Blessing Returns: Isaiah Devotional Journal 63

Isaiah 29    Septuagint Modernized   NETS

(Chapter 29 Part 2. LINK to Part 1)

Divisions of Chapter 29

  1. Verses 1-4 are against Ariel, which is Jerusalem
  2. Verses 5-8 are against Ariel’s enemies
  3. Verses 9-16 judge the people of Jerusalem, especially its leaders
  4. Verses 17-24 concern a new season for Abraham and Jacob’s family

Blessing upon Abraham and Jacob’s Progeny

Verse 17 introduces one of Isaiah’s many reversals, or switchbacks. In the preceding verses, God through the prophet condemned the people of Jerusalem and their rulers. He promised to remove them, as a potter would his clay. But in verse 17 through the end of the chapter, he blesses his people. But are these the same people he condemns immediately before this section begins?

When and What?

First, the phrase “a little while” in verse 17 would indicate a future that is not the end, end times, as in the very end of time which ushers in a new heaven and a new earth. The age of Messiah’s incarnation therefore might be the “little while” Isaiah holds in view.

Next, the metaphor of verse 17 is widely accepted to indicate a reversal of fortune. According to NET Bible’s study notes, “The meaning of this verse is debated, but it seems to depict a reversal in fortunes. The mighty forest of Lebanon (symbolic of the proud and powerful, see 2:13; 10:34) will be changed into a common orchard, while the common orchard (symbolic of the oppressed and lowly) will grow into a great forest.” This interpretation matches the Septuagint of verse 14, which speaks of God’s “removal” of the leaders and people of Israel who opposed him (See Journal 62).

More Reversals

Verse 17 introduces the first of a series of reversals. What are these?

  • the deaf shall hear (v 18)
  • the blind shall see (v 18)
  • the poor (meek) shall rejoice (v 19)
  • the hopeless (poor) shall be filled with gladness (v 19)
  • the lawless man has come to an end (v 20)
  • the arrogant man has perished (v 20)
  • the malicious are utterly destroyed (v 20)
  • those who give false witness will be gone (v 21)
  • these are they who “entrap the one who arbitrates at the city gate” (NET) [devious lawyers] (v 21)
  • these are they who “deprive the innocent of justice by making false charges” (NET) (v 21)

Verses 18 and 19 bear a striking resemblance to Jesus Christ’s statement in Matthew 11:5.

the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. (Matthew 11:5 ESV)

Also, it’s as though Jesus took portions of his Sermon on the Mount straight from the book of Isaiah.

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:3-6 ESV)

The Reversals Reveal Two Groups

Isaiah in the verses from 18-21 divides his subjects into two groups. The first group begins low and rises high. The second group begins high and sinks low. Who are those receiving the blessings in verses 18-19? They are the deaf, the blind, the meek, the poor in spirit, and those wronged by the law and the court system. Who are those to be condemned and destroyed in verses 20-21? They are the lawless, the arrogant, the malicious, and the liars who harm their neighbors. These people sound remarkably like the teachers and leaders of Jerusalem whom Isaiah described in Isaiah 29:1-4 and 13-16.

Zooming In on the Who?

Where do the poor people come from, those whom Isaiah prophesies God will bless in “a little while”? There seem to be two plausible choices.

ONE, they could be the progeny of the people and religious leaders whom Isaiah prophesied against in verses 1-4 and 13-16. Perhaps they will repent and have a great change of heart. They may recognize their blindness and deafness and poverty of spirit and turn to the Lord. The Apostle Paul says this is possible.

Romans 11:23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. (ESV)

TWO, they could be the progeny of those few who always hoped in the God of Israel. Or, perhaps they are a small group who repent and turn back to the Lord. In either case, they are those whom Isaiah calls the remnant (Isaiah 28:5; 10:20-22). They are the blind, the deaf, the poor, the hopeless, and the victims of legal injustice. This remnant resembles the crowds who believed in Jesus, and after his resurrection continued to believe in God and his Son. Paul speaks of this remnant in Romans 9-11.

Significance of Abraham

Isaiah 29:22 in the Septuagint (NETS, SAAS) names three names: Abraham, house of Jacob, Jacob himself, and Israel. The Masoretic (Hebrew) uses the names Abraham, house of Jacob, and Jacob. The naming of “Abraham” is new in Isaiah. This is his first appearance. The name Jacob, on the other hand, occurs frequently. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel in Genesis 32:28. “Jacob” and “Israel” are most likely synonymous in this verse.

Why does Isaiah use the name Abraham in reference to the group of people whose lowly state will be so radically changed to blessing? There are only three other uses of Abraham in all of Isaiah: Isaiah 41:8; 51:2; and 63:16. Is Isaiah’s use of this name in chapter 29 significant?

Here is what we know about Abraham.

  1. God justified Abraham because of  his faith (Romans 4:3, 9, 12, 13, 16; Galatians 3:6).
  2. Those who are of faith are the sons [children] of Abraham (Galatians 3:7, 9).
  3. Abraham predates the establishment of national Israel by many generations.

