Isaiah 56:1-8 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Isaiah 56:1-8


No Place for Pride

Isaiah had to address his message to a nation in decline – the glory days had passed and the nation's leaders were now turning this way and that in their efforts to secure peace. But they wouldn't turn from their sin and they wouldn't turn to the One True Living God.

A large amount of what Isaiah had to do was to look into the future and to try to prepare his contemporaries for what was going to take place.

And so we find that Isaiah warned of a coming exile when the nation would experience a massive deportation and he explained what life would be like in this exile. This message was realistic but not very encouraging and the people did not want to pay attention to it. Men and women then (as now) preferred to trust their own wisdom rather than submit to God's. Instead of heeding Isaiah's warnings they marched headlong into the very predicament from which Isaiah had to protect them.

But Isaiah's message was never all doom and gloom. Yes, his message contained serious warnings about coming judgment but he also declared that God would nevertheless help his people if only they would trust him. As Isaiah's ministry developed he spoke more and more about God's gracious promises to provide a great deliverance by sending a great Saviour who would ensure a great future.

Now as we come to the last section of Isaiah's book chs.56-66 Isaiah continues to look into the future. He looks beyond the prophesied exile (that had not yet even begun) and prophesied a return to the land. God would restore at least a remnant of the people that bore his name after the judgment of exile. The return to the land was a great deliverance but there were yet greater things to come than that.

Isaiah had already spoken much about God's Saviour, the Messiah, and he was yet to come. Part of Isaiah's ministry then would be to teach those who had returned from exile just how they were to live their lives as they waited for this Messiah.

But as Isaiah continued to gaze into the future guided by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he saw a hitherto undreamt of expansion of the Messiah's kingdom which would embrace not only a handful of Jews but folk from all over the world. Isaiah's vision in fact goes well beyond a simple restoration of Israel to her land he envisages a time when God will bring about a totally new order of things, he catches glimpses of renewed heavens and a new earth!

As Christians today we are in a somewhat analogous situation to those Jews who were to return as the remnant to Israel after the exile. They needed to know how to live while awaiting the coming of the Messiah. We in our turn need to know how to live as we await the second coming of this same Messiah. We both look towards the further glorious expansion of Messiah's kingdom and to the renewal of all things. As Peter wrote to Christian believers in the NT:

2Pet.3:13 "according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells."

God Gathers a People
Chapter 56 begins with a brief set of instructions and a short description of the blessedness of the person who properly follows them.

Our first task is to discover to whom the Lord is actually speaking.

In context there are a couple of clear indicators:

  • Back in ch.55 there is a well-developed and comprehension OT gospel invitation given:

Eg. v.1 Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price…

v.3  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David…

vv.6-7  Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon…

  • The people who are addressed in ch.56:1 are those who have heard and heeded the gospel invitations in ch.55. In other words those who are spoken too in ch.56 are those who have been converted already and they are now being told how they should live their lives as converted people. They do not make themselves acceptable to God by their works or by their efforts but they show the genuineness of their new found relationship with God affecting the way they live.

In Isaiah's day these people were believing Jews, those sometimes known as the remnant. That there is a distinction to be made between members of the OT people of God is   clear in the NT:

Rom.9:6-7 "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named."

It was quite possible to belong to the people in a formal sense without possessing the inward reality of personally belonging to God. We must never allow ourselves to imagine that keeping company with Christians makes us Christians too - personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ are the essential factors that must be found in our lives before anything else.

But these believing Jews, this faithful remnant, must not for a moment imagine that they have been saved because of their faith as though they were better than others and so had been rewarded for their efforts. They might have been tempted to think so. It really is pretty easy for us to give way to pride isn't it, after all we have remained faithful when others haven't, we are keeping on when others are giving up?

But just look at what God has to say about them and how he describes them:

Is.56:8a "The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel…"

Even the remnant is described as being formerly "the outcasts of Israel" – if this is the case then salvation can only be attributed to God's grace, salvation is always of grace throughout the Bible.

