God Introduces to Jerusalem Her Gentile Children
Context of Comfort
In all of Scripture, context is everything. In this sense, Scripture is like ordinary, everyday speech. Much of Scripture, certainly not all, connects with what went before and what comes after. Isaiah establishes the context by speaking a message of comfort and grace to Jerusalem (God’s people) in Volume 2 (beginning with 40:1). With some exceptions (see chapters 47-48 against Babylon), God repeats his theme of mercy for his people–those who are willing to repent (Septuagint Isaiah 59:12-15).
Strands of condemnation for the rebellious weave throughout the theme of grace for God’s people. As mentioned above, God condemns Babylon for its pride and wickedness. But God also condemns those of Israel who refuse his offer of grace (see for example Septuagint Isaiah 59:1-10 and 57:21). Nevertheless, God adheres to his purpose of comforting his people in this latter third of Isaiah’s prophecy (chapters 40-66). The text also specifies the basis of God’s comfort. God’s Servant will live, die, rise, and reign in a new Jerusalem.
Isaiah 40:1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith God. 2 Speak, ye priests, to the heart of Jerusalem; comfort her, for her humiliation is accomplished, her sin is put away: for she has received of the Lord’s hand double the amount of her sins. (LXE, Brenton)
Isaiah Straddles Two Covenants
God positions Isaiah the prophet at the turning point of two covenants. The first covenant, the Law given by Moses, Israel breaks repeatedly and finally. God says so. In this, Israel is no different than the rest of humanity. God also acts upon his judgment by sending the nation into captivity. But mixed with Isaiah’s prophecies of their physical return from exile, Isaiah also prophesies a new covenant, the covenant of grace.
21 And this shall be my covenant with them, said the Lord; My Spirit which is upon you, and the words which I have put in your mouth, shall never fail from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your seed, for the Lord has spoken it, henceforth and for ever. (Septuagint Isaiah 59:21) (1)
Consideration of God’s new covenant of grace brings joy to Isaiah. He bursts forth in chapter 60 describing the reconciliation between God and his people. Isaiah describes the means of the reconciliation God accomplishes in chapter 53. Chapter 53 is the passion chapter about the Lord’s Servant.
Isaiah Repeats Himself
Like all good teachers, Isaiah goes back and repeats his message. Sometimes, when he does so, the emphasis may shift from one point to another. Or, he may add an element to one telling not present in another. For example, chapter 53 focuses entirely upon God’s Servant. The text does not mention Israel by name. However, Isaiah himself functions as a priest when he offers a short prayer of confession on behalf of the people (Septuagint Isaiah 53:4-6). Then, in chapters 54 and 55, Isaiah shifts his focus to the “barren one who does not bear” (54:1). She is the one for whom the Servant dies a sacrificial death. She is God’s people, who display the faith of Abraham and Sarah. These two chapters ring out with the joy of salvation. Readers of Isaiah learn to expect cycles of repetition as he intertwines his varying harmonies of theme.
Context Before and Context After Chapter 60
CONTEXT BEFORE CHAPTER 60
Chapter 59 represents a cycle of repetition. It repeats the reasons why God sent his Servant as a sacrifice. In this chapter Isaiah repeats the wicked behavior of Israel through the eyes of the Lord (verses 1-10). Verse 11 forms a transition. Notice that the text mentions two animals, a bear and a dove. These animals proceed together.
11 They shall proceed together as a bear and as a dove… (LXE)
Verses 1-10 describe the bear. Verses 11b through 15 describe the dove. Unravelling Isaiah’s poetic metaphor, the bear represents those in Israel who embrace rebellious behavior against God’s law. The dove represents those in Israel who acknowledge their sin before the Lord (Proverbs 28:15; Isaiah 11:7; 38:14). These two “proceed together.”
In the remainder of chapter 59 (verses 15b-21), Isaiah presents the Lord’s solution to Israel’s problem, namely, His Servant. The Servant bears the Lord’s Spirit upon him. Also, God places his words in the Servant’s mouth. God further promises the Spirit and the words to the Servant’s seed, forever. This is the new covenant.
