11-6-2 Isaiah's Prophecies Of Restoration
The Possibility And The Reality
Isaiah’s lengthy prophecies of the restoration
must likewise be compared against the sad reality of what actually
happened. The prophecies exude a wonderfully positive and joyful
spirit, which contrasts with the defeatism of the returnees. And
one cannot help but wonder whether we as individuals and therefore
as a community have really lived the life of joy which the NT promises
for those who truly believe. Take Is. 45:20-21 as an example: “Assemble
yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of
the nations [i.e. Babylon and all the 127 provinces of Persia]...Tell
ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together”.
These are the very words used to describe how the Arab opposition
‘took counsel together’ to frustrate the work of the Jews (Nehemiah
6:7). Yahweh is exultantly saying: ‘Let them do it...let them get
on with it, nothing can prosper against you and your work!’. But
instead, the Jews took the opposition so so seriously. Jer. 31:4
telling speaks of how God would “build thee, and thou shalt be built,
O virgin of Israel”. The “virgin” here refers to the temple which
was to be built by God, and yet it also clearly refers to the actual
people of Judah who returned. In other words, their attitude to
the temple was their attitude to themselves. Because they had such
a low value of their own worth before God, they treated His work
with a similar low value. And there is a great lesson for us here.
Isaiah 54:2 bids the returning exiles to “enlarge
the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of
thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords!”. Yet Isaiah so
often uses the idea of ‘stretching out’ the Heavens with reference
to His creation of His new Kingdom (Isaiah 40:22; Is. 42:5; 44:24;
45:15; 51:13; 65:17,18). Zechariah 1:6 cp. 12:1 show that to stretch
out Jerusalem is parallel with stretching out the ‘heavens’. The
‘singing’ of the heavens refers to Judah’s intended joy at the restoration
(Isaiah 49:13 cp. 48:20). Israel were being told to peg out their
tent as wide and far as they could; because this would be the extent
of their Kingdom. The Kingdom would be as ‘large’ for them as they
had vision for in this life.
Is. 51:14, speaking
of the call to Judah to leave Babylon, sounds as if they were all
willing and eager to leave that spiritually dreadful place: “The
captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed, and that he should
not die in the pit”. But the reality was that Judah didn’t hasten
to be loosed, they preferred the Babylon life, and didn’t perceive
it for the spiritual pit that was killing them which it was. Most
of them chose to remain there. So this passage is therefore a prophecy,
a command, about how God wanted Judah to respond. God 'stirred
up' the spirit of Cyrus and also of the Jews who returned (Ezra
1:1,5). Isaiah uses the same Hebrew term to describe how Israel's
saviour would be "raised up" [s.w.]- Is. 41:2,25; 45:13.
And yet Isaiah pleads with Zion, i.e. the faithful, to indeed be
stirred up- Is. 51:17; 52:1 appeals to Zion to "Awake!"-
the same word translated "stirred up". But Isaiah tragically
concluded that there were so few who would 'stir up themselves'
(Is. 64:7). God had given them the potential to be 'stirred up'
in their hearts and minds to leave Babylon and return- but they
wouldn't respond. And today, the same happens. God is willing to
change hearts, to stir up materialistic and complacent spirits-
but because we're not robots, we have to respond. And yet, God's
grace still shines through. 1 Kings 8:47-50 had predicted that God
would give the exiles compassion in captivity if they repented.
They didn't repent, as passages like Ez. 18 make clear (they blamed
everything on their fathers and prtoested their personal innocence)-
and yet still God gave them compassion in the eyes of their captors,
through the amazing decrees of Cyrus enabling them to return to
their land and rebuild the temple at his expense.
Isaiah's constant references back to the Exodus deliverance are to make the point that what God had done then, He could just as easily do for the exiles as they left Babylon / Egypt. Is. 50:2,3 bring out the huge potential power which God could wield for the exiles: "If I were to rebuke the sea it would dry up! I could turn rivers into a wilderness... I could clothe the heavens with blackness" . All this conditional language and grammar shows the great potential which Israel could have tapped into had they wished.
Isaiah 62:6,7 speaks of watchmen [= the prophets, Ezekiel
3:17; Jer. 6:17; Hab. 2:1] set upon Jerusalem’s walls as watchmen,
keeping no silence [in their prophesying] until Jerusalem was established.
For the link between the prophets and standing on a watchtower,
see Hab. 2:1. Is this not a reference to Malachi, Haggai and Zechariah
prophesying as the basis upon which the newly built walls of Jerusalem
would be preserved, and the city develop into the Messianic Kingdom
hoped for? Note that the rebuilt Jerusalem of Ezra’s time and the
latter day Jerusalem are the same thing in Isaiah; the Kingdom could’ve
come then. Watchmen upon the walls were looking for something- for
the approach of the Messianic messenger with good tidings of Judah’s
full return from captivity, of which Isaiah had spoken in Isaiah
52:7,8. But most of Judah preferred to stay in Babylon, took up
a collection for the few who did return… and no Messiah could appear
with that news. God had promised this- but He asked to be put in
rememberance of His promises (Isaiah 43:26), i.e. He asked for those
watchmen to be His ‘rememberancers’, even though He cannot in that
sense forget them (Psalms 119:49; Jer. 14:21). In all this we see
an exquisite picture of how God works with men, how His promised
faithfulness and omnipotence all the same has built into it a requirement
for human prayerfulness and response. The reality was that the watchmen
/ prophets of Israel were blind, ignorant and sleepy (Isaiah 56:10).
