Isaiah – Our Response to God’s Sovereignty

My conclusion from Isaiah so far:

“In the future, God will end war through his Messiah who comes from the line of David. Until then, he is in control of the nations around Israel. When they are too evil for him to accept, he will discipline and even destroy them by bringing other nations to attack. When they attack God’s people without God’s permission, he will defend them with miraculous victories.”

So how are God’s people to respond? Since God is ruling the nations with truth and justice, are his people to participate and help him? Does God’s providence mean – as Oliver O’Donovan suggests – that Christians must join their governments in enforcing God’s justice against the wicked? (see Desire of the Nations, 72 for his use of providence and Ways of Judgement for his support of governmental coercive judgement).

What commands does Isaiah give to the people of God? A survey of the imperatives in the book reveals a surprising shortage of commands to the hearers. There are many commands to hear, see and learn, but very few outlining actions as a response to God. The hearers are called to turn to God, to trust him, to rejoice in him and to sing praises to him. All of these are about their direct relationship with God.

There are only two commands that relate to the hearer’s relationship with other people, and they are rather generic calls for Israel to live lives of justice:

Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17)

This is what the LORD says: Preserve justice and do what is right, for My salvation is coming soon, and My righteousness will be revealed. (Isaiah 56:1)

While Isaiah is notable for a lack of specific commands, we see a different feature that this prophet is famous for: the Servant Songs (Isa 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12).These four poems are as important to Isaiah as they are controversial. Who are they talking about? Is the “Suffering servant” Isaiah, Israel/Judah or Jesus? Or does it change throughout the songs? I am reasonably convinced that the answer is: yes. There is a lot of representation going on in the Servant Songs. As a prophet of Israel, Isaiah is a representation of what Israel goes through and what Israel goes through is a pre-figuring of what Jesus – the true Israel – was going to go through. What is important to notice is how this Servant respond’s to God’s rule:

1 This is My Servant; I strengthen Him, this is My Chosen One; I delight in Him. I have put My Spirit on Him; He will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry out or shout or make His voice heard in the streets. 3 He will not break a bruised reed, and He will not put out a smoldering wick; He will faithfully bring justice. (Isa 42:1-3)

True justice comes from a man who does not fight back.

1 Coastlands, listen to me; distant peoples, pay attention. The LORD called me before I was born. He named me while I was in my mother’s womb. 2 He made my words like a sharp sword; He hid me in the shadow of His hand. He made me like a sharpened arrow; He hid me in His quiver. 3 He said to me, “You are My servant, Israel; I will be glorified in him.”  (Isa 49:1-3)

The military language only serves to highlight what this Servant’s weapons truly are: his words.

4 The Lord God has given Me the tongue of those who are instructed to know how to sustain the weary with a word. He awakens Me each morning; He awakens My ear to listen like those being instructed. 5 The Lord God has opened My ear, and I was not rebellious; I did not turn back. 6 I gave My back to those who beat Me, and My cheeks to those who tore out My beard. I did not hide My face from scorn and spitting.

9 In truth, the Lord God will help Me; who is he who will condemn Me? Indeed, all of them will wear out like a garment; a moth will devour them. (Isa 50:4-6, 9)

This is how the Book of Isaiah expects God’s faithful to respond to his international providence. While the evil nations persecute them, they suffer, but in the knowledge that God will bring about their redemption. Of course, this image is fulfilled finally and fully by Jesus:

5 But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. 6 We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the LORD has punished Him for the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth. 8 He was taken away because of oppression and judgment; and who considered His fate? For He was cut off from the land of the living; He was struck because of My people’s rebellion.

But that does not undermine the fact that this Suffering Servant is held up by Isaiah as the faithful response to God.

When we put the teachings on God’s international providence, together with the the servant lives that God’s followers must live, the message that Isaiah has for Israel is clear: You worry about the “small” things: faithfulness, holiness, justice – how you live your individual and corporate lives before God. God will look after the “big” things: the surrounding nations, the weather and the prosperity of the land. Israel’s response to God’s great providence is to trust him to care for them, and in response to worship him and love their neighbours, and to wrongs of this world with patient expectation of God’s deliverance.

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