DESPITE SPIRITUAL HARLOTRY, PURIFIED JERUSALEM PROMISED A FUTURE OF JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
One of the most exciting and challenging aspects of studying the book of Isaiah is the prophetic emphasis on end time events. The prophet writes over 700 years before the first coming of Christ and yet offers significant details of both the First and Second Coming of the Righteous, Suffering Servant and the Glorious, Reigning King. It is sad to see how those commentators from the amillennial perspective (they don’t believe God still has a future for national Israel that includes a 1000 year reign here on the earth) gloss over such details and make very general applications to either the spiritual blessings enjoyed by the church of God today or the eternal state in heaven. They are missing out big time because God is giving us insight into dramatic ways He is going to demonstrate His covenant loyalty to His unfaithful chosen nation, Israel.
Listen to how Edward J. Young in his classic 3 volume commentary dismisses the dispensational perspective we will be adopting in our study of these 66 chapters:
The Scofield Bible [with its famous study notes] applies the present verse [:26] to the millennium which it identifies as the “kingdom,” and then maintains that during this kingdom the ancient method of administering the government over Israel will be restored. In this view the return to the city’s pristine faithfulness will be accomplished not immediately after the judgment of purgation [referencing the return from Babylon], but only after the intervening of the exile, the first advent and the entire age of the church. The, when Christ has come for His saints, and the seventieth seven of Daniel has run its course, Christ will return with His saints to set up a kingdom of a thousand years’ duration. It is during this time according to Scofield, that God is to restore the nation’s judges. Such an interpretation, however, divests the passage of its force and renders it almost pointless. Of what comfort could such a promise have been to the sinful Judah of Isaiah’s day?
On the basis of that argument = how much time must intervene before the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy – you could dismiss all messages of hope relating to either the first or second advent. He goes on to apply the ultimate fulfillment to some generic future Messianic Age which has no connection to any 1,000 year rule on earth. Young has amazing insights … but in this very important aspect he guts Isaiah’s prophecy of much of its intended benefit. One must keep in mind that many prophecies have both a near and an ultimate fulfillment = this telescoping effect we have discussed previously. The scope of the language used and the details revealed have immediate impact but only as a foretaste or type of that ultimate fulfillment in the end times.
For God, it’s all about the End Game. The biblical view of history is based on history heading to the end that God has predetermined and sovereignly directs. History is not meaningless or cyclical; history is purposeful because God is sovereign and will execute His kingdom plans in victory over the opposing forces led by Satan. God has not given up on the nation of Israel even though many biblical commentators have. He has not thrown them off because of their unfaithfulness and replaced them with the church. His righteous king will rule in justice and righteousness from the throne of David in Jerusalem.
When I think about the End Game, I think in terms of the game of chess. Every move you make in the opening and in the middle of the game is designed to give you just that very slight edge in the end game that you can leverage to eventually checkmate your opponent. You are trying to get a passed pawn that you can promote to a Queen; you want the better pawn structure; you want the advantage of a bishop vs a knight in terms of mobility in the end game. Things happen that are very subtle and may not seem important at that particular juncture of the game, but you end up with an advantage that makes all of the difference in the end.
Douglas Van Dorn: History for God is never divorced from eschatology.
:1-9 Spiritual Rebellion breaks both the health of the sinner and the heart of the Sovereign
:10-20 The carcass of hypocritical religious activity stinks to high heaven – leading to a call for repentance and reformation
DESPITE SPIRITUAL HARLOTRY, PURIFIED JERUSALEM PROMISED A FUTURE OF JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
[Structure: chiasm in :21-26)
I. (:21-23) TRAGIC LAMENT –
JERUSALEM FAILS THE TEST OF COVENANT FAITHFULNESS –
FAITHFUL CITY BECOMES A HARLOT –
LOOKING AT THE PRESENT
A. (:21a) Reversal From Spiritual Faithfulness to Harlotry – Overall Characterization
“How the faithful city has become a harlot,”
Van Parunak: How.–The word is often used (Jer 48:17; Lam 1:1; 2:1; 4:1,2) to introduce a lament, a formalized cry of despair and mourning. . . but now murderers.–The verb form (Piel) implies repeated activity. These are people for whom murder is a way of life, armed highwaymen, “a den of thieves.”