Isaiah's restoration prophecies are shot through
with references to Abraham, directly or indirectly. Israel / Judah
are called by Isaiah to be Yahweh's chosen (Is. 41:8), fetched from
the end of the land (Is. 41:9), to act like the seed of Abraham
(Is. 41:8)... just like Abraham. But Abraham left Babylonia and
journeyed to the promised land- and Judah likewise are bidden make
that journey (Is. 44:2). By refusing to do so, they were showing
themselves to not be the seed of Abraham- they were rejecting
themselves from the covenant people. I've shown at length elsewhere
that Abraham initially resisted the call to leave Ur, he struggled
with the challenge, it took him years actually to truly leave Babylonia
behind and head out in faith to the promised land. So the relevance
to the Jews in exile was pertinent. It's the same with Isaiah's
allusions to Israel's leaving Egypt. The Jews in Babylon were intended
to live out the type by leaving Babylon and making the wilderness
journey to the land- and God helped them in it. For example, Ezra
6:4 records how God moved the local authorities to pronounce that
the residents around the returning exiles should give them silver,
gold and goods. This was an exact re-living of how Israel left Egypt
with Egypt's gold and silver (Ex. 12:35). Yet most of the Jews didn't
want to return, they didn't want to live out the type.
Those who truly waited upon Yahweh
would renew their strength; they would “mount up as eagles”
(Isaiah 40:31), the s.w. used throughout Ezra and Nehemiah
for the ‘going up’ to Jerusalem from Babylon to rebuild
the temple (Ezra 1:3,5,11; 2:1,59; 7:6,7,28; 8:1; Nehemiah
7:5,6,61; 12:1). The idea of mounting up with wings as eagles also connects with Ezekiel's vision of the cherubim, mounting up from the captives by the rivers of Babylon, and returning to the land.
Neh 4:10: “And Judah said, The
strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there
is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall”.
Examination of the context shows that they had just had
plenty of strength; they lost physical stamina because of
their spiritual weakness.
If Judah had walked with the Angel-cherubim, followed the Spirit-Angels, they would have found energy to go in the way prepared for them.
Time and again, Isaiah’s restoration
prophecies told Judah that they should not fear, as Yahweh
would mightily be with them in their work (Isaiah 41:10,13,14;
43:1,5; 44:2,8,11; 54:7,14; 59:19).
But Judah feared the surrounding
nations- Ezra and Nehemiah are full of this theme (Ezra
3:3). Nehemiah refused to be put in fear by the Samaritan
opposition because of his faith in Isaiah’s promises (Nehemiah
6:14). And Isaiah further spoke to Judah’s heart in Isaiah
51:12,13: “I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art
thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall
die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass;
And forgettest the LORD thy maker, that hath stretched forth
the heavens, and laid the foundations [s.w. re. the foundation
of the temple being laid] of the earth [‘heaven and earth’
often refers to the temple]; and hast feared continually
every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he
were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor?”.
The fact they did fear meant that they had forgotten Yahweh
who had re-established their Kingdom.
Isaiah 44:23-28: “Sing, O
ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye
lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains,
O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed
Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel....that frustrateth
the tokens of the liars [s.w. Nehemiah 4:15 re. God frustrating
the Samaritan opposition]...That confirmeth the word of
his servant [Cyrus], and performeth the counsel of
his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited;
and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will
raise up the decayed places thereof... That saith of Cyrus,
He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even
saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple,
Thy foundation shall be laid”. Likewise Zechariah 9:9,13:
“Shout [s.w.] , O daughter of Zion [and your Messianic
king will come]...I will raise up [s.w. Ezra 1:5
re Judah’s spirit being ‘stirred up’ to return] thy sons”.
The same Hebrew words are used
about the shout of joy which went up when the foundation
of the temple was laid (Ezra 3:11-13). But at that same
time, there was a loud sound of weeping from those who realized
that what was being built was simply not the temple which
Ezekiel had prophesied, and was not even as glorious as
Solomon’s. The shout of joy was there, but wasn’t discernible
(Ezra 3:13). Yahweh “performeth the counsel” of
rebuilding Jerusalem. But the Samaritan opposition sought
to frustrate Judah’s “purpose” / counsel (Ezra 4:5 s.w.),
and succeeded. Yahweh allowed Himself to be limited within
how His people performed His purpose. His ‘purpose’ is therefore
conditional upon those whom He allows to fulfil it.
|Is. 49:6 speaks of the reestablishment of the
tribes of Israel and the ‘establishing’ of the land (Is. 49:8).
