–continued from Septuagint Isaiah Devotional 2.36
Question 3: Gleanings for Today
The previous post established that in the Septuagint, the prophet Isaiah himself (or possibly God) addresses the Israelite people collectively as “Jerusalem.” The words exhort them to “Wake up! Wake up!” You used to have great faith back in the early days, says the prophet. Remember when by faith in God you accompanied Moses? By faith he dried up the Red Sea (Hebrews 11:29 ESV), even that deep, deep water. And by your faith in God you crossed over dry and unharmed. We asked three questions concerning the first address to Jerusalem (Septuagint Isaiah 51:9-51:16). 1) Who is the addressee? 2) Who speaks? 3) What can today’s readers glean from these words? The prior post answered questions one and two. This post will answer question three.
After rousing Jerusalem from their lethargic slumber, Isaiah prophesies. Listen, he says, here is what I predict will happen.
11 for by the help of the Lord they shall return, and come to Sion with joy and everlasting exultation, for praise and joy shall come upon their head: pain, and grief, and groaning, have fled away. Septuagint Isaiah 51:11
CHRISTIAN APPLICATION: A PERSONAL NOTE
At the Bible believing church where I worshipped for many years, we often sang this verse after communion, towards the end of the service. The song featured a rousing, upbeat rhythm and melody. In a decidedly Christian setting, we believers applied these words to our current standing in Christ. In Jesus Christ we had returned to Zion–his kingdom. We sang, and our praises acknowledged the everlasting joy Christ promised all believers in God through himself (Luke 2:10; John 16:20-22; 17:13).
A LOCAL APPLICATION
Of course, clearly, the words of Septuagint Isaiah 51:11 forward could rightly be applied to the literal-concrete return of a group of exiles from Babylon to Zion in the 6th century BC. Very possibly, many or even most of Isaiah’s listeners understood his prophesy to mean just such a return. They would have been entirely correct in their local interpretation.
However, to limit Isaiah’s words to this local and passing application would be to ignore the entirety of his message. In passages before this point and in even more pointed passages that follow (for example, Septuagint Isaiah 53 forward), God indicates a much broader context. We today have thousands of years of history behind us. We need not be bound by the limited vantage of a listener in Isaiah’s own day. God, after all, is eternal. Through Isaiah, he speaks from his own eternal point of view. He words have more than a local-only fulfillment.
God Speaks Again
In Septuagint Isaiah 51:12-16 God himself speaks again.
12 I, even I, am he that comforts you: consider who you are, that you were afraid of mortal man, and of the son of man, who are withered as grass. (LXE)
The Greek words that open verse 12 translate literally as, “I am, I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι ἐγώ εἰμι). This is the formula that Jesus Christ used to declare his divinity in Mark 14:62, John 4:26, and elsewhere. The Christ is very much present in the context of everything Isaiah writes here. Recall that he prophesies the Servant’s ministry in Isaiah 51:4-6. These words in verse 12 also echo the opening verse of what we are calling Volume 2, “Comfort you, comfort you my people, says God” (Isaiah 40:1). They also repeat the comfort God gives in verse 3 of this chapter (LXE).
12 … consider who you are, that you were afraid of mortal man, and of the son of man, who are withered as grass. 13 And you have forgotten God who made you, who made the sky and founded the earth; and you were continually afraid because of the wrath of him that afflicted you: for whereas he counselled to take you away, yet now where is the wrath of him that afflicted you? (LXE)
God knows and understands his people. He holds no illusions concerning them. In verses 12-13 he describes them as those who fear mortal people. They die quickly, as grass at the end of its season. God’s people should fear God, who created them. Not only did God create people, but he also created the sky and the earth. Yet his people forget him. They fear the mortal oppressor who afflicted them. But where is this oppressor now? asks God. You will not find him.
GOD WILL SAVE
God speaks directly in verses 12-13 and 15-16. But who speaks verse 14? The subject in Septuagint verse 14 changes grammatically from first person–I, God–to third person–he. It might be best to consider these verses as another interjection by Isaiah, as in Septuagint Isaiah 50:10. The content of reassurance continues, however, whoever we might think speaks the words.
14 For in your deliverance he shall not halt, nor wait; (LXE)
This would have been exciting news for listeners in Isaiah’s day. As some of the characters in Chronicles of Narnia might say, “Aslan is on the move!” God is on the move. His deliverance will not take long now. The return from exile in Babylonia supplies a preview of the return from the kingdom of sin and darkness under the leadership of God’s Servant (Mark 4:16-17).
15 for I am your God, that troubles the sea, and causes the waves thereof to roar: the Lord of hosts is my name. (LXE)
Israel’s security rests in God alone. God has not changed. He is the same God who works throughout all history. He displays his power by controlling the waters of the sea. He is the commander of heaven’s armies. The best news is that this Almighty Being declares himself to Israel as, “your God.” Remember, however, that God addresses a certain group within the people of Israel (Isaiah 51:1, 7 ESV) throughout this chapter. He addresses “you that follow after righteousness, and seek the Lord” (verse 1) and “you that know judgment, the people in whose heart is my law,” (verse 7). (See also Isaiah Devotional 2.35.) According to the text, God does not address the nation of Israel as a whole in this chapter. But for those who believe the Lord and seek him, this is good news indeed.
GOD CLAIMS HIS OWN
16 I will put my words into your mouth, and I will shelter you under the shadow of my hand, with which I fixed the sky, and founded the earth: and the Lord shall say to Sion, You are my people. (LXE)
As occurs frequently in Isaiah, the author does not identify his pronouns. Whose mouth does “your mouth” refer to? And, whom specifically will God shelter under the shadow of his hand?
- I like to think that these words refer to his Servant, during the time of his Incarnation (regarding the “mouth” see John 14:10, 24 ESV; regarding the “shelter” see John 8:58-59 and 19:11).
- These words can also apply to the church (Matthew 10:19).
- Finally, especially as written in the Masoretic, these words can refer to Isaiah the prophet.
Finally, however, in the final clause of verse 16, God addresses Sion, “You are my people.” As readers may recall from a prior paragraph, God in Chapter 51 addresses his believers, those who seek him. Sion, then, according to the grammatical construction of the Greek sentence, could be defined as “the people of God.” This presents to the beleaguered exiles the greatest assurance of all. They belong to God. God claims them as his very own. Because God has everywhere in this book defended his character and motives, these words provide great comfort.
Christian, our comfort and eternal security rests not on ourselves and our performance before an Almighty, holy God. Rather, our security rests upon the nature, character, and will of the one who claims us as his own. Let us cling to this knowledge during troubled times and not become proud in our hearts during the good times.