Thursday, January 5, 2017

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 184

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 184

We are nearing the middle portion of the final chapter of Isaiah and there is disagreement among scholars regarding the meaning of the "birth" that takes place in today's passage. We will look at the passage and discuss the three top prevailing theories about it.

"Before she goes into labor, she gives birth; before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son. Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children." (Isaiah 66:7-8) 

I think we have to keep in mind that Isaiah's vision is of a distinctively Jewish nature. He is primarily speaking to his own people Israel. It is Zion who gives birth without labor pains. It is Zion who bears a son. And from this son comes a nation, suddenly, in a moment.

One theory that some scholars have put forth is that this represents the sudden release of the exiles from Babylon and their return to Jerusalem. They feel that a new and more faithful nation was born in captivity, for Israel never again sunk down into idolatry. The captivity lasted seventy years and the majority of the Jews who returned had been born in Babylon. They had never laid eyes on Zion or set foot on Jerusalem's soil. So in this sense, the "son" that is delivered could be the revived and repentant nation called out of Babylon, in the same sense God's people Israel were referred to as the "son" He called out of Egypt. However, I see a couple of problems with the theory of this birth being the return of the exiles, unless it was simply the beginning of the fulfillment of Zion's future glory. The people labored to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple after they had been razed to the ground by Nebuchadnezzar. In the book of Nehemiah we learn how difficult the work was and how impossible it appeared to the people. Enemies attempted to put a stop to it and the men working on the wall had to hold a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other. It was a monumental task to return to Zion and rebuild. In addition, as we continue to go through this final chapter of Isaiah, we get the feeling that this new birth is a permanent condition of peace and prosperity for Zion. The nations will flock to her with their wealth, and while in our day Israel does receive financial aid from her allies (namely the United States) she has not yet attained the "peace like a river" that will be promised to her in Chapter 66. Israel is still enduring the "times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24) and still has enemies on every side. There are things I like about this first theory and things I don't like. If anything, I feel that the return of the exiles was the beginning of the fulfillment of Isaiah's vision, but that the complete fulfillment was yet to come.

The second theory of the birth of a nation which takes place in a moment is that this represents the events of the day of Pentecost, when the church was born. A new covenant was born out of the old covenant. A new nation sprang out of the old one, suddenly and without labor pains, because the labor it took to create the church was not done by mankind. God the Father, the righteous and holy lawgiver, offered a plan of salvation that would satisfy His requirements. God the Son carried out the work of salvation on the cross, taking the place of mankind, becoming a sacrifice so holy and perfect that every sin of every man and woman could be paid for by it. And God the Holy Spirit called men and women into this new and glorious liberty, with a wonderful example of this being when He spoke to the hearts of 3,000 people on the day of Pentecost, leading them to repentance and salvation. The Holy Trinity labored over this new birth and brought forth a nation suddenly, in a moment. 

According to this second theory, the "son" here would be both singular and plural, representing both Jesus Christ and the believers of Israel. Isaiah has already predicted the virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14) and that the son who was given to the nation will someday govern the world (Isaiah 9:6) The theory that the "birth" of chapter 66 refers to the believers in Christ would provide a good explanation for why the nations will someday flock to Israel with their wealth, rejoicing for her when her King comes to rule from David's throne. We, as Christians, feel a kinship with Israel. The son born to her is our Savior. And through Him a new nation was born, not just of those of Israel who believed on Him, but of the Gentiles too. 

The third theory as to what this "birth" represents is the future glory of Zion when her King comes suddenly to claim the throne of David and to usher in a new age. The eternal peace and prosperity of Zion will be His doing. Zion will not bring this about herself; she will not labor for it. She has attempted to labor for it in the past, but fell into sin instead. When Israel attempted to gain salvation on her own, through works and ritualism and legalism, she failed. As Isaiah said of his nation, "As a pregnant woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in Your presence, Lord. We were with child, we writhed in labor, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not come to life." (Isaiah 26:17-18) In seeking to be a light to the world through her own efforts, Israel instead became like the world, tumbling into the same traps and falling for the same lies of idolatry. The work of salvation is something only the Lord can accomplish. In Chapter 60 Isaiah said that in those days the glory of the Lord will rest upon Israel, that nations and their kings will come to bring honor and wealth to Zion, that the Gentiles will assist all the citizens of the scattered tribes of Israel in returning to their homeland, and that the Lord will make Zion "the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations" (Isaiah 60:15b) 

The prophet Micah also foresaw the future glory of Zion, "In the last days the mountain of the Lord will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it...They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken...'In that day,' declares the Lord, 'I will gather the lame; I will assemble the exiles and those I have brought to grief. I will make the lame My remnant, those driven away a strong nation. The Lord will rule over them in Mount Zion from that day and forever. As for you, watchtower of the flock, stronghold of Daughter Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem." (Micah 4:1, 3b-4, 6-8) 

We must each thoughtfully make up our own minds as to what we believe this new and miraculous "birth" represents, but I believe we can all agree that the Lord is making beautiful promises in Chapter 66. He is going to do awesome things for the ones who trust in Him, and the praise for this will be His alone. Israel will never be able to take credit for her own salvation. Neither will the church. Throughout the ages, the Lord has done great things for both the nation of Israel and the church, but our greatest days are still ahead of us. Our King is coming, and "the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious." (Isaiah 11:10)

No comments:

Post a Comment