The intended boundaries of the tribal cantons are given in
Ezekiel 48. There was perhaps a renewed awareness of which
tribe each captive was from- note the references to Judah
(Ezra 10:23), Benjamin (Neh. 3:23), Manasseh Ezra 10:33) and
Joseph (Ezra 10:42; Neh. 12:14).
||But the land wasn’t laid out again according
to tribal boundaries as envisaged in the prophecies of Isaiah
and Ezekiel. The few who returned were happy with their little
farms, and didn’t rise up to a wider vision. And how much
potential achievement for us as a community is disabled by
our parochial, selfish, self-satisficing attitudes…?
Isaiah 66:20-22: “And they shall
bring all your brethren for an offering unto the LORD out
of all nations [within the Babylonian empire- see later
notes on Joel 3:1,2] upon horses, and in chariots, and in
litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy
mountain Jerusalem, saith the LORD, as the children of Israel
bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the
LORD [all relevant to the restoration]. And I will also
take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the LORD.
For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make,
shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall
your seed and your name remain”. Ezekiel 44:15
uses the same word: “But the priests the Levites, the sons
of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the
children of Israel went astray from me, they shall come
near to me to minister unto me, and they shall stand
before me [s.w. “remain before me”] to offer unto me
the fat and the blood, saith the Lord GOD”.
But Ezra had to confess, using
these very words of Isaiah and Ezekiel which he would have
been familiar with: “O LORD God of Israel, thou art righteous:
for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold, we
are before thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand
before thee because of this” (Ezra 9:15). They hadn’t
lived the Kingdom life, and therefore the Kingdom prophecies
could not come true in them. It makes a profitable exercise
to consider all the times that Ezra and Nehemiah allude
to the words of Isaiah and Ezekiel (1).
It must have been heartbreaking for them to see the possibility
of fulfilment within their grasp, and yet to know that their
people didn’t see the wonder of it all.
The returnees were to lift up their
voice with joy at Zion’s restoration (Isaiah 40:9)
At the very humble dedication of
the temple, the younger people lifted up their voice with
joy (Ezra 3:12 same words), but the older men wept, as the
temple was not even as great as Solomon’s, and certainly
not that commanded in Ezekiel and Isaiah.
Isaiah 40:29-41:1: “To them that
have no might he increaseth strength... they that wait upon
the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up
with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint...let the people renew
their strength”. This is in contrast to how for the idolater,
“his strength faileth” (Isaiah 44:12).
But the same word is used in two
places about how the strength of the redeemed exiles did
wax faint. Ezra 10:13: “But the people are many, and it
is a time of much rain, and we are not able to stand
[lit. ‘not strong enough to be’] without”. And later: “And
Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens
is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that
we are not able to build the wall” (Neh 4:10). Both Ezra
and Nehemiah encouraged the people not to make such excuses
but to get on with achieving what was truly possible.
“Fear not ...I will help
thee” (Isaiah 41:10).
Ezra was ashamed to ask for help
against Judah’s enemies (Ezra 8:22), the implication being
that he wanted that human help but was ashamed to ask for
it from the King. He had initially believed those words
of Isaiah, but found it hard to maintain that level of faith.
“All they that were incensed
against thee shall be ashamed and confounded, they shall
be as nothing” (Isaiah 41:11)
Sanballat, Tobiah, the Ammonites
and Ashdodites were “wroth” [s.w. ‘incensed’] against Judah.
But they didn’t come to nothing, nor to shame, in that those
very groups were the ones who married into Jewry, to the
extent that Tobiah even shifted the tithes out of one of
the chambers of the temple and set up his office there.
Isaiah 41:15-16 is full of reference
to Daniel 2: “Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing
instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains,
and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff.
Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away,
and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice
in the LORD, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel”.
It was as if the prophecy of Dan.
2 could have been fulfilled by Judah and their ‘Messiah’
as the stone- right then.
Isaiah 48:18,19: “O that thou hadst
hearkened to my commandments! Then had thy peace been as
a river…thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring
of thy bowels like the gravel thereof”
The promises to Abraham and the
coming of the Messianic seed of Abraham could have been
fulfilled; but because Israel chose to be wicked, there
was no such peace: “There is no peace…unto the wicked” (Isaiah
Isaiah 49:6: “It is a light thing
that thou shouldest be my servant…to restore the desolations
[AVmg.] of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to
the Gentiles”. The Messiah figure was to appear at a time
when the cities of Israel were desolate and needed rebuilding,
and when the people had been told “Go forth” of Babylon,
and Zion’s “builders” would hastily work, despite feeling
themselves to be “exiles” (Isaiah 49:9,17 RVmg.,21 RV).
“But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken
me” (Isaiah 49:14). They didn’t have the faith to believe
that God’s grace was enough to really forgive them for the
sins that had led them into captivity, and for their apostasy
in Babylon, where they had been spiritually “marred” (Jer.
13:7). And so the planned Messiah figure and Kingdom never
fully happened. And God laments this: “Wherefore, when I
came, was there no man? When I called, was there none to
answer?” (Isaiah 50:2). Nobody responded to the Divine call
for a Messiah.
