Gleanings from Isaiah 41
I. Isaiah 41:1 Gleaning #1: Isaiah Journal 2.5
II. Isaiah 41:2-3 Gleaning #2: Isaiah Journal 2.6
III. Isaiah 41:4 Gleaning #3: Isaiah Journal 2.6
IV. Isaiah 41:25 Gleaning #4: Isaiah Journal 2.6
V. Isaiah 41:8-16 Gleaning #5: This Post
GOD HAS A SPECIAL PEOPLE, ISRAEL
8 But thou, Israel, art my servant Jacob, and he whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraam, whom I have loved: 9 whom I have taken hold of from the ends of the earth, and from the high places of it I have called thee, and said to thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and I have not forsaken thee. 10 Fear not; for I am with thee: wander not; for I am thy God, who have strengthened thee; and I have helped thee, and have established thee with my just right hand. (LXE, Brenton)
Yes, indeed, thank God, he has a special people, Israel, whom he loves and cares for. Today, the question is, Who is Israel? The answer, apparently, appears difficult for large numbers of Christians to accept.
1. THE SHORT ANSWER
The text itself clearly answers the question, Who is Israel? “But you, O Israel, are My servant, and Jacob, whom I chose, the seed of Abraham, whom I loved.” (SAAS) (1) Clearly, the text speaks of a people, not a geo-political country. At the time of Isaiah’s writing, the people of Israel are in exile in Babylonia. Babylonia will soon to be taken by Cyrus, the Persian. The people, Israel, have no country. And yet, God’s people have not ceased to exist. “Israel…the seed of Abraham, whom I loved” has always been a people, not a geo-political nation.
2. OLD TESTAMENT ISRAEL–A PEOPLE
- God called Abraham to leave his country, his “land.” God sent him to another “land.” (Genesis 12:1). Genesis 12:2-3 states God’s original promise to Abraham.
2 And I will make of you a great nation [ἔθνος, eth-nos, nation, people. Cf ethnicity], and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (ESV)
- Abraham wandered in the wilderness and became a nomad. Later, Abraham’s descendants, the sons of Jacob, remained in slavery in Egypt for some 400 years. But they were still God’s people, even without their own country.
- After Isaiah, the geo-political region known as Israel belonged at various times to the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. By the time Messiah arrived on the scene, the geo-political entity called Israel still remained an occupied land. Then, Rome demolished its capital, Jerusalem, along with the temple in 70 CE. Many of the descendants of Abraham went into exile. The New Testament prophesies this event (Luke 21:20-24; Matthew 24:2) but does not record its occurrence.
- But God specifically called Israel, “the seed of Abraham.” In God’s eyes, Israel has always been a people, not a country.
- The inclusion of Gentiles among God’s people hovers ever-present in the background of Isaiah to this point (Isaiah 11:10, 12; 12:4). In future chapters, the promise becomes more explicit (Isaiah 49:21-23; 54:2; 56:3-7).
3. NEW TESTAMENT
- The New Testament all but drops the subject of “land” entirely. When Scripture does mention the land, we find that the promise to Abraham and his descendants has turned from “land” into “world” or “earth.”
- In Matthew 5:5, when Jesus promises the meek that they shall inherit the “earth,” Scripture uses the same Greek word (γῆν, geen) that it uses in God’s command to Abraham in Septuagint Genesis 12:1, LXX.
- Paul explicitly states that God promised Abraham that he and his descendants would be “heir of the world” (κόσμου, kos-moo) (Romans 4:13).
- The apostle Paul devotes many chapters in Romans, Galatians and Ephesians to prove with Scripture that Gentiles are included among the offspring of Abraham. Just a few examples are Romans 4:16 and 18 and Galatians 3:29).
- In all honesty, dear Christian reading this post, do you find comfort and personal application in Isaiah’s words to “Israel” in Isaiah 40:1-2; 41:8-14, and 17-20? I certainly do.
2. Assuming a positive response, does it make any spiritual sense at all to delineate division between a) spiritual only blessings upon all of Abraham’s children by faith, and b) concrete (real estate) blessings upon his racial-only progeny? Does Scripture as a totality (Old and New Testaments together) teach race? No, it does not. Not by any means.
Revelation 21:5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (ESV)
It is not the purpose of this blog to be contentious. Nevertheless, there seem still to be large numbers of Christians who cling to earthly, carnal, political fulfillment of God’s precious promises to all peoples everywhere from every tribe, language, people, and nation. God is inclusive, not exclusive. Reserving certain promises of God to those of a particular racial ethnicity robs other Christians of different ethnic descent of their full blessings in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:18-22). Plus, it complicates Scriptural interpretations enormously. Christians the world over should all be rejoicing together, as one, as Christ and his Father intend it to be (John 17). Inserting any kind of ethnic divisions into the mix ruins rejoicing as one.
As we shall see in the next post, Lord willing, “the God of Israel” favors the “poor and needy” (Isiah 41:17-20). Let us all seek to become one of these. The “poor and needy” throughout Scripture are God’s special people (Matthew 5:3-6).
1 “Scripture taken from the St. Athanasius Academy SeptuagintTM. Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. Used by permission. All rights reserved,” in The Orthodox Study Bible, Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Elk Grove, California. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.