Young: the word “harlot” is emphatic – “how has become a harlot . . . the faithful city”
Jer. 2:20 “For long ago I broke your yoke and tore off your bonds; but you said, ‘I will not serve!’ For on every high hill and under every green tree you have lain down as a harlot.” – speaking of their idolatry
Hos. 2:2 “Contend with your mother, contend. For she is not my wife, and I am not her husband; and let her put away her harlotry from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts.”
An amazing and shocking situation; what is true of the capital city is true of the entire nation
Did not live up to their high calling; had been called to a life of holiness and covenant keeping; cf. the covenant involved in a marriage relationship
B. (:21b) Reversal From Justice and Righteousness to Violence and Exploitation
1. Justice and Righteousness
“She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her,”
Probably at the time of David and Solomon and even under Jehoshaphat and his reforms:
2 Chron. 19:5-7 “He appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city. He said to the judges, ‘Consider what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord who is with you when you render judgment. Now then let the fear of the Lord be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe.’”
How we treat others is important to God; think how frustrating it is when justice is denied; when a wrong has been committed and there is no resolution; we console ourselves by saying “nobody ever promised that life would be fair” – we look to eternity to square the accounts and make things right …
But God’s plan has always been for an administration of justice and righteousness here on this earth; He will accomplish that during the millennial kingdom
Young: the righteous administration of the righteous and just will of God
Prov. 29:27 “An unjust man is abominable to the righteous, and he who is upright in the way is abominable to the wicked.”
2. Violence and Exploitation
“But now murderers.”
How shocking it must have been for these fellow Jews to be labeled “murderers” by Isaiah!
Yet here in God’s holy city Jerusalem, the prophet labels the people as murderers.
Our country has certainly had its heart broken this past week over the tragic events in Newtown CT. The evil in the heart of man that evidences itself most vividly in the murder of innocent small children horrifies all of us. But think of what an affront it is to the holy God who is the Creator of all life. Why isn’t our culture horrified at the thousands of abortions that murder innocent babies (much younger than ages 5-7 and much more vulnerable) that are still in the supposed protective womb of their mothers? We have become a nation of murderers. Our heart should be broken every day.
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus amplifies the heart condition that God condemns here:
Matt. 5:21-26 this is the fundamental sin we saw right from the beginning of time where Cain was jealous of his brother Abel and murdered him;
1 John 3:15 “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.”
If your society tolerates murderers … certainly all lesser evils find comfortable lodging there as well
C. (:22) Two Images of Adulteration
1. Silver Perverted into Dross
“Your silver has become dross,”
As Alexander observes, the figure changes from adultery to adulteration.
Young: silver represents all that is noble and pure
Vine: The pure silver of righteousness had become dross, an amalgam of formal religion and vileness. The wine of divinely imparted wisdom (Pr 9:5) was diluted with the water of mere tradition.
Not just contaminated but its very nature has been changed into the very opposite = that which is worthless and ugly
2. Wine Diluted with Water
“Your drink diluted with water.”
Bob Utley: This is not the normal term for wine. This singular feminine occurs only here. Because of the related cognate root in Akkadian, it may refer to beer, beer that has been diluted (i.e., ruined) by water.
leavening effects of sin (1Co 5:6), which when it enters contaminates every part of a person
How could this have happened? For the answer, the Lord looks to their failed leaders:
D. (:23) Indictment of Unfaithful Rulers
1. Heart Orientation = Rebellion
“Your rulers are rebels,”
Van Parunak: Ex. 18:13-27 advice Jethro gave to Moses about burden of rendering judgment all by himself; pick men that hate covetousness so that you won’t be able to buy them off; “rulers” = “princes” of Jerusalem – talking about people responsible for the daily adjudication of disputes among the people
Vs. 21 “Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain”
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely
Rulers should recognize that their power is delegated to them by God and they should be the most submissive to His rule – not rebels
2. Value System = Revealed by the company you keep
“And companions of thieves;”
Charge leveled by Jesus when He forcefully cleansed the temple:
Matt. 21:13 “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a robbers den.’”