One reasonably wonders if Isaiah purposefully chose the name Abraham in order to emphasize these distinguishing characteristics.

HOW WILL ABRAHAM’S CHILDREN RESPOND?

Isaiah continues.

Isaiah 29:23 But when their children shall have seen my works, they shall sanctify my name for my sake, and they sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel. (LXE)

The religious leaders of Jesus’s day saw all his works. They witnessed paralytics walking, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, lepers cleansed, and even the dead raised (John 11). Did they sanctify God’s name? No, they crucified Messiah, God’s Son. But many did see and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob. They were the poor, the sinners, and the outcasts whom Jesus blessed, just as Isaiah prophesied.

VERSE 24

Isaiah 29:24 indicates that some will be given a new heart. The chapter closes with this final blessing of reversal. “And they that erred in spirit shall know understanding, and the murmurers shall learn obedience, and the stammering tongues shall learn to speak peace.” These people with changed hearts would be the same ones of whom Isaiah speaks in verses 22 and 23.

Conclusion: Interpretation of Isaiah

Isaiah and the gospel narratives are interrelated. Isaiah points forward to the Gospel, and the gospels themselves look back upon Isaiah. In the four gospels the enmity between Christ and the religious leaders of his day is apparent (witness the crucifixion). Yet Jesus preached for the most part to his own people, the Jewish nation (Matthew 10:5-6; 15:25). Those who believed, beginning with the eleven disciples, were Jewish. These preached to other Jewish people, who also believed. Eventually, the Apostle Paul preached the gospel to Gentiles. These believed in far greater numbers than the people of Israel. Paul addresses this situation in Romans 9-11. National Israel to this day has not believed in Messiah Jesus Christ. However, many individuals of ethnic Israel have believed throughout the ages: a group within a group.

Paul in Romans specifically speaks to Gentiles and Jewish believers who may be thinking that the word of God–that is, his Old Testament promises to the nation of Israel through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–had failed (Romans 9:1-6a). Verse 6a reads, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed.” Immediately, he states, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9:6b). He develops this theme in chapters 9, 10, and 11. Who are the ones whom Paul claims “belong to Israel”? They are those who believe in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile.

Paul and Isaiah both teach that Messiah is from God. God is for Israel. God sent Messiah, his Son, to redeem Israel. The children of those who were faithful to God in the Old Testament (very few, says Isaiah), will continue to be faithful to him when he sends Messiah. Or, if not consistently faithful, then repentant. Messiah is Christ. The Gospel of Christ flows in a smooth stream from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Isaiah speaks of Christ. Christ is the “foundation,” the “precious cornerstone” upon which the church is built (Isaiah 28:16).

Isaiah in the Old Testament prophesied of Messiah and those who receive him. Then, in the New Testament, Messiah comes. This is all very Jewish. Messiah, Christ Jesus, is Jewish. The problem arose with the actual identity of the God-man. The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’s day rejected Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah. They did not reject the Scriptures, such as Isaiah, which prophesied that Messiah would come (John 5:39-40, 45-47).

The “remnant” includes the faithful Israelites of the Old Testament (those like Isaiah) and the faithful Israelites of the New Testament (those like the eleven disciples, Elizabeth, Mary, Paul, and all the rest.) This is the best way to understand the jerky flip-flops that Isaiah makes. He alternates between the faithful and the unfaithful, the obedient and the disobedient, the repentant and those who refuse to repent. These are two groups. 

Is this “replacement theology”? Does Paul use Isaiah’s “remnant” to replace Israel in the New Testament? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that faithful Israel replaces national Israel. Faith is an issue of heart, not of national boundaries. And no, Paul does not “replace” Israel. Paul claims that the people of Israel are natural branches in God’s olive tree (Romans 11:16-21). The unfaithful branches were broken off. The Gentiles are the ones who have been grafted in. When ethnic Israel lines up once more with God’s purpose in Messiah, says Paul, they can be grafted in again (Romans 11:20, 23). But God’s olive tree consists of faithful people, not political nations. “My kingdom is not of this world,” says Christ (John 18:36).

Who is Jesus of Nazareth, if not a Jew? (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38; John 1:11). The church does not “replace” Israel. Rather, the church is what faithful Israel becomes. The church equals faithful Israel and those Gentiles whom God grafts in. This is what Isaiah consistently teaches all along. I personally think of the church as the butterfly that emerges from Old Testament Israel’s cocoon, no irreverence intended.

Once the reader understands Isaiah’s method of switching back and forth between Israel’s two essential groups–those faithful to God the King, and those unfaithful to him–she can see that God is consistent to himself. He is not a God who changes his mind (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7:21).

I join with Paul in his prayers for his kinsmen, those of Paul’s race, ethnic Israelites. I pray that they awaken from their deep sleep, that the blind will see, that the deaf will hear and understand, that “those who erred in spirit shall know understanding, and those who complained will learn to obey” (Isaiah 29:24 SAAS).

And many blessings, dear readers, upon us all. May God’s purpose in Christ be fulfilled.

 

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