Isaiah 52:1-2: “Awake, awake; put
on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no
more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake
thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem:
loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter
But the uncircumcised did come
and live in the temple and marry the Jews. And Ezra and
Nehemiah covered themselves with sackcloth in mourning because
of these things. And thus they showed that this prophecy
could not be fulfilled at their time.
The Jews didn’t perceive the soft life of Babylon as chains
around their necks, and so they didn’t loose themselves
Isaiah 56:1-2: “Thus saith the
LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation
is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed
is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth
hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it,
and keepeth his hand from doing any evil”. If the
Gentiles had come to the temple and kept the Sabbath, “Even
them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful
in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall
[in this case] be called an house of prayer for all people”
(56:6,7).At the time when the outcasts of Israel were gathered
back to their land, the Gentiles were to be gathered to
God along with them (Isaiah 56:8). The new temple was to
be thrown open to the Gentiles to worship in.
The salvation of Yahweh’s Kingdom
could have soon come, if Judah had ‘kept judgment’.
But Malachi and Haggai, along with the record of the injustices
of the Jewish nobles in Nehemiah, show the lack of judgment
/ justice amongst the returnees. And the Sabbath was polluted,
as Nehemiah recorded, and the Gentiles were mixed with and
affirmed in their idolatry, rather than converted and brought
to worship in the temple. And so the revelation of Yahweh’s
salvation and righteousness in the Kingdom was deferred.
Isaiah 61 gives a detailed prophecy of the restoration and
how it could flourish into God’s Kingdom, and then adds
in v.8: “For I the LORD love judgment, I hate robbery for
burnt offering; and I will direct their work in truth, and
I will make an everlasting covenant with them”; as if to
say that if Judah offered with the right spirit
and showed justice, then the everlasting covenant
would be entered with them. But this just didn’t happen.
They themselves disallowed it. The way Jews and Gentiles
ate together at Nehemiah’s table (Nehemiah 5:17) pointed
forward to what was almost possible. But in the end, they
mixed with and adopted the ways of the Gentiles, and their
leadership arrogantly developed a theology that said that
dirty Gentiles could never be saved; for salvation, they
reasoned, was only for Jews. The idea that the temple was to be a place for Gentiles also to worship not only didn't come true; but the very opposite happened. The Jews became intolerant of the Gentiles, nationalistically proud, and rejected the Samaritans from worshipping in the rebuilt Jewish temple. And therefore the Samaritans had to build their own temple on Mount Gerazim (3).
Isaiah repeatedly stated that the
surrounding nation would come to Zion and share in her joy.
Ex. 23:12 had commanded that the Gentile who lived with
Israel must keep the Sabbath. If the Jews had not
done their pleasure on the Sabbath, then
the Messianic Kingdom could have come (Isaiah 58:13,14).
But instead the Gentiles who lived
around Jerusalem traded with the Jews on the Sabbath (Nehemiah
13:16 RSV), they intermarried, and Israel / Zion was not
a city set on a hill to enlighten the surrounding world;
because they preferred to be influenced by the world around
them, rather than vice versa.
Many passages in the latter half
of Isaiah exult how God has fulfilled prophecy in the decree
of Cyrus and the return of the Jews (e.g. Isaiah 44:7,26-28).
But this fulfilment of prophecy
turned out to be limited by the Jews’ lack of obedience
to the prophecies.
Yahweh speaks of the returnees
as if they were a new creation, created by Him along with
the heavens and earth of the temple which He had stretched
out in Zion (Isaiah 43:7; 44:2). Especially evident is Isa
45:11-13: “Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel,
and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons,
and concerning the work of my hands command ye me [a reference
to how He had predicted the 70 years captivity and subsequent
restoration]. I have made the earth, and created man upon
it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and
all their host have I commanded. I have raised him up in
righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall
build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for
price nor reward, saith the LORD of hosts”. He did not form
this new land / heavens of the kingdom and temple of Israel
in vain- He created it to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18).
But the Jews acted like the old
creation. And the promise of new creation was deferred until
the time of Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). Judah for the most part
declined to inhabit / dwell in the new heavens and earth
[the same word in Isaiah 45:18 is frequently used re. how
the returnees dwelt in the cities of Judah].
Babylon fell so that Persia would
take over the administration of the 127 provinces where
the Jews were scattered, and would allow them to return
to Judah (Isaiah 43:14). The cup of judgment which Judah
drunk for 70 years was passed to Babylon (Isaiah 51:22).
This accounts for Isaiah’s repeated and detailed emphasis
on the coming fall of Babylon for Judah / Israel’s sake
(e.g. Isaiah 47). Although they had sinned, Yahweh showed
His gracious love for His people by bringing down Babylon
(Isaiah 48:14). “For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel
mine elect, I have even called thee [Cyrus] by thy name:
I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me “ (Isaiah
45:4). Likewise the iron curtain came down to allow preachers
of God’s Truth to take it to those once in darkness. And
English has become the lingua-franca of the world, enabling
Christian preaching to now penetrate societies literally
They should have responded to the decree of Cyrus
with real joy, according to Ps 126:1-3: “When the LORD turned
again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue
with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD
hath done great things for them. The LORD hath done great
things for us; whereof we are glad”.
