll have to follow up on at a later date. Needless to say, my learning is still in progress as I suspect it always will be.

Knowing

ReachingNo longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” –Jeremiah 31:34

If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” –John 14:7

Just as wisdom is not something you can touch with your hands,
so G-dliness is not something you can grasp with your mind.
The mind cannot experience G-d.
G-d is not an idea.
G-d is real.
G-d is better found in inspired deeds than in inspiring thoughts.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Mental Limits”
Chabad.org

How do we “know” God? A Christian might answer that we know the Father through the revelation of His Son, and Jesus said this about himself. Yet, there’s a danger in “anthropomorphizing” the infinite, ever-present, all-powerful, ultimately creative God of the Cosmos, and reducing Him to an old man with long white hair, a bushy beard, and a comfortable lap. It’s like taking God and turning Him into your kindly grandfather who used to give you little treats when you were a child and let you stay up past your bedtime.

This isn’t to say I dispute the words of the Master, I only understand them as illustrating both what we can know about God from Jesus when he walked among men, and what we can’t know. We can’t know the infinite, but we can know how our lives intersect with the Holy through the teachings and example of the Master. Our duty then, is to spend the rest of our lives living out that understanding with “inspired deeds”, as Rabbi Freeman says, as our understanding grows and as it sometimes twists, bends, and warps.

Excuse me, what did I just say?

Isn’t God eternal? Isn’t God’s truth unchangeable? Well, “yes” and “no”.

OK, in an absolute sense, yes, God is God and God is unchangeable. Nothing we can do can alter the nature, character, and qualities of the Creator of the Universe (not that we can perceive the vast, vast majority of those qualities). But while God may be unchanging, human beings change all the time. What we understand changes all the time. If not, if we couldn’t go beyond the Sun circling the Earth and the Moon being made of green cheese, then modern Astronomy would be a lost cause.

I know, it’s not a surprise to understand that as children grow and as people age, they learn new information to replace old data, but it’s also true (at least potentially) of humanity over time. Believe it or not, at one point in history, things like microwave ovens, DVDs, iPads, and the Internet didn’t exist. Even bound books haven’t been available forever (never mind eBooks on Kindle). Gutenberg didn’t invent the printing press until around 1440 and the vacuum tube, which was used in early 20th century technologies such as radios, the first generation commercial computers, and televisions, first saw the light of day in 1904.

Why am I telling you all this? Because what we understand about a concept or a technology may be one thing at a certain point in time but later on, we may amend or change what we believe to accommodate new information, discoveries, and inventions.

This is also true of the Bible and thus what we know about God.

I’m currently reading the book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians by D. Thomas Lancaster. This isn’t another typical Christian commentary on what most believers consider Paul’s “anti-Torah”, “anti-Judaism” rant. Rather, it’s a fresh perspective on how to understand Paul as a Jewish man, declared the “Apostle to the Gentiles” by Jesus in a vision, and who through that incredible and unprecedented role, had to make some hard decisions about how to bring non-Jewish God-fearers and former pagans into the community of faith. One principle decision was the controversial choice of not demanding Gentile believers convert to Judaism in order to become disciples of the Jewish Messiah.

Much of what Lancaster states in his book (and I haven’t finished reading it yet) won’t be universally accepted by the church and perhaps just a decade or two ago, such a book might not have been published. However, it’s important to understand there’s a difference between God’s eternal, unchangeable knowledge and how human beings acquire new data and adjust our understanding based on that information.

About a month ago, I reviewed a scholarly article called Isaiah’s Exalted Servant in the Great Isaiah Scroll written by Steven P. Lancaster (D. T. Lancaster’s brother) and James M. Monson. Based on new information acquired through a study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, how we understand the prophet Isaiah’s description of the Messiah has been significantly changed (and please feel free to read that review by clicking on the link I just provided…it’s fascinating stuff). The information Lancaster and Monson provide in their conclusions almost literally re-writes the “suffering servant” Messiah to “the appointed one”. Who could have known about this, even five years ago?

AnointingI’m not trying to undo the ties of Christian faith and the scriptures upon which that faith is based, but I would like to suggest that those ties can be untangled. We labor, without realizing it, under the yoke of centuries-old assumptions, bad translations, and misinformation founded on prejudice. Some of that misinformation, as recently presented by Derek Leman on his blog, is how the church declares rather boldly, that a Jewish person who has come to faith in the Jewish Messiah, must surrender their entire Jewish identity. Galatians, and other sections of the New Testament, seem to give this impression, but we can also be courageous enough to go back to our time-honored texts and read them with a fresh eye, consider them in the original Greek language and “refactor” them in the Jewish/Hebraic mindset of the people who wrote them. We can challenge what we think we know and see if our knowledge stands up to the test.

I’ll leave you with a tangible example of how knowledge changing over time affects not only our day-to-day life, but how we comprehend God, our duties to Him, and our obligations to each other:

The Chazon Ish, zt”l, explains, “Rashi records when he is unsure, to teach that admission of uncertainty is also Torah. One should always be clear of what he knows and what he does not know.”

Rav Yosef Yitzchak Lerner, shlita, contacted Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, regarding a correction the latter had added to the “Lev Avraham.” In this work, Professor Avraham Avraham, shlita, brought the opinion of Rav Avraham ben HaRambam, zt”l, and Rav Sherirah Gaon, zt”l, as conclusive. Both luminaries hold that Chazal’s teachings regarding medicine are not Torah; they merely reflect medicine as understood in their time. If contemporary science disagrees the halacha follows the medical experts. Rav Shlomo Zalman maintained that since other authorities disagree, this opinion should be prefixed with “some say.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“Admitted Ignorance”
Menachos 105

Some of the rulings of the honored sages were based on the best medical knowledge available to them in their day, but as we see, modern medicine has rendered many of their judgments out-of-date. Being open to new information about the Bible and how to read it, can help us understand that some traditional Christian interpretations of the Bible need to be updated as well. I read and review articles like Isaiah’s Exalted Servant in the Great Isaiah Scroll and books such as Lancaster’s Galatians for exactly that reason. Knowledge and faith is a garden which yields only the fruits of our labors. Like prayer, meeting God and understanding more about Him requires our time, effort, and an unquenchable need to learn.

Rabbi Chalafta the son of Dosa of the village of Chanania would say: Ten who sit together and occupy themselves with Torah, the Divine Presence rests amongst them –Pirkei Avot 3:6

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” –Matthew 18:19-20