You take what you want by exploiting others – motivated by greed and covetousness
3. Root Problem = Greed and Covetousness
a. Desiring prosperity without integrity
1) Taking bribes
“Everyone loves a bribe,”
2) Feathering their own nest
“And chases after rewards.”
This is why a requirement for elders in the church is that they not be greedy or pursuing sordid gain because leadership gives people the potential to abuse their power and exploit people rather than to serve their needs
Deut. 10:17-18 – how unlike their God the people have become
“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.”
Beall: Note the word play in v. 23b: instead of pursuing peace (~Alv’) the rulers are eagerly pursuing bribes (~ynImol.v;). (Note the order of events–one must first get right with the Lord, and then social change will take place. Social change apart from a proper relationship with the Lord is meaningless.)
b. Disregarding their fundamental calling
1) No concern for the helpless orphans
“They do not defend the orphan,”
1:17 “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
What can we do as a church to identify orphans in our community and undertake to provide for them?
2) No concern for the defenseless widows
“Nor does the widow’s plea come before them.”
Motyer: everything is subordinate to self-interest so that those who bring needs rather than gifts are dismissed without thought.
These individuals cannot pay you back – we are most like God when we are demonstrating mercy and compassion to those who have nothing to offer us in return; no great good work to have your friends over for dinner … what are you doing to show love to strangers … or even better – to love your enemies??
II. (:24-26) TOUGH LOVE –
JEHOVAH PROMISES TO REFINE AND RESTORE HIS CITY –
HARLOT BECOMES A FAITHFUL CITY –
LOOKING AT THE PROCESS
D. (:24a) Indictment Issued by the Sovereign, All Powerful Ruler
3 Names of God piled up here for effect:
1. Sovereign and All Powerful in Relation to All Creation
“ Therefore the Lord”
Oswalt: The term adon, Sovereign (or Lord), as applied to god, is almost peculiar to Isaiah (only elsewhere in Exod. 23:17; Mal. 3:1). In Isaiah it occurs exclusively in threats (3:1; 10:16, 33; 19:4) in conjunction with the following phrase, Lord of hosts. The combined effect of the two phrases is one of complete mastery, of total dominance. Who would be so foolish as to defy the Lord, Yahweh of Hosts? The effect is only heightened by the addition of the Mighty One of Israel, a phrase [actually “mighty One of Jacob” elsewhere] which elsewhere (Gen. 49:24; Isa. 49:26; 60:16; Ps. 132:2, 5) has positive connotations. But he who is mighty to save can also be mighty to destroy . . .
2. Sovereign and All Powerful in a Military Context Over All Nations
“God Of hosts” = of heavenly armies
Armies of Assyria and Babylon no longer considered so fearful when you realize that your Commander in Chief is the Lord of hosts
3. Sovereign and All Powerful in Relation to Israel
“The Mighty One of Israel declares,” [only OT usage]
Preceptaustin.org: The Hebrew word for might (‘abiyr) is used only of the name of God in all 6 OT uses [=”Mighty One of Jacob”
Suggestive of bull-like strength
C. (:24b-25) Two Images of Coming Judgment and Discipline
1. Casting off the Burden of Enemies
“Ah, I will be relieved of My adversaries, And avenge Myself on My foes.”
Who is in view here … and when will God perform this avenging? Is this a prophetic passage that has final consummation in the events preceding the establishment of the Millennial kingdom?
– Reference is to the Israelites themselves = all the commentators take this because of the immediate context speaking of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem
Beall: The saddest part of v. 24 is that the enemies referred to are the Israelites themselves.