But the majority of Jews preferred
to stay in Babylon. Ezra 2:1 may suggest that only a few
Jews who lived in the province of Babylon returned (one
out of 127 provinces), even though there were significant
numbers of Jews in all the provinces, as the book of Esther
makes clear (as also does Nehemiah 1:8, which says that
the Babylonian captivity fulfilled God’s prophecy to scatter
Israel amongst all nations). And the mighty political and
linguistic changes taking place purely for our sakes
are often ignored by us. Like the Jews in Babylon, we figure
that surely such huge changes couldn’t have occurred
only for us. But they do, and have done. Isaiah
frequently shows the folly of worshipping Babylonian idols.
And yet it seems that it was Judah’s worship of these idols
that kept them in Babylon. Isaiah 50:10-11 prophesies the
call of Cyrus to leave Babylon and return to the land (Ezra
1:3): “Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth
the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and
hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and
stay upon his God. Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that
compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light
of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This
shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow”.
Those who feared Yahweh had none of the light provided
by the Babylonian idols; but the majority preferred Babylon’s
light to Zion’s.
But their joy wasn’t so ecstatic. They were happy
for those who chose to return and gave them material help
to this end, but the majority didn’t feel the joy personally.
A careful reading of Isaiah 62:4-5 indicates that Yahweh’s
joy over the restored state of Zion was a reflection of
the joy which the returnees showed over her: “Thou shalt
no more be termed Forsaken [as during the 70 years captivity];
neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate...for
the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.
For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons
marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride,
so shall thy God rejoice over thee”.
Water could have followed Judah
through the desert journey from Babylon to Zion (Isaiah
But they hankered after a human
army to protect them, and most of them wouldn’t even begin
Isaiah 58:6-13: “Is not this the
fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness,
to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free,
and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread
to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast
out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover
him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning,
and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness
shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy
rereward... If thou turn away thy foot from the
Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call
the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable”.
Likewise v.10: “And if thou draw out thy soul to
the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then
shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as
the noonday”. But the same prophecy says that if
they kept the Sabbath and gave to the poor, “they that shall
be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt
raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt
be called, The repairer of the breach”. If they
did all these things, there would be no drought (58:11);
but Malachi records how there was drought, because they
had not fulfilled these conditions.
This seems to be a reference to
an insincerely kept day of atonement in Ezra or Nehemiah’s
time. The Jewish nobles were oppressing the poor and thereby
keeping the feast with no meaning. If they had properly
kept the feast, then the promised Kingdom conditions
would have burst forth to the world around them. But they
were too caught up with their own self-benefit to be bothered
to show true care for their brethren. If they had, then
the glory of Yahweh would have entered the temple, just
as Ezekiel 43 had prophesied would happen, if the Kingdom
was built as commanded. Notice how Isaiah 60:1-3 speaks
of how Zion’s light had would certainly come and give light
to the world- even though the prophecy was actually conditional
on Judah keeping the Sabbath and caring for their poor brethren:
“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the
LORD is risen upon thee... And the Gentiles shall come to
thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising”. Nehemiah
repaired the breaches, Ezra laid the foundations of the
temple...the prophecy of Isaiah 58 was fulfilled on the
surface, but not in its Kingdom sense, because they failed
to keep the Sabbath etc. Isaiah 58:10 says that if
they drew out their soul to the hungry, if they allowed
themselves to feel the hunger of others, then would
their light rise and their darkness be as the noonday. And
thus the prophecy of Isaiah 60:1,2 that Zion's light is
going to dawn was conditional upon the Jews caring for their
hungry amongst them- even though in that passage, the condition
isn't directly stated. The restoration was therefore only
a sham of what was possible.
Isaiah 60:1-3 reasons that Zion's light was soon to come, but Judah were to reflect that light as if it had already come; in the same way as God's light was to rise, so Judah were to arise as if they were that light. The message is that they were to believe that the Messianic light of the world was to arise soon, and were to act as if that time had already come; they were called to live the Kingdom now life, to showcase God's Kingdom to the world. In this sense, Zion's sons are described as coming from all parts of their dispersion and being about to come to Zion; and yet they are described as having already "come" (Is. 60:4). The mixing of the tenses, present and future, is to suggest that they were to believe that this would happen and to act now as if it was already happening. "You shall see and be lightened" (Is. 60:5 RV)- and yet they were to act as if their light had in fact already come (Is. 60:1).
Yet Judah sadly didn't believe that the restoration prophecies would come to pass, and so they didn't act as if they would come true. Instead of being a light to the world, they accepted the Gentile darkness instead of God's light. Mazdak, the Persian god of light, became their god, instead of Yahweh.
