Tag Archives: Isaiah

Isaiah 49:9-13 and the Christian Life

Our security is not found in abundant circumstances, but in the care of our Shepherd. Today we look at the New Testament fulfillment of an Old Testament description of Jesus’ salvation. If you haven’t already, start with Isaiah 49:1-7 and the Servant’s Mission and Isaiah 49:8 and Three Ways Jesus Has Begun to Fulfill the Land Promises.

saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” and to those in darkness, “Appear.” They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture;

Isaiah 49:9

Jesus came to heal those oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38), and the church continues to free people from Satan’s power through repentance and forgiveness (Acts 26:18–20). We come out of Babylon now, so we are safe when she falls (Revelation 18:4–8).

In Isaiah, darkness represents ignorance, sin, and judgment. Jesus is the light who gives us knowledge (2 Corinthians 4:6), righteousness (1 John 2:8–11), and life (John 8:12).

I’m no shepherd, but roads and “bare heights” don’t sound like the best place for sheep to graze. Our security does not come from abundance in our circumstances, but from the care of our Shepherd.

they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun will strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.

Isaiah 49:10

The fulfillment of this verse is explained in Revelation 7:16–17. Our security is not found in physical circumstances, but in God’s seal that prevents us from worshipping the beast. The beast and the harlot might physically starve us or kill us, but we will escape the wrath of the lamb and enjoy the living waters of eternal life.

And I will make all my mountains a road, and my highways shall be raised up. Behold, these shall come from afar, and behold, these from the north and west, and these from the land of Syene.

Isaiah 7:11-12

The Lord will remove every obstacle to His people’s journey. The road to salvation is hard, but nothing can stop us if we just stay on the path.

The final place God’s people come from is unclear. “Syene” (an ancient Egyptian city) comes from the dead sea scrolls. The Masoretic text reads “Sinim,” which might mean China. The Septuagint says Persia. In any case, the picture is of the dispersed Israelites returning from every direction, and the final fulfillment is found as God gathers his elect from the ends of the earth into His kingdom.

Sing for joy, O heavens, and rejoice, O Earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.

Isaiah 49:13

This passage ends with creation worshipping God for the compassion He shows in the salvation of His people. The servant’s work will glorify God (Isaiah 49:3) because it will demonstrate God’s character and inspire everlasting praise. The creation that was cursed because of sin will fulfill its ultimate purpose of glorifying God.

Isaiah 49:8 and Three Ways Jesus Has Begun to Fulfill the Land Promises

Thus says the Lord: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages.”

Isaiah 49:8 ESV

The Lord continues to speak to the servant of the Lord. The servant had faith that the Lord was His strength (Isa 49:6), and so the Lord helped him, saved him, and kept him. This is true for Jesus, whom God raised to eternal life and seated at His right hand. But it is also true that the day of salvation is today (see how Paul uses this verse in 2 Cor 5:20-6:2). Whoever will be reconciled to God through Jesus’ death and resurrection will be helped, saved, and kept by God. The mission that looked like a failure in Isa 49:4 will overwhelmingly succeed by the power of God.

Jesus is given as a new covenant, and what may surprise Christian readers is that the blessings he brings are what we normally associate with the old covenant. The goals of the old and new covenants are not different; the difference is that the new covenant enables us to fully reach the goals. “Apportion desolate heritages” means to divide up the promised land between God’s people. But in Isa 49 we’ve already seen that the promised land is not only Canaan, but will grow to the ends of the earth (Isa 49:6). So when Jesus says “the meek will inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5), he means the Earth.

A notoriously difficult question is whether the land promises have begun to be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. I remember G. K. Beale giving an uncharacteristically weak answer to this question in his New Testament Biblical Theology (I have no idea what page, so just read the whole book): he said the land promises may have begun to be fulfilled in Jesus’ resurrection body. That is a glorious beginning to the physical new creation, but is it really the most we can say about the present fulfillment of the land promises? I haven’t given this enough thought to answer that question, but I think it should be raised. So here are a few quick thoughts.