Ezekiel 5 = strongest parallel passage to indicate that the Lord is here referring to His own people as adversaries and foes = very strong language
– Reference is to the other nations like Assyria and Babylon which God would use as instruments of discipline but then would punish them as well
“avenged” – only other usage:
Judges 16:28 “Then Samson called to the LORD and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.”
Is. 59:18 – referring to other wicked nations; Is. 64:2
Nah. 1:2 “A jealous and avenging God is the Lord; The Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies.” – oracle against Nineveh, the capital of Assyria
Motyer: The Lord will get relief (naham) and avenge (naqam) himself. The former term, with its root idea of ‘comfort’, points to soothing the hurt given to God; the latter to the objective requital merited. Any facile statement that God always hates the sin but loves the sinner needs to be countered by Isaiah’s insistence that those who transgress are my foes and my enemies.
Keil and Delitzsch: Jehovah would procure Himself relief from His enemies by letting out upon them the wrath with which He had hitherto been burdened.
2. Purifying God’s Chosen Nation via the Hand of Discipline
“I will also turn My hand against you, And will smelt away your dross as with lye, And will remove all your alloy.”
Preceptaustin.org: This prophecy most likely has a near and far fulfillment. The near fulfillment is when Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem and eventually destroyed the Holy Temple in 586BC, but in context with the description in the following verse (Isa 1:26), the ultimate fulfillment will be in the last days in the time of Jacob’s distress (Jer 30:6, 7), which Jesus designated as the Great Tribulation (Mt 24:15, 21, 30). . . It is only after Messiah returns at the end of the last half of Daniel’s Seventieth Week, at the end of the 3.5 year period ( the Great Tribulation) that Jerusalem will be called the city of righteousness, and be a faithful city (Isa 1:26). At that time Messiah, the Righteous One, will reign in Jerusalem, and He is ultimately the reason it will be righteous and faithful.
B. (:26a) Restoration of Justice and Righteousness at the Leadership Level
1. Restoration of Justice
“Then I will restore your judges as at the first, And your counselors as at the beginning;”
2. Restoration of Righteousness
“After that you will be called the city of righteousness,”
(Is 1:21; 60:21; 62:1; Je 31:23; Zeph 3:9,13; Zech 8:8; Re 21:27)
C. (:26b) Restoration of Faithfulness as Overall Characterization
“A faithful city.”
MacArthur: They were subsequently restored from the Babylonian captivity (Jer 29:10), but this promise has in view a greater and more lasting restoration. It anticipates a complete and permanent restoration, which will make Jerusalem supreme among the nations (Jer 3:17; Eze 5:5; Mic 4:2; Zec 8:22; 14:16). The only such purging and restoration in Scripture is that spoken of in conjunction with the yet future “time of Jacob’s distress” (Jer 30:6,7); i.e., Daniel’s 70th week, cf. Da 9:24-27) and the second advent of the Messiah (Zec 14:4).
III. (:27-31) TRANSFORMED LEGACY VS. TERMINAL LEGACY –
REDEMPTION FOR THE REPENTANT —
JUDGMENT WILL CONSUME ALL TRANSGRESSORS –
LOOKING AT GOD’S PROMISES
A. (:27) Transformed Legacy – Redemption for the Repentant
How will things end for the city of Jerusalem?
This verse both concludes the preceding section and stands in contrast to what comes after = a hinge = what holds the door and the house together — Van Parunak
1. The Process
a. God’s Work = Redemption
“Zion will be redeemed,”
Zion was originally a designation for the hill Ophel, this name became a synonym for the entire city of Jerusalem. Isaiah always uses it that way.
b. Man’s Response = Repentance
“And her repentant ones”
Motyer: Human repentance is not a meritorious work offered to God to excite his pleasure but a response to the fact that his righteous claims have been met.