Isaiah 60:10 says that “The sons
of strangers shall build up thy walls”- the Gentiles could
have helped in the rebuilding. “Therefore thy gates shall
be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night”
(60:11). The “therefore” connects with the preceding verse,
as if the gates would always be open in order to constantly
welcome repentant Gentiles. When the city
and temple was rebuilt, Gentiles would come and feed Israel’s
flocks and name them all “the priests of the Lord” and bring
them food to eat in tribute (61:4-6)
The reality was that the walls
were built from a motive not of glorifying Zion in fulfilment
of prophecy, but for defence against the Gentiles.
But the gates had to be shut to keep the Gentiles out (Nehemiah
13:19), lest they yet further corrupted the Jews who were
eager to trade with them on the Sabbath rather than convert
them to the God of Israel. Instead of bringing their goods
through the gates to lay before Yahweh, they brought in
their goods to sell to His people in trade. But returned
Judah didn’t act as a nation of priests, the food the Gentiles
brought in to Zion was to be sold for profit to the Jews.
They failed to be a missionary nation, and rather were mere
trading / economic partners on an equal footing [cp. the
church today?]. The prophecy that the gates would be always open will now only come true in the future Kingdom of God on earth (Rev. 21:25,26).
Isaiah 60:13: “The glory of Lebanon
shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the
box together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and
I will make the place of my feet glorious”.
But Haggai lamented that instead,
Judah dwelt in “cieled houses”, they used the exotic trees
of the land for their own homes, whilst the house of Yahweh
lay desolate. The prophecy of Is. 60:14 started to come
true after Haman’s demise: “the sons of them that afflicted
thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised
thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet”.
But Judah didn’t do their part in fulfilling the rest of
that prophecy, which speaks of a rebuilt Zion.
Is. 60:17 "You shall call your walls Salvation [Yeshuah- Jesus], and your gates Praise".
"Your sun shall no more go down... for Yahweh shall be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended" (Is. 60:20).
But Nehemiah records how the walls and gates were given very mundane names, connected to what merchandise was traded there [e.g. fish]. And so they chose not to make 'Jesus' their wall- and so His coming was deferred or re-interpretted.
These words are quoted as being true of God's future Kingdom on earth (Rev. 21:4); they were reapplied to a later fulfilment rather than coming true at the restoration. Likewise the promise of Is. 60:14 that Judah's persecutors would bow before them was only partially fulfilled in Haman's destruction; the main fulfilment now awaits the Kingdom (Rev. 3:9).
Is. 61:3 speaks of how weepers would laugh with
Nehemiah in his mourning for the state of his
people began to fulfil Is. 61:3, concerning how those who
wept over Zion would be given joy- but the prophecy continues
to speak of how the old wastes of Zion would be rebuilt and
repaired, and the Messianic age ushered in. He didn’t go on
to fulfil this. Is. 61:7 went on to say that “in their land”
the Jews would receive “everlasting joy”- but they didn’t
want to return to their land to receive it. God speaks of
how He would remarry Zion in the same way as her sons would
remarry her (Is. 62:4,5)- but her sons chose to stay in Babylon,
and so the joyous wedding ceremony God envisaged didn’t happen.
Isaiah 62:6-7: “I have set
watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never
hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of
the LORD, keep not silence, And give him no rest, till he
establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth”.
This was fulfilled by a minority
praying for the restoration of Zion during the 70 years
captivity; Daniel and his friends are evident examples.
Several passages in Isaiah (e.g. Isaiah 64:8-12) record
model prayers for Zion’s restoration. But the prayers dried
up after the return; Isaiah’s exhortation was ignored. The
returnees did keep silence, and therefore Zion was not established
as a praise in the earth.
Isaiah 65:17-19 describes
the new creation of Zion as it was possible at the restoration:
“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and
the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create:
for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people
a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people:
and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her,
nor the voice of crying”.
65:21-22 continues: “And they shall build houses, and inhabit
them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit
of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they
shall not plant, and another eat”.
The former “heavens” of Solomon’s
temple did come to mind, and the old men mourned
because of how far superior the former had been. The voice
of weeping was heard in the streets of Zion, as
Judah mourned for their sins of marrying the surrounding
nations and breaking the Sabbath.
But very few houses were built in Zion, because the people
preferred to live on their farms, in their cieled houses,
outside the city (Nehemiah 7:4). They planted vineyards,
but sold the fruit to others- on the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15,16).
Isaiah 62:10-12 speaks of the return
from Babylon: “Go through, go through the gates; prepare
ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway;
gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people.
Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed unto the end of the world,
Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation [Joshua-Jesus,
the high priest, returning from Babylon?] cometh; behold,
his reward is with him, and his work before him. And they
shall call them, The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD:
and thou shalt be called, Sought out, A city not forsaken”.