So far there is perhaps little in Isaiah's description of God's people that would have surprised the thoughtful hearer. After all throughout Israel's history there had been those who responded in faith and those who hadn't. But Isaiah's description of the people that God was planning to gather has not yet been completed. Look again at verse 8, and this time we'll read on to the end of the verse:

Is.56:8b "I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered."

Messiah's kingdom will contain a believing Jewish remnant but there will be others too who will be admitted into this kingdom, who will be included in his kingdom too. Their inclusion in Messiah's kingdom is described in identical terms to the inclusion of the Jewish remnant – both are gathered by the Lord GOD. (Interestingly we have here another clear example of how divine sovereignty and human responsibility are seen to go along together without any hint of contradiction: God gathers and yet the ones he gathers are the ones who have responded in faith to his invitations, the ones who have chosen to join themselves to the LORD and to trust in the covenant promises of God.)

We will shortly see that the terms of their citizenship/their discipleship are also identical to those of the Jewish remnant.

At this point I want us to pause for a moment and to recognise that the message of the Bible is a single message, a united message. There are not different ways of salvation for different people and we are not to imagine that there are. The NT is the fulfilment of the OT and completes it – I wonder how many of you when we read Is.56:8 thought that it sounded similar to something that Jesus said in John ch.10 that famous chapter about the Good Shepherd. Listen to what Jesus said there:

Jn.10:16 "And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd."

It is the same message. One people saved by the same Saviour who takes the initiative in saving and yet the one's saved are exactly the ones who hear his voice and follow him. Both types are sheep – no first or second class Christians here either!

Now back to Isaiah ch.56 and we'll see the type of person that God intends to add to Messiah's kingdom.

Isaiah speaks about two different categories of people whose inclusion as full members of God's people would have caused real surprise to the Jews of his day:

  • Foreigners v.3 + v.6     (a)

  • Eunuchs v.4 + v.5 (b)

(The pattern spread over vv.3-6 is a-b-b-a)

a) Over history Israel's relation to foreigners was far from being a straightforward one. While provision was made for foreigners to be integrated within Israel by submitting to Jewish circumcision rites for most of Israel's history foreigners were regarded more as the enemy who threatened to destroy Israel's identity as a nation. And to this end intermarriage with foreigners was outlawed. The way in which some nations had treated Israel led to them being forever excluded from the spiritual benefits enjoyed by Israel:

Deut.23:3 "No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever,"

Thus the position of the foreigner was a fragile one and one which might easily be called into question at times of national spiritual revival amongst the Israelites (cf.Neh.13:23-27). And yet here in Is.56 the foreigner who has put his faith and trust in Israel's God is encouraged to go on trusting for the LORD will not reject him.

The foreigner that the LORD will not reject is described as having joined himself to the LORD v.3 in order to serve him and to love him v.6. These ones the LORD promises:

  • to bring them to his holy mountain – place of divine worship and acceptance

  • to make them joyful in his house of prayer – the temple is in view and once again acceptance is in view

  • to accept the sacrifices he offered there on his altar

The LORD promised to do all this because he had determined that his house, his Temple, would serve as a house not just for the small nation of Israel but for all peoples. When in the first century of the Christian era the Jews turned the only areas in the Temple allocated for the worship offered by non-Jews into a market place Jesus burned with righteous holy anger. Foreigners were not to be inhibited but welcomed and helped because God intended that the nations (at least some from every tribe and tongue and nation) would belong in the Messiah's kingdom.

Returning to the Promised Land after the exile the LORD promised that his kingdom would be greatly enlarged – the nations would be added too.

b) The eunuch too was in a difficult position in the spiritual life of Israel and was restricted in what roles he might fulfil. He was unable for example to enter the assembly of the LORD (De 23:1) meaning most probably that he could not belong to the elders, judges or rulers of the people. Such a one could not serve publicly as a priest either – physical deformity being taken to represent moral shortcomings.