  1. Paul speaks to this issue when he says the Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance (2 Cor 1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:14). These three verses are looking forward to a future fulfillment of land promises, but see the beginning of fulfillment in the gift of the Spirit. What does the Spirit have to do with land? The land promises will be completely fulfilled in the new creation, and the Spirit has begun the new creation in us (2 Cor 5:17). The blessings described in Isa 49:9-10 will be fully experienced after Jesus returns, but today the Spirit truly gives us spritual sight, light, life, provision, security, and guidance.
  2. The New Testament authors see New Jerusalem as a heavenly city, and in a sense we are already there in Christ (Gal 4:26-7 Heb 12:22-4, c.f. Eph 2:7). We look forward to the same city as Abraham (Heb 11:8-16), and we are already citizens of that city (Phil 3:20). I’ll probably write more on this when I cover the second half of Isa 49.
  3. Most controversially, if Jesus already has all authority in heaven and in earth (Matt 28:18), then can Josh 1:3 be applied to Jesus and therefore the church? “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you” (John 1:3). Just as the Israelites filled Canaan little by little (Deut 7:22), Jesus is conquering the world gradually. Matt 13:24-43 would be an interesting passage to consider, because the parables about the gradual growth of the kingdom are shoved in the middle of a parable that flattens out this age and sees the whole world as Jesus’ kingdom. Finally, if Acts 2:8 is fulfilled in the resurrection (Acts 13:33), then hasn’t Jesus already begun to receive the nations as his heritage (Psalm 2:9)?

I’ve raised the question. Comment if you have an answer.

What Does it Mean to Abide in Christ?

Today I was asked this question and I wasn’t sure what to say. It is a familiar phrase, and a powerful image, but what exactly did Jesus mean by it? I did give a sermon from John 15 about 8 years ago, but I don’t trust the exegesis of 20-year-old me, so I’m back to square one.

Abiding is passive.

It is no work for a branch to remain connected to the vine. The basic meaning of “abide” is to stay somewhere, like spending the night in a house. Jesus gives us no credit for attaching ourselves to him (John 15:3, 16), but just tells us to stay where we are.

Abiding is a salvation issue.

Any explanation of the vine metaphor has to go through trial by fire. What I mean is that whatever “abiding” means, if you don’t do it then you’ll be thrown into the fire and burned (John 15:6). So if you say, for example, that abiding in Christ means waking up early every day to pray, then you’re saying that anyone who doesn’t wake up early every day to pray will burn. The opposite of abiding is apostasy, so abiding means remaining in the faith.

Abiding means believing.

Jesus doesn’t need to explain “abiding” here, because he already explained it in John 6:56: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” In context, feeding on Jesus’ flesh means believing in him, and leads to eternal life (John 6:35-40). This belief is not a one-time decision, but an intimate trust that endures forever. Just as we trust bread to keep us alive for another day, feeding on Jesus and abiding in Him means trusting Him to produce fruit in us and to keep us alive forever.

The fruit of abiding is righteousness.

In Isaiah 5:1-7, Israel is compared to a vineyard that doesn’t produce fruit. The “fruit” the Lord was looking for was justice, but what He found was bloodshed. Likewise, Jesus tells us to abide in his love by keeping his commandments (John 15:10). We do this by loving one another and laying down our lives for one another (John 15:12-13). Apparently, abiding in Jesus’ love is different than abiding in Jesus. It means being treated like the vineyard of Isaiah 27, and not like the vineyard of Isaiah 5. It means asking for blessings and receiving them (John 15:16).

Abide = Believe ==> Fruit = Righteousness = Love ==> Abide in His Love = Be Blessed

Abiding is mutual.

So how should I abide in Christ today?

If you believe in Jesus, then his gospel already dwells in you and makes you clean (John 15:3). You are in Christ, and the Spirit is in you, and so you are being conformed to the image of Jesus. Living waters of eternal life are flowing inside of you. Abiding in Christ is not work, it’s rest. Continue to receive these things in faith, be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and be fruitful and blessed, so Jesus’ joy will abide in you (John 15:11).

Having said that, the fruit of our abiding in Christ is love, which involves a lot of work. Abiding is rest, but abiding looks like work. It looks like worshipping God, encouraging the saints, studying the Bible, praying, loving your family, and working with your hands. When we abide in Christ, we live like Christ.

Fine, I’ll say it.

As much as I tried to avoid the stereotypical John 15 message, it all comes back to this: go to church, read your Bible, and pray. When we remind ourselves of God’s truth, study His law, and meet with His people, our faith is invigorated and the paths of righteousness are illuminated.

We may have ended with a cliche, but I hope you enjoyed the ride.

Isaiah 49:1-7 and the Servant’s Mission

Listen to me O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.