But Joshua didn’t live up to the
conditional prophecies made about him in Zechariah [see
later]. Ezra and Nehemiah seem to have taken over the priestly
and kingly work of Joshua and Zerubbabel respectively. Nehemiah’s
record concludes on the negative note that Judah had forsaken
Zion (Nehemiah 13:11). Nobody wanted to live in Jerusalem
because of the persecution there; the Levites even went
and lived outside it where they had “fields”, because they
weren’t given their tithes (Nehemiah 13:10. Lots had to
be drawn to get people to live there (Nehemiah 11:1). It
became a ghost town, when it should have been inhabited
as a town without walls for the multitudes of returned exiles
joyfully dwelling there (Zechariah 2:5). It was God’s intention
that ten men (a reference to Israelites of the ten tribes?)
would take hold of the skirts of a Jew (i.e. one of Judah)
and come with him to worship in the new temple (Zechariah
8:23). But in fact the opposite happened. So few wanted
to live in Jerusalem, that the rulers had to cast lots to
force one in ten Jews to go and live in Jerusalem (Nehemiah
11:1). And the ten tribes didn’t really unite with Judah,
but went off and got lost in the Gentile world.
“Where is the house that ye build
unto me?…to this man will I look, even to him that is of…a
contrite spirit and trembleth at my word” (Isaiah 66:1,2)
The Jews did tremble at the word
at the beginning of the rebuilding (Ezra 10:9). But it was
a momentary thing; they came to see the building of the
walls as more important than keeping a trembling spirit.
Works eclipsed spirituality. Yet Isaiah had taught that
the trembling at the word was more essentially important
than building temples. But Judah paid no attention in the
These verses could also be speaking of God's change of purpose after the failure of the exiles to restore the Kingdom as intended. The idea could be that God is here asking His people to not bother trying to build the temple, and stating that He will now focus upon individual relationships with humble minded individuals, through His Messiah Son (:2), who trembled at His word.
Their spirit was ‘stirred up’ to
achieve the work of the Kingdom at the restoration (Ezra
Yahweh cut off the “master” [‘the
stirred up one’, s.w.] because they divorced their wives
and married Gentiles (Mal. 2:12). The potential work of
God on men’s hearts was frustrated by their hardness of
Zech 2:4: “And said unto him, Run,
speak to this young man, saying, Jerusalem shall be inhabited
as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle
therein”. Likewise Ezek 36:10: “And I will multiply men
upon you, all the house of Israel, even all of it: and the
cities shall be inhabited, and the wastes shall be builded”.
Neh 7:4: “Now the city was large
and great: but the people were few therein, and the houses
were not builded”. They were happier to settle outside of
Jerusalem and concentrate on building up their own farms
in the villages and small towns of Judah, rather than sense
the importance of Zion. Nehemiah 11:1-3 suggests that so
few wanted to live in Jerusalem because of the persecution
there, that they had to draw lots to get at least a tenth
of the total population to live there- in what should have
been the capital. If more had returned from Babylon,
if more had lived in Jerusalem, then Yahweh
would have been a wall of fire to them, and then the Kingdom
conditions described in the rest of Zechariah 2 would have
come about. Although the restoration prophecies speak as
if the increase of Zion’s population was to be unconditional,
Ezek 36:37 implies that this would only happen if they prayed
for it: “Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will yet for this be
inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I
will increase them with men like a flock”. But they got
on with building their own homes and farms outside Jerusalem,
they blessed those who had the courage to live in Zion itself,
but didn’t earnestly pray for the fulfilment of the prophecies.
They figured that the time for their fulfilment hadn’t come,
as Haggai laments; instead of praying for their fulfilment.
And we must assess our attitude to the fulfilment of prophecy
in the light of Isaiah
is full of restoration prophecies; but Isaiah especially carries
repeated statements that God can predict the future, and that His
prophetic word will surely come to pass (e.g. Is. 43:9). These repeated
statements are surely to encourage Judah to believe the restoration
prophecies, and to see that what was prophesied really would and
could come to pass- but it required their response!
Resistance To Isaiah’s Prophecies
Much of the later chapters of Isaiah speaks of the faithful remnant
in Babylon. The prayers and thoughts of that faithful minority often
surface- e.g. “Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O Lord?
Wilt thou hold thy peace?” (Is. 64:12; Is. 62:1). Thus they fulfilled
the prophecy that Zion’s watchmen would give God no rest (Is. 62:6,7).
But overall, the poor response of Judah seems to have led God to
abandon the plan for the gloriously rebuilt Messianic temple. Is.
66:1,2 records Him reflecting that “Where is the house that ye build
unto me?” [i.e. they had not built it as He required in Ez. 40-48],
and instead deciding to focus on dwelling in the hearts of the contrite
faithful minority who trembled at His word. Ezekiel was sent to
preach to the early captives, with the message that they were responsible
personally for their exile- even though they insisted they were
innocent and were suffering unjustly for their fathers' sins. Ezekiel
18 and other passages labour the point that they personally, sitting
their in captivity, were serious sinners. God even warned Ezekiel
ahead of time that those captives were "a rebellious nation"
(Ez. 2:3), just as wicked as their fathers. There was active opposition
to Ezekiel's witness to the exiles- they persecuted him as with
"briars and thorns", behaving as scorpions to him (Ez.