CONTEXT AFTER CHAPTER 60
Chapter 61 opens with the following well-known words.
1 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken in heart, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; 2 to declare the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of recompence; to comfort all that mourn; 3 that there should be given to them that mourn in Sion glory instead of ashes, the oil of joy to the mourners, the garment of glory for the spirit of heaviness: and they shall be called generations of righteousness, the planting of the Lord for glory.
Many people know these words because God’s Servant/Messiah/Jesus opens his New Testament ministry by reading from Isaiah’s scroll in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-19).
CONCLUSION CONCERNING TIMEFRAME OF CHAPTER 60
Because Isaiah chapter 59 concerns the sacrifice for sin of the Lord’s incarnated Servant (59:15b-20), and because chapter 61 concerns the ministry of the incarnated Servant and its results, it seems fair to conclude that chapter 60 also deals with the outcome of the Servant’s sacrifice during his incarnation. Everything we have read together in Isaiah Volume 2 up to this point focuses on the work and results accomplished by God’s Servant during his incarnation.
This is not an overstatement of the Servant’s importance. Up until the Servant’s incarnation, God himself has never (never ever ever) incarnated himself as a human child. And he will never do so again. This is a once-in-all-of-time event in the whole universe. God through his prophet Isaiah focuses continually on this most glorious of all conceivable outcomes.
CHAPTER 60 NOT A “MILLENNIAL” CHAPTER
In short, chapter 60 is not a “millennial,” “second coming” chapter. Like the chapters before it and the chapter immediately following it, chapter 60 describes the aftermath of the Servant’s sacrifice for sin. This sacrifice occurs during the Servant’s incarnation.
The Text Brings in Gentiles… Again… (and Again)
The question here is not, Does chapter 60 talk about Gentiles? Many readers know it does. Brenton’s Septuagint translates the word “nations” in verses 11 and 16 as Gentiles. And in the Masoretic, “nations,” as distinguished from “Israel,” refers to Gentile nations. (Israel is but one nation.) Rather, the question brought out by many commentators concerns the timeframe and the status of these Gentile nations.
This and prior posts already establish the timeframe of chapter 60 as belonging to the context that immediately follows the Servant’s sacrificial incarnation.
What is the status, or position, of the Gentiles in Septuagint Isaiah’s chapter 60 relative to Jerusalem of verse one? Some interpret that chapter 60 describes the subservience of the nations to Israel in a national, political sense in which Israel dominates. They say this fulfills God’s ancient promises to Israel. Others (including myself) see chapter 60 as God introducing his Gentile children to his beloved people Jerusalem as the means by which he chooses to build up her population and wealth. God presents them as a gift to his remnant. God gives Jerusalem the Gentile nations as a gift of blessing. God loves the Gentiles, as he loves Jerusalem. He wants to share the wealth and treasure of his Servant’s victory with the whole world. The relationship between Jerusalem and the Gentile nations is mutually beneficial. The wayward son has come home (Luke 15:10-32).
The Servant and Gentiles in Isaiah
Whenever the text of Isaiah presents the Servant, it also presents the inclusion of Gentiles somewhere nearby. Chapter 60 follows this pattern. Examples follow.
- Isaiah 2:1-4 (the “he” of verse 4 refers to the Lord)
- Isaiah 11:1-12 (see especially verse 10)
- Isaiah 25:6-9
- Isaiah 42:1-7 (first Servant song)
- Isaiah 49:1-6 (second Servant song); Isaiah 49:8, 22-23
- Isaiah 51:4-5
- Isaiah 54:1-3
- Isaiah 55:1-5 (especially 4-5)
- Isaiah 56:1-8 (especially 4-8)
- Isaiah 60:1-3
God is generous. He shines the glorious light of his Servant much further than the one people of Jerusalem.