Isaiah 49:1, ESV

This monologue by the Servant of the Lord begins with no indication that the speaker has changed, except that someone other than the LORD is now speaking. Is it Isaiah? Or Israel? Or Cyrus? We will gradually discover that this is the Servant of the Lord who is introduced in Isa 42, who speaks in Isa 48:16, and whom Christians recognize as their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In Isa 42:4, the coastlands waited for his law– and now he speaks to them. The universal scale of the message is due to the servant’s unique qualifications (Isa 49:1-3) and the universal scale of his mission (Isa 49:6). He is named Jesus while in the womb, because he will save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21).

He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away.

Isaiah 49:2

The servant is the Lord’s secret weapon, hidden in the Lord’s eternal plan until the right moment. A sharp sword for close combat, and a polished arrow for long range, he is effective in any battle. David built his kingdom with a sword, but the son of David judges the wicked with his mouth (Isa 11:4). Cyrus conquered with a sword, but Jesus simply annouces the arrival of his kingdom and commands obedience (Matt 4:17). Like God, he creates and destroys by his words. The sword he brings creates war within households, because his gospel demands absolute allegiance (Matt 10:34-37). In Revelation, Jesus uses the sword of his mouth to make war against heretics (Rev 2:15-16), and at his coming he will kill the lawless one with his breath (2 Thess 2:8). Christians continue Jesus’ kingdom building work by wielding the word of God as a sword (Eph 6:17, c.f. Heb 4:12, 2 Cor 10:5).

And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

Isaiah 49:3

Jesus is the righteous remnant of Israel, the heir of its blessings and responsibilities. He can be called Israel for the same reason he is called David (e.g. Hos 3:5): He is the son and heir of the man named Israel. He is also the head and source of the renewed kingdom of Israel. He inherits and fulfills the calling passed from Abraham to Israel, to bless all the families of the earth (Gen 12:3). He glorifies God (John 17:1-4), and when his people abide in him they also glorify God (John 15:5-8).

But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God.”

Isaiah 49:4

The servant has poured out all of his strength, and it looks like it was all for nothing. But the Lord will always enforce justice, and so the righteous servant expects a reward from God. The Lord Jesus preached and did good to people his whole life, and what did it profit him? Few truly believed in him, and only a few friends stood with him during his execution. But the Lord raised him to eternal life, and gave him all authority in Heaven and Earth. Likewise, we should trust that our labor is not in vain, because the Lord will reward all of our work.

And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him– for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength–

Isaiah 49:5

Bringing true repentance is a spiritual task that Cyrus is unfit for, but this is what the servant was born to do. The Lord’s spirit (Isa 42:1) and the sword of the servant’s mouth (Isa 49:2) perfectly equip him for this task. The servant is now confident that the Lord will give him the success he deserves. Don’t miss the paradox between this verse and verse 3: The servant is Israel, and the servant is born to bring back Israel. This implies that Jesus is the beginning of a renewed Israel that can be distinguished from the nation of Israel. Jesus is Israel, he is on mission to Israel, and he himself fulfills the mission of Israel.

he says– “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Isaiah 49:6

Far from failing in his mission to Israel, Jesus was overqualified! Jesus began his ministry with the lost sheep of Israel (Matt 15:24); and after his death, resurrection, and ascension he expanded his ministry to grant repentance even to us gentiles (Acts 11:18). Paul and Barnabas see Isa 49:6 as a command to them: since the Jews aren’t listening, they must do Jesus’ work of bringing salvation to the gentiles (Acts 13:46-7).

Light and darkness are recurring images in Isaiah, and the extended descriptions in Isa 8:16-9:7 demonstrate their complex meanings. Darkness is the aimlessness that comes from ignoring the Lord’s teaching, and it results in the further darkness of judgment (Isa 8:16-22). Light is the opposite of this, and will be seen in a kingdom of peace, justice, and prosperity under a divine son of David (Isa 9:1-7). Jesus is this light of revelation and salvation for Israel and for the ends of the earth (Luke 2:32).

Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Isaiah 49:7

Jesus was hated by his own nation of Israel, and he was a servant of Rome. Then he rose to eternal life and ascended to the right hand of God as king of kings. The kings of the earth will either submit to him willingly, or be conquered on the last day. The kingdom of light will fill the earth, and its enemies will be cast into outer darkness.

Why Isaiah Wrote “Deutero-Isaiah”

I promised a post on the fulfillment of Isaiah 49-55. That was silly of me; instead, expect about 10 posts on it this year. But before I write about that, I’d like to throw some bologne into a blender to prevent Isaiah from getting chopped into pieces.