In Isaiah's day a man could have been made a eunuch for a variety of reasons: to secure promotion in looking after the harem of some wealthy potentate for example but it could also be a sign of being devoted to one of the many false and foreign gods with which Israel came into contact.

Of course a eunuch could not expect to prolong his name through engendering children – something which was regarded as being of great importance. Contemplating this perhaps as the years passed the eunuch might be tempted to think all was lost for him he was, after all, only "a dry tree".

But Messiah's kingdom will welcome such too and the blessings of belonging to this kingdom would more than compensate for the loss of other more natural and less spiritual blessings.

When we turn the pages of our Bibles and come to the NT with the arrival of the promised Messiah we find him acting in ways that are in complete harmony with what Isaiah proclaimed hundreds of years earlier.

Jesus commissioned the apostles (and the church with them) to take the gospel into all the world and the NT is full of accounts of the growing pains of the Messiah's kingdom as the old mould and the old patterns give way to the new. Similarly we find that hope is brought to those who otherwise could expect very little because of their own personal condition. While preparing, I read that only thing worse than being a foreigner in relation to Israel was being a foreigner and a eunuch. And yet what do we find as the gospel makes progress? We discover an Ethiopian eunuch who on his journey home having been up to Jerusalem to worship still didn't understand what God's plan and purposes were really all about. He for one couldn't make head-nor-tail of Isaiah's prophecies about a Messiah of forgiveness through the Messiah. And yet, you know so well the story don't you? Philip met him reading the Scriptures and explained what it all meant and the Ethiopian was baptized in just the same way as others who came into the church of Jesus Christ. How glorious the gospel is! How wonderful is God's plan of salvation!

So, Isaiah tells us, Messiah's kingdom would be populated by many many folk:

  • it didn't matter what their ethnic or racial background was – Jew or foreigner

  • it didn't matter what physical condition they were in – the kingdom was open to the disadvantaged just as it was to the privileged

  • it didn't matter what their sinful past might have been – repentance and faith would deal with them all.

What a picture Isaiah paints of Messiah's kingdom to be fully developed in the church of Jesus Christ!

The Common Characteristics of the Members of Messiah's Kingdom
Have you noticed as we've been working through this passage that certain elements keep on re-emerging? certain descriptions keep on being repeated in one form or another?
The believing Jew, the outcast that the LORD gathers, lives a transformed life, in the light of the salvation that was soon to be fully revealed. Such a life would be characterised by:

  • Just and upright behaviour – which is an apt way of summarising the Second Table of the Law.

  • Keeping the Sabbath – here respect for the Sabbath is put for the whole of the First Table of the Law:

Indeed to observe the Sabbath with care makes a number of statements about a person. When a person carefully observes the Sabbath he is declaring:

* That God rules over his time cf. Ex.16:22-30
That he loves God – Is.56:6 and Is.58:13
That he accepts the terms of the divinely ordained covenant – this is explicitly picked up with reference to the eunuch (v.4) and to the foreigner (v.6)

Indeed as we read the descriptions of the three categories of people with whom Isaiah is concerned – the Jew, the foreigner and the eunuch – it is striking how similar indeed how identical the lifestyle is and is to be!

This is another way of saying that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek – all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and are justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom.3:23-24).

It is also another way of saying that there is but one way of salvation – there are not multiple tracks for people but just one way and that one way is Jesus Christ.

It is also instructive that all members of the kingdom of the Messiah are to demonstrate similar characteristics – there is a family likeness if you like to the people of God.

Let me ask you as we close – do you see yourself here? Have you entered this kingdom of the Messiah? Have you and are you currently exercising faith and trust in the Saviour who has come? Is your life marked by the type of holy, godly behaviour of service that is without fear which shouts to the world that serving the Lord is wonderful and thrilling as you too wait for the coming of the Messiah – only in your case his second coming and not his first?

May God help us to put our trust in the Lord Jesus and to keep it there and may he lead us joyfully and safely on!


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