2. The Product
B. (:28-31) Terminal Legacy – Judgment will Consume All Transgressors
1. (:28) Certain Destruction Based on Rebellion and Harlotry
“But transgressors and sinners will be crushed together,”
Transgressors break the law; sins of commission
Sinners fall short of the mark = failing to do what God requires of us
b. Come to an End
“And those who forsake the LORD shall come to an end.”
Surprising that the Lord does not forsake His covenant people; does not void all of His promises for their future blessing and prosperity – that is what many evangelicals believe today about the OT promises made to national Israel
Abandoned the Lord to go after false idols (trees and gardens)
Compromise with pagan religions
Van Parunak: shall be consumed.–They will be finished. Just what does this mean?
Verses like this are often quoted by annihilationists, those who hold that the wicked do not suffer eternally but are destroyed. The view is traditional with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day adventists, but over the past 50 years has been espoused by a number of prominent evangelicals (e.g., John Stott, Clark Pinnock, Philip E. Hughes, John Wenham). J.I. Packer http://www.thehighway.com/annihilationism_Packer.html and Benjamin Warfield http://www.thehighway.com/articleJuly04.html have prepared reviews, Packer with detailed discussion.
It would not help our understanding of Isaiah to divert into a detailed discussion of annihilationism, but three observations are worthwhile.
1. The OT focuses on the outward, physical, earthly form of the people of God. It naturally uses language that suggests the eradication of the wicked from society, without conflicting with later revelation concerning the eternal destiny of the wicked (e.g., Rev 14:11).
2. Even in the OT there are glimpses of the eternal suffering of the wicked. Compare v. 31 of this chapter, and Dan 12:2, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
3. The words used do not denote absolute cessation of existence. “Destruction” is literally “smashing, breaking,” rendering its object useless but not non-existent. “Consumed” is used of the human spirit in Ps 143:7, of the soul in Ps 84:2 and 119:81, and of the kidneys as the seat of the emotions in Job 19:27, to refer to great psychological pain and distress, not at all a cessation of consciousness, and this is most likely how the term is meant here, as we will see in the following verse. Similar examples can be multiplied of all the words that are held to refer to annihilation.
In addition, Isaiah goes on to amplify what he means by this description of their destiny, in very nonannihilationist terms.
2. (:29-30) Frustrated Shame Over Futile Idolatry
a. Image of Oaks – associated with anticipated strength – Objects of Idolatry
“Surely, you will be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired,”
“For you will be like an oak whose leaf fades away,”
Van Parunak: Kind of pistachio tree; called turpentine tree; grows very large; Ezek. 6:13; their name is actually a pun for name of God; environmentalists today talk about Mother Earth almost as if it were a god; tree-huggers with religious zeal for trees; trees also furnished material for the idols they crafted; Is. 44:13ff – mocking satire directed against man-made gods; Psalm 1
Oswalt: The use of trees here is a testimony to Isaiah’s gift of imagery and to the multiple allusions his images can sustain. Not only can the oak be used to conjure up the whole range of idolatry and the finally destructive results of idolatry, but it also can stand for those who are proud, dominating, and apparently self-sufficient, like a great tree.
Preceptaustin.org: refers to an oak or terebinth tree (or Terebinth), which was used in the sensuous, licentious, abominable, sexually charged atmosphere associated with pagan idol worship
b. Image of Garden – associated with anticipated fertility – Places of Idolatry
“And you will be embarrassed at the gardens which you have chosen.”
“Or as a garden that has no water.”
Deut. 16:21 – don’t worship in the type of sanctuary revered by pagans
3. (:31) Judgment by All Consuming Fire
a. Person and Works
“And the strong man will become tinder, His work also a spark.”
b. No Hope of Rescue or Deliverance
“Thus they shall both burn together, And there will be none to quench them.”
The reference here is probably to the sacred groves of Baal and Ashtoreth.
Justice and righteousness can only prevail where sin is judged and God’s wrath is satisfied
Need to live for Eternity
What we do in the Opening … in the Middle game … impacts the End Game
What will our legacy be? Transformed or Terminal?