The phrase “deutero-Isaiah” is just the beginning of a huge problem that modern scholars created for themselves. The reasoning is that Isaiah would have spoken to his own generation, so he wouldn’t speak in response to the Babylonian captivity. So if Isa 40-55 is about a return from exile, it must have been written during the exile. And the end of Isaiah was probably written after the exile. Oh, but we’re just getting started. The oracles against the nations in Isa 13-23 also speak to a context later than Isaiah. The eschatology of Isa 24-27 is too advanced to have been written by Isaiah. Isa 11 mentions the “stump of Jesse,” so it must have been written during the exile. Chapter 1 is an introduction to the book, so it was written after the exile. I could go on, but then Isaiah would become a minor prophet.

And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive…’ Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away.”

Isaiah 6:9, 11-12, ESV

In an Old Testament class at a conservative seminary, I was told that the reason the prophets warned of judgment is so the people would repent and turn away the judgment. It sounds plausible enough, but I had to ask why God told Jeremiah not to pray for the people, since the judgment was certain (Jer 7:16, 11:14). I think the answer was along the lines of “Yes, that is a difficult exception to the rule.” In the Isaiah quote above, God tells Isaiah not to expect widespread repentance until after the exile. Was his mission really limited to his own generation?

Vos (pages 189-190) makes a helpful distinction between the former prophets and the latter prophets. The former prophets (like Elijah) spoke to their own generation to bring repentance under the law of Moses. The latter prophets (like Isaiah) also did this, but they knew that their ultimate hope was in the destruction and regeneration of the present system. That is why the former prophets only spoke, but the latter prophets also wrote. The words of the latter prophets “dealt with things in which future generations would have a share and supreme interest” (Vos, 190).

Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples.

Isaiah 8:16

Isaiah sees dark days approaching (Isa 8:17-22), so he commands his disciples to preserve the teaching until the divine Son of David brings light (Isa 9:1-7, see Isaiah 7-12 and the Divine Son of David). There would come a time when justice and righteousness would be done in Israel, but not before judgment comes upon those who ignored Isaiah’s teaching.

Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

Isaiah 39:6-7

The shift from Assyria to Babylon happens in the narrative chapters that precede what is called “deutero-Isaiah.” The angel of the Lord defeats Assyria at Jerusalem, and in Hezekiah’s later years he shows off his wealth to envoys from Babylon. Isaiah predicts the Babylonian captivity during Hezekiah’s children’s generation, and Hezekiah joins modern scholars in calling this irrelevant. But if Isaiah foretold a Babylonian captivity, is it crazy to think he also foretold a return from captivity? The truth is that Hezekiah should have been concerned for his sons, and his sons would need hope when the darkness came.

The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth, and I announced them; then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, “My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.” You have heard, now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known.

Isaiah 48:3-6

There is an especially great irony in saying that Isaiah wouldn’t have written Isa 40-48 because it is about future generations: the Lord explains why He is telling the future over (Isa 41:21-29) and over (Isa 42:8-9) and over (Isa 43:9-13) and over (Isa 44:6-8) and over (Isa 45:20-21). The Lord’s precise foretelling of what He will do in the future shows that He is the only God and Savior. He has the power to bring about all of His purposes, so Israel should not fear. When He brings about salvation, idols should receive no credit, and all of the glory should go to the Lord. The nations should see that He has the power to save, and they should turn to Him.

When Jesus had said these things, he departed from them and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.

John 12:36-41

Why would Isaiah talk about Jesus? Because he saw his glory. John’s first quote from “the prophet Isaiah” is from Isa 53, which an incredible number of scholars would say was not written by “the prophet Isaiah.” But even more powerfully, John quotes from the same “Isaiah” in Isa 6, when Isaiah sees the glory of the Lord– and John says that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory. And the hard-hearted Israelites Isaiah spoke of were not only his own generation, but the generation that killed Jesus. Isaiah did not speak about Jesus on accident, and Isaiah 53 was not (as I’ve recently read) about the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. Anyone who believes the teaching of the apostles should believe that Isaiah intentionally spoke about Jesus, because he saw his glory.

