Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hope and Healing from Isaiah, part three

Isaiah 56-66

Isaiah offers many other words of hope in chapters fifty-six through sixty-six to the post-exilic people who return to their homeland. Motyer calls this final section of The Book of Consolation as well as the entire book of Isaiah “The Book of the Anointed Conqueror.” The vision of the Anointed One is the heart of this section. These chapters serve as both a word of hope to the post-exilic people returning to a devastated Jerusalem as well as a “visionary outreach to the eschaton.” These eleven chapters are concerned with the future of Jerusalem. Brueggemann writes, “Yahweh will create a new Jerusalem, will send his glory there (60), will enact jubilee there (61), will break the silence so that the city can be renamed and recharacterized (62). This is the very city that had to be terminated in the earlier traditions, but now is to be the focus of Yahweh’s positive zeal.” The opening exhortation of this section says, “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.” Here the prophet introduces the discipline and tension of waiting for future realities to be consummated. This theme of waiting before the Lord surfaces again as a key idea in this book. In light of the Anointed Conqueror, these eleven chapters reveal the characteristics of a waiting people. Ortlund suggests that these characteristics illustrate how the people of God can keep the embers of revival glowing.

Isaiah delivers a sermon in chapters 56-57. He describes God’s people as they should be and will be in 56:1-8. In 56:9-57:21 the prophet describes God’s people as they shouldn’t be but are. Historically, a mixed-match of people found themselves in Jerusalem and the surrounding area when the Jews returned. There were Jews who were faithful to the Lord and Jews who were not. There were foreigners who wanted to follow Yahweh; and there were pagan foreigners who mocked the Jews. In the midst of this setting, God’s people were challenged to remain faithful. Isaiah challenges the Jews to be righteous and uphold the Sabbath (56:1-2) and opens the door for the believing foreigners to come into the covenant community and be blessed (56:3-8), thus constituting a change of practice looking forward to a much-enlarged worshipping people of God. Chapter 57 reminds the Jews once again of their past sins, yet offers comfort and hope to all who will come to the Lord with contrition. God offers this promise for revival:

For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever,
whose name is holy, “I live in a high and holy place but also with
him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of
the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

Ortlund writes, “What is revival? True revival is God coming down among, visiting us, dwelling among us in his glory, overflowing into our need (Isaiah 57:15). Revival is the manifest presence of God, the immediacy of God, the kiss of God, the nearness of God in his goodness and power. Revival is a time of refreshing in the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:20). It’s a season in the life of the church when God causes the normal ministry of the gospel to surge forward with extraordinary spiritual power. . . . Isaiah leads us by the hand toward true revival. . . . In Isaiah 56-66 . . . the prophet shows us the way into ongoing revival as we await the fullness of God’s coming kingdom.” Ortlund, Raymond, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 375-376.

One characteristic of a waiting people is having contrite hearts who welcome and entertain God’s presence.

Chapters 58-59 deal with the responsibilities of the people if they are to walk in an upright relationship with God. As they walk in the realities of true fasting, they will experience the Lord’s guidance, satisfaction, and strength. The prophet contrasts true religion with what true religion is not. To a disillusioned people, the Lord reminds them that he is able to fulfill his promises. The people are called to thoroughly examine their lives to move towards repentance. Because of the bankruptcy of the people, they need a deliverer.

The section of chapter 59:14 – 63:6 focuses on the coming of the Anointed Conqueror. The tone shifts and Isaiah describes the future glories of Jerusalem. Zion is to awake, look at the glory fulfilled, and watch God’s presence transform the city and her people. Her restoration is assured. Motyer writes,

In 59:15c-20 the Lord himself dons garments appropriate to the task of
salvation vengeance. Then the Anointed One appears, endowed with
Spirit and word (59:21), and his coming dates the advent of the day
of favour and vengeance (61:2). It is on him that the Lord puts the
garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness (61:10) and
salvation for Zion (62:1), Finally, the wearer of the robbers announces
the completion of the work of vengeance and redemption (63:1-6).

The final portion of the book, 63:7 – 66:24, declares the majesty of the coming Lord. Isaiah offers a prayer for the nation (63:7-64:12), asking God to be compassionate to them and to punish their enemies. The prophet declares the righteous victory of the Lord for his people. Their Messiah will “ride in majesty on a white horse. And the nations will learn that the Prince of Peace is also a Man of War, judging sin and delivering his people.” Then God describes to them what his kingdom on earth will involve. His people will inherit the land, while unbelievers will be cut off. The Lord reminds them that he rewards righteous living (65). The book closes by God reminding them that he esteems the humble, that he will judge, that he will give birth to his nation, and that he will establish a new heavens and a new earth.

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