Have you Heard about His Arm?
Israel, the Failure
Israel, the Failure
Isaiah is like a New Testament preacher, in an Old Testament prophet’s body. In his long term ministry in Judah, Isaiah discovered what few others could possibly have understood, that Israel’s problem was much worse than mere bad behavior. This was a tragedy because...
The LORD called Israel to be His servant. He raised her up, prepared her, made her truly beautiful so that she could show His glory in the midst of the nations.
The thematic-middle chapters of Isaiah, known colloquially as the Servant Songs, are comprised of a series of poetic sermons which deal with this theme. National Israel was hewn from the quarry of Abraham and Sarah (cf. Isa. 51:1-2) who were chosen and blessed by God. However, God did not choose this one family in order to exclude all the others. Rather he chose them in order to bless all the world’s families (cf. Gen. 12:1-3) by rescuing them through Israel’s influence from their false gods.
---> We read in Isaiah 43:10–12 (NIV; cf. Isa. 44:1-2, 21): “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I am God.’”
National Israel was an Old Testament missionary to point Gentile nations to Yahweh. However, she desparately failed this mission.
She was meant to be God’s mantlepiece, His perfect illustration of what life lived His way, under His rule would mean. However, instead of drawing the other nations into Yahweh’s embrace, she rebelled against her husband. She committed spiritual adultery by worshipping the fase gods of her neighbors. She was nearsighted, looking only at her own selfish desires.
--->We read in Isaiah 42:18–19 (NIV): “Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one in covenant with me, blind like the servant of the Lord?”
God’s servant, Israel, turned out to be a rebel, a traitor, and a failure.
Yahweh revelaed this to Isaiah from the beginning at the prophet’s commissioning. In fact, Isaiah wa essentially appointed to a ministry of failure. We read in Isaiah 6:9–10 (NIV): “He [Yahwel]said [to Isaiah], “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
And so in a ministry that saw at least four kings, and probably more than a half-century of calendar space, Isaiah learned conclusively that people are unable to ultimately change their behavior, because behavior, no matter how egregious, or obvisouly flawed, is not the core issue. Through strenuous efforts, or ingenious planning behavior may be modified with limited results:
I’ve never quite figured it out, but occassionally an obese person may learn to control their weight.
An alcaholic may discover a secret which to remaining sober in the midst of their difficulties
A man with a violent temper may develop coping techniques to keep themselves calm.
For fear of punishment a child may learn to obey at least when mom or dad are watching.
Similarly for fear of the electic chair, a fed-up wife may manage not to poison her husband.
Israel’s did not have a behavior problem, but a sin problem.
Sin cannot be sidelined, reasoned with, or counseled away. There is no effective 12-step program to deal with sin. The legislature is powerless to pass any law that will fix the issue. There is only one remedy that works: Sin must be executed!
What is the difference between behavior and sin? Aren’t they the same thing?
---> Behavior is an effect. Sin is the cause.
---> Behavior is a symptom. Sin is the disease.
--->Behaviors may be learned, because they are things we do. Sin requires no learning, because it is part of who we are.
We are born sinners, each and every one of us: Fish swim, birds fly, bears hibernate, and sinners sin.
--->This is why specific behaviors may be minimized \ through legistlation, but no government has ever successfully dealt with sin—not even the theocracy of ancient Israel.
Because of Israel’s deep sin, Yahweh had little choice but to sit in judgement of His own wife, to send Judah away into exile.
Therefore the commissioning ceremony continues: “Isaiah 6:11–13 (NIV): “Then I said, ‘For how long, Lord?’ [i.e. for how long must I preach this difficult message; for how long must my ministry feel so unproductive]. And he answered: ‘Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.’”
And we read about this same punishment in the Servant Songs. Israel failed as Yahweh’s servant, so the prophet must ask in Isaiah 42:24-25 (NIV): ” Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways; they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.”
The Ally: Cyrus
Interestingly enough, despite the fact that a large portion of space in the Servant Songs is dedicated to the Persian King Cyrus, the man himself is never termed Yahweh’s servant. Yahweh calls him “my shepherd” (44:28), “the LORD’s chosen ally” (48:14) and even “my anointed” (45:1), but never “my servant”.
Cyrus was God’s means of bringing the judgement against his people to an end, and of restoring them to their land. More than a century before Cyrus came to power, Isaiah prophecied about him by name, saying that the LORD “says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid’” (Isaiah 44:28, NIV).
Servant 2: The Atoning Sufferer
All through the Servant songs which describe the failure, upcoming punishment, and eventual restoration of national Judah, there is another servant intermittently spoken of. To be clear, the reader must take care in reading the tet lest he make the mistake of lumping these two servants together as some have done. However, this other servant, though he is also called Israel(!)--Isaiah 49:3 (NIV): “He said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.’”—is not Israel, at least not per se. We know this for at least three reasons:
Israel failed as Yahweh’s servant, but this other servant is no failure. We read in Isaiah 52:13 (NIV): “See, my servant will act wisely” or as the NET renders it, “Look, my servant will succeed!“
This other servant specifically redeems sinful Israel. How can sinful Israel make atonment for herself? For instance, we read in Isaiah 49:5 (NIV): “And now the Lord says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself...”
This other servant looks an awful lot like Yahweh himself: Isaiah 52:13 (NIV): “he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” The Hebrew words rum and nasa are used together three times in Isaiah: Here, in Isaiah 6:1, and in Isaiah 57:15. In both other occurrences the pair of words function together as a descriptor of Yahweh.
What we need is a champion, a great hero to take on sin in one-on-one combat and emerge victorious.
Yahweh is a renouned military hero:
--Exodus 15:3 (NIV): “The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.”
--Isaiah 24:21 (NIV): “In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below.”
—Isaiah 27:1 (NIV): “Isaiah 27:1 (NIV): In that day, the Lord will punish with his sword— his fierce, great and powerful sword— Leviathan the gliding serpent, Leviathan the coiling serpent; he will slay the monster of the sea.”
Think about how dangerous sin is:
---> Isa. 52:13---The victorious [wise, i.e. successful] servant looks just like the LORD, in that He is described as “high and lifted up”
---> Isa. 52:14---This Servant is beaten up so badly that he is physically appalling and non-human looking.
The Gospel is a loser’s only cl