Swords into Plowshares into Swords into Plowshares

A subconscious reason for starting this blog was to confront exactly the kind of scholarly hubris I just read. In an article on True and False Prophecy in the Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, James Brenneman spends a considerable amount of ink trying to convince the reader that either Isaiah or Joel was wrong about the end of the world, because Isaiah says the nations will beat their swords into plowshares (Isa 2:4), and Joel says the nations will beat their plowshares into swords (Joel 3:10). Obviously, if Joel inverts Isaiah’s language, he must be arguing against him, and if you disagree then you’re “ethically irresponsible” (p. 786). With incredible ethical responsibility and nuance, Brenneman points to a turn of phrase and declares once and for all that one of God’s prophets lied to generation upon generation of God’s people about God’s final act in redemptive history.

Liberal scholars think they are doing service to the Biblical authors as they dissect the Bible– by cutting it into a thousand pieces and throwing the chaff to the wind. The New Testament does real service to the Biblical authors by pressing them together into a clear and multifaceted diamond. It presents a kingdom of peace that brings God’s law to the nations, so that they (metaphorically) beat their swords into plowshares and make peace with one another. And yet, the nations rage against the Lord and His people, and beat their plowshares into swords to make war on them. The Lord violently judges His enemies, and all that is left is His kingdom of peace. So much peace that, if you took Jesus’ advice and sold your cloak to buy a sword, you can literally beat that sword into a plowshare.

Brenneman’s low view of scripture rules out the method of interpreting the prophets that I advocate and test on this blog: inaugurated fulfillment in the gospel. The way I’m phrasing it until someone proves me wrong is: The prophets are truly fulfilled by Jesus’ first coming, and visibly fulfilled by his second coming. Plowshares are truly turned into swords as Jews, Herods, Romans, and Greeks kill Jesus and persecute his people; as false teachers invade the church; as families divide over the gospel. Swords are truly turned into plowshares as Jesus makes peace between men of every nation by his blood, and gathers them by the Spirit into one body. Plowshares are visibly turned into swords as the Antichrist gathers the nations to make war on the saints. Swords are visibly turned into plowshares when Jesus judges the nations and brings the New Jerusalem into the New Earth.

As a mob rushes toward the church with swords in hand, Brenneman draws his sword and swings it at Joel– or Isaiah. The saints look up to see the beheaded prophet ruling with Christ. They look back down, wield the sword of the Spirit as a plow, and get back to work, sowing the word of the kingdom.

Isaiah 49-55 Fulfills Genesis 1:28

This post should be the climax of this project of laying a foundation for Christian ethics. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the centrality of Genesis 1:28 to a proper understanding of human purpose. Today I’ll look at a chunk of Isaiah that describes the fulfillment of God’s purposes for Adam, for Abraham, for Israel, and for David. It is a poetic celebration of how God’s chosen servant would do what man was always meant to do. This post will team up with a future post for The Prophets Fulfilled series on how Isaiah 49-55 is fulfilled by Jesus. I’ll start by looking at how this passage describes the obstacles for man fulfilling his mission, then I’ll describe the passage’s solution to this problem, and finally I’ll look at the accomplishment of the mission.

The Problem: Sin

You are in constant dread all day long because of the fury of the oppressor, who has set himself to destroy.

Isaiah 51:13, HCSB

Even in the context of this verse, it is clear that oppressors are not Israel’s ultimate problem; but I want to start by acknowledging that they are a real problem. Assyria (who will be followed by Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome) brings “devastation and destruction, famine and sword” (Isa 51:19). How can Israel fill the earth and subdue it if they are being killed, enslaved, and oppressed? This is an illustration of how human sin works against man’s mission. Assyria breaks up families, steals, kills, and destroys, leaving devastation instead of fruitfulness.

Stand up, Jerusalem, you who have drunk the cup of His fury from the hand of the Lord.

Isaiah 51:17

The sin Israel really needed to worry about was their own, and the fury they needed to fear was the Lord’s. There was no man in Zion to answer the Lord’s call (Isa 50:2), so the Lord divorced Zion (Isa 50:1). When the Lord led the Israelites into the land, he told them how to be blessed and fulfill their misison. If they obeyed Him, they would be blessed with children, animals, crops, and security, to eventually become the greatest nation of the earth (Deut 28:1-14). If they did not obey him, the opposite would happen: futility, death, disease, oppression, famine, slavery, and exile (Deut 28:15-68). Instead of subduing the earth, they would be subdued. Instead of ruling the animals, they would be ruled over by the beasts of Daniel 7.

The Solution: Obedience, Teaching, and Atonement

The Lord God has opened My ear, and I was not rebellious; I did not turn back. I gave My back to those who beat Me, and my cheeks to those who tore out my beard. I did not hide My face from scorn and spitting.