49:6 And he said to me, It is a great thing for you to be called my servant, to establish the tribes of Jacob, and to recover the dispersion of Israel: behold, I have given you for the covenant of a race, for a light of the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the end of the earth. (LXE)
WHAT THE GENTILES DO AND DO NOT BRING
Notice that the Gentile nations in chapter 6o bring children (verse 4), sons and daughters. They do not bring weapons of war. They bring the wealth of the sea (verse 5), frankincense (verse 6), and a gospel message (“they shall publish the salvation of the Lord”, verse 6). They bring their treasures because “the Holy One of Israel is glorified.” Strangers build Jerusalem’s walls. They do not bring hatred and enmity and attempts to tear down Jerusalem’s walls, as in the former days of Nebuchadnezzar and others. They bring gifts of valuable timbers to “glorify my [God’s] holy place” (verse 13). The Gentiles come with gentle milk (not with spears) and with treasures (verses 16-17). God makes Jerusalem’s “princes peaceable” and her “overseers righteous.” These are not words of dominance, but of cooperation and mutual respect.
Isaiah in chapter 60 writes as a poet who describes God’s great love for his people. The new covenant (59:21) changes God’s relationship to his people from physical concrete (temples built of stone, tents of animal skins in the wilderness, daily and yearly sacrifices upon a physical altar) to Spirit and God’s own eternal words upon everyone’s lips. In the same way, the sacrifice of the Servant changes how God’s people Jerusalem will relate to Gentiles from every nation under the sun. But as a poet who reaches and stretches for words and images to convey the emotion of love, Isaiah uses the words of every day kingdom living to describe the wealth that the Gentiles shall contribute to Jerusalem. This is a friendly chapter. The images are of glad people from many nations pouring into a glad Jerusalem who receives them with open gates (verse 11). The gates of Jerusalem will not be shut day or night (verse 11).
Chapter 60’s Central Figure
The text of chapter 60 repeatedly names God as the source of Sion’s blessing. God in his goodness and mercy rebuilds Sion as “the city of of the Holy One of Israel.” God glorifies Jerusalem because it is his very own “holy place” (verses 13-15).
Yet, as explained above in the paragraph titled, “Isaiah Repeats Himself,” the focus of chapter 6o is Jerusalem. Chapter 60 tells the outcome of the Servant’s sacrifice as his victory affects God’s own people.
THE TIMEFRAME IS NOW AND FOREVER
Verses 18-22 are poetically and spiritually extremely beautiful. For all who know and experience the Lord’s goodness upon their lives and souls daily, these verses apply to their current condition in the Lord’s Servant/Christ.
18 And injustice shall no more be heard in your land, nor destruction nor misery in your coasts; but your walls shall be called Salvation, and your gates Sculptured Work. 19 And you shall no more have the sun for a light by day, nor shall the rising of the moon lighten your night; but the Lord shall be your everlasting light, and God your glory. 20 For the sun shall no more set, nor shall the moon be eclipsed; for the Lord shall be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be completed. 21 Your people also shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, preserving that which they have planted, even the works of their hands, for glory. 22 The little one shall become thousands, and the least a great nation; I the Lord will gather them in due time. (Septuagint Isaiah 60:18-22)
Looking Ahead to Chapter 61
Chapter 61 continues the stream of joy. The focus broadens, however, to include more-or-less equal emphasis upon the Servant himself (verses 1-3), God’s people Sion (verses 4-8), and Gentiles (9-10a). The Servant and the work he accomplishes bless everyone.
… next time, Lord willing, we will move ahead to Septuagint Isaiah chapter 61.
… Note: I will be spending several weeks with family. The next post may be postponed for up to one month… a good time to go back and reread, review, and meditate upon the ways of God. My thanks to God for all of you who are with me in this journey through Septuagint Isaiah.
1 See Devotional 2.77 for reasons why “you” and “your” in Isaiah 59:21 most likely refer to God’s special Servant, rather than to Jerusalem.