Saturday, December 10, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 161

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isiah
Day 161

We continue on in Chapter 56 which is titled "Salvation For Others". In Old Testament times, when the children of Israel came in to lay hold of the land of Canaan, there were very strict rules about the way they related with the pagan people of the land. Foreigners could convert to the God of Israel but were generally excluded from holding any type of office or position of authority in the temple system. Remnants of their former religious doctrine might remain and begin to influence the way they performed their duties, thus leading others astray.

Another exclusion to service in the temple is found in Deuteronomy 23:1, "No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord." In ancient times it was the practice of some cultures to genitally mutilate their infant sons (in other words, performing castration, making them into eunuchs) so that when they were grown they could work in the houses of kings and high officials or serve in various religious occupations. Wealthy pagan men tended to maintain large harems and they did not trust other men in the palace who were capable of seducing their wives. Likewise, in some cults the priests were rendered sterile so their full adoration and attention could be given to their gods. The reason a eunuch could not hold an office in the temple was pretty much the same reason a foreigner could not: to prevent pagan practices from infiltrating the nation. 

But these exclusions to holding a position of influence do not extend to excluding these people from becoming children of God. "Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, 'The Lord will surely exclude me from His people,' And let no eunuch complain, 'I am only a dry tree.'" (Isaiah 56:3) Isaiah has been preaching God's all-inclusive message. The Lord calls "whosoever will" to come to Him. But in his heart the foreigner might be thinking, "What a glorious future the Lord has been predicting, but surely not for me. I'm a Gentile, born into a family who bowed down to false gods, and I have a lot of sin in my past. Surely God doesn't want me." And the eunuch might think, "My parents performed an act upon me that is forbidden by God. If this excludes me from service in His temple, surely I am also excluded from His family. Plus I can't even have children to raise up in the faith. On that future day when the King reigns from David's throne, I will have no descendants to see Him." 

But God will not reject them. "For this is what the Lord says: 'To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, who choose what pleases Me and hold fast to My covenant---to them I will give within My temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.'" (Isaiah 56:4-5) In Old Testament times this promise must have been hard to understand, but as we look back on it in the church age we see that God was preparing the people for a world in which all who come to Christ have equal standing in the household of God. The eunuchs may not have had a long line of descendants who could look back and say, "Great-great-grandpa was a real soldier of the faith! He brought up his family in the fear of the Lord. Where would we be without him?" But the eunuch who loved the Lord was a great man in God's eyes. He would receive from his Savior the reward of his faithfulness.

Likewise, the foreigner who loved the Lord was no less blessed than God's covenant people. "'And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to Him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be His servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to My covenant---these I will bring to My holy mountain and give them joy in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.'" (Isaiah 56:6-7) God's covenant people had fallen away from Him, hence the exile of the kingdom of Israel to Assyria and the kingdom of Judah to Babylon. Yet they looked down on the foreigners around them, foreigners who desperately wanted a true word of hope, who longed to be delivered from useless rituals to false idols and enter into the joy of knowing the living God. The Lord very clearly points out that the pagan foreigner who converts is every bit as accepted by God as a descendant of Abraham. 

None of us deserves grace and we don't enter the kingdom of the Lord because we had forefathers who served Him. We enter on the basis of each one of us having accepted Him as Lord. It's His work that makes us right with Him, so how can any of us feel we are more special than someone else, or that God is going to deny the offer of salvation to anyone? The Lord holds no prejudice against anyone. He is no respecter of persons. The poor man has the same opportunity to become a child of God as the rich man. The descendant of pagan idolaters has the same offer of salvation as the descendants of men like Abraham and King David. The man or woman with a trail of wreckage left behind because of sin is given the same invitation as the one who has done a lifetime of good works. It's grace that saves, grace alone, and God offers it to all of us.

Prideful as some of the people of Isaiah's day were, the following statement must have done more than puzzle them. It may actually have offended them. "The Sovereign Lord declares---He who gathers the exiles of Israel: 'I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.'" (Isaiah 56:8) They may have been able to pin their hopes on an eventual return to Zion, but what did God mean by the inclusion of all these foreigners? Who are these "still others" He will gather? Israel had the Abrahamic covenant to rest their hopes on, the sure promise that God would preserve them throughout all time, but why was He calling wicked idolaters to faith? Why was He allowing His word to come to those who had taken them captive? Why did His world vision include people of every nation and tribe and creed, of every color, both male and female, despite their pagan ancestry? We find the answer in the same verse we're talking about: He is "the Sovereign Lord". God has the authority to do what He pleases, and what He pleases is to offer mercy and grace to every human being. In Christ the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep, the Lord will make all the sheep part of one sheepfold. This is why the Lord Jesus said to the people of Israel, "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one Shepherd." (John 10:16)

When Isaiah preached this message there must have been frowns of scorn on the faces of those who disapproved of giving foreigners the same privileges as those enjoyed by the children of Abraham. There must have been raised eyebrows of confusion on the faces of those who had no objections to sharing the household of God with foreigners but who could not imagine how He would accomplish it. But since before the world began, God always intended to include people from every corner of the world in His family. Jesus said "I have other sheep" because they already belonged to Him, though He had not called them yet. Their inclusion was a foregone conclusion. It was as good as done. Before the Lord ever said, "Let there be light", He knew you and He knew me. Before the first atom of the universe was formed, the Son of God was already committed to becoming the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the Shepherd of John 10, and the Lord of lords and King of kings of Revelation 19. My ancestors were Gentiles who at one time no doubt babbled senseless chants to false idols in hilltop shrines. But I am a part of those "other sheep" and the Lord in His faithfulness called me to be His child. It doesn't matter who we are or where we come from. God is concerned only with where we're going, and in Christ our future is more glorious than our human minds can fathom.

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