Isaiah 50:5-6

There was no man to answer the Lord’s call, until the Lord set apart his chosen servant from the womb (Isa 49:1). This servant would obey God in everything, even when it meant being beaten, mocked, and killed. His life may have looked futile, but because he obeyed God he would be vindicated in the end (Isa 49:4). Because he is the representative of all Israel (Isa 49:3), his obedience will bring blessings to all Israel.

Coastlands, listen to me; distant peoples, pay attention. The Lord called me before I was born. He named me while I was in my mother’s womb. He made my words like a sharp sword; He hid me in the shadow of His hand. He made me like a sharpened arrow; He hid me in His quiver.

Isaiah 49:1-2

The servant’s mission to bring Israel back from oppressive exile (Isa 49:5) isn’t accomplished with traditional weapons, but with words. He is instructed, so his words sustain the weary (Isa 50:4). He preaches good news, “saying to the prisoners: Come out, and to those who are in darkness: Show yourselves” (Isa 49:9). This gospel undoes the power of the oppressor to kill and enslave (Isa 51:13-14). The Lord’s words in the servant’s mouth plant a new heavens and earth, and establish a covenant (Isa 51:16).

But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:5-6

The Lord’s servant, as Israel’s representative, took Israel’s punishment. Just as Israel was oppressed because of God’s judgment, “He was taken away because of oppression and judgment” (Isa 53:8). It looks like futility, but it is wisdom (Isa 52:13) because it leads to the justification of many (Isa 53:11). The servant, after his death, is rewarded with children, long life (Isa 53:10), and power over rulers (53:12). In other words, he will fill the earth and subdue it, as man was always meant to do. This is the good news of the kingdom of God (Isa 52:7). Because of the servant’s atonement, God’s anger turns from Israel to her enemies:

“Look, I have removed the cup of staggering from your hand; that goblet, the cup of my fury. You will never drink it again. I will put it in the hands of your tormenters, who said to you: Lie down, so we can walk over you.”

Isaiah 51:22-23

Mission Accomplished: Fruitfulness and Dominion

“Rejoice, childless one, who did not give birth; burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the forsaken one will be more than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord. “Enlarge the site of your tent, and let your tent curtains be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your ropes, and drive your tent pegs deep. For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendents will dispossess nations and inhabit the desolate cities.

Isaiah 54:1-3

The result of the servant’s obedience, teaching, and atonement is that Zion is taken back to be the Lord’s wife again (Isa 54:5-8). This union produces so many children that they cannot fit in the old borders of Israel (Isa 49:18-21). The kings of the earth give up Zion’s children and bow to her (Isa 49:22-23). Her children are righteous, prosperous, and safe forever (Isa 54:11-17). They multiply like Abraham’s children (Isa 51:2), and the land is as fruitful as Eden, which leads to worship and gratitude to the Lord (Isa 51:3). The Lord’s word produces fruit according to His good plan (Isa 55:10-11). Blessings depicted as water, bread, wine, milk, and rich food are available for free in David’s kingdom (Isa 55:1-3).

The servant’s work causes the kingdom of God to spread throughout the world. The nations find the Lord’s instruction, justice, and salvation (Isa 49:6-7, 51:4-5). The servant receives the promises of David, and gathers the nations into his kingdom and instruction (Isa 55:3-5). “Your God reigns!… all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God” (Isa 52:7, 10). The curse is undone, and creation glorifies God as it was always meant to (Isa 55:12-13).

Significance for Ethics

I think the next post will be a better time to discuss the direct relevance of the Kingdom of God to modern ethics. For now, I just want to note what is involved in the blessed life that man was always intended to live. When the command of Genesis 1:28 was given, there was only one family in the world. Multiplication was in the context of this one family, and subduing the earth meant working the ground and ruling the animals. These responsibilities of man remain, but the world is more complicated now.

As seen in this Isaiah passage, the purpose of a kingdom is to provide security and justice to its people. This is necessary because there are sinners inside and outside of the kingdom. Sin works against man’s mission, and good government gives some protection against this. Another thing to consider in light of sin is that obedience to God may look fruitless in this life because of oppression and injustice, but it ultimately leads to the only lasting fruit. A brief message to expansionist empires trying to fill the earth and subdue it: you will be accountable to God if you do this by unlawfully killing, stealing, and destroying. Finally, in a world where morality is disputed, men need to be instructed by God.

Stay tuned to see how Isaiah’s prophecies are fulfilled in the New Testament, and what it all means for you.