2:6). His face had to be hardened against their faces (Ez. 3:8).
This was in the very early days of the exile. Jewish tradition has
it that Ezekiel was murdered at the command of senior Jews in Babylon
(3). By the time of Isaiah 66, we see that even well after the restoration
had happened, there was still major persecution of the faithful
remnant and their prophets. Thus Isaiah speaks of the reapplication
of the promises about building a temple- that temple would now be
in the individual lives of a faithful remnant. Zech. 4:7 had prophesied
that if Zerubbabel lived up to his potential, then a flat tableland
would be prepared as a "platform" [Heb.] on which the
new temple could be built. But this didn't happen- and so this language
was reapplied to the work of John the Baptist in making the rough
places of men's hearts smooth, in order for them to accept Jesus,
the true temple.
And Isaiah wasn't the only prophet of the potential restoration who was bitterly opposed. Ez. 3:25 suggests Ezekiel was actually tied up by the Jewish captives he prophesied to by the river Chebar; they set their foreheads hard against hearing the prophecies of hope (Ez. 3:9). We've seen that the Jewish opposition to Yahweh's prophets argued
that Israel had been rejected by God and that there could be no
High Priest any more. It seems to me that it is the Jews who are
the 'satan' who is rebuked in the court scene of Zech. 3:1-10. I
have elsewhere traced the connections between the 'satan' concept
and apostate Jews (4). This view was rebuked in the vision; but
the point is that it was the Jews who were the satan / adversary
to the prophets and the faithful minority. Is. 58:1,2 is a criticism
of Judah in exile and also of those who did return to the land-
they sought God daily, and yet abused their brethren (Is. 58:6),
just as recorded in Neh. 5:15. If they had ceased from their sins,
"Then shall your light break forth as the morning",
if they had fed the hungry etc, then would've
been fulfilled the Messianic Kingdom prophecies of the light of
Zion rising above the Gentiles etc (Is. 58:10,12 cp. Is. 60:1).
Not only did Cyrus and the other various potential fulfilments
of the servant songs fail to rise up to their potential; Judah preferred
to stay in the soft life. The sad ending of the book of Esther leaves
Judah prosperous in Babylon, having declined the potential exodus
back to Zion which God had set them up with. Passages like Ezekiel
18 and Is. 59:9 imply a certain bitterness of Israel towards their
God, considering that He had dealt with them unfairly, and inappropriately
punished them for the sins of their fathers. Despite having enabled
their exit from Babylon, they complained: “Vindication remains far
removed from us and deliverance does not reach us” (Is. 59:9). This
was an awful spurning of the great salvation enabled for them. They
remonstrated against God’s message of deliverance from captivity:
“Can prey be taken from a warrior? Or can prisoners of a tyrant
be rescued?” (Is. 49:24). They thought their salvation was too hard
even for God. They made the same mistake as all who reason that
their situation or personality is too far gone for God to redeem.
For the ‘salvation’ of the exiles in Babylon is alluded to in the
New Testament as a prototype of our salvation in Christ. The good
news of potential deliverance from Babylon is quoted as the
good news of salvation from sin (Is. 52:7-10 = Mk. 1:15; Mt. 10:7,8;
Rom. 10:15; Eph. 6:15; Is. 61:1,2 = Lk. 4:16-21). Time and again
in the restoration prophecies we encounter statements intended to
answer the scepticism felt by the exiles about the promises of redemption
from Babylon (Is. 40:27-31; Is. 42:22; Is. 43:22; Is. 46:12; Is.
48:4,8; Is. 49:14). The servant was called to sustain the “dispirited”
by the prophetic word (Is. 50:4). And yet passages like Is. 50:4-11
and even Is. 53 speak of how the servant met even physical abuse
as well as rejection in his ministry to his fellow Jews. Indeed
the servant feels that his mission to them has been a failure (Is.
49:1-6), a complaint met by God’s promise that his mission would
be in some way reapplied to the Gentiles in their captivity to sin.
The way the servant is beaten and has his hair pulled out (Is. 50:4-11)
reminds us of how the prophet Jeremiah was treated the same way
by the Jews when his message was rejected (Jer. 20:2; Jer. 37:15).
The servant was spat at by his fellow Jews- an expression of utter
contempt (Job 30:10). Whilst the servant prophecies find their later
fulfilment in the Lord Jesus, it seems to me that in their first
context, they speak of how a prophet or prophets at the time of
the exile were rejected and even beaten up by their fellow Jews.
Indeed, Isaiah ends on a negative note, describing the judgments
to come upon the Jews who had rejected the message of deliverance
from Babylon (Is. 66:24). Is. 65:8-16; Is. 66:5 etc. speak of a
minority of Jews who trembled at the word of prophecy and were Yahweh’s
servants, who had been disfellowshipped by the leaders of the Jewish
community in Babylon. The majority of the captives insisted, according
to Ez. 18, that they hadn’t sinned, and they were suffering unjustly
because of the sins of their fathers; whereas this righteous remnant
in Babylon admitted that “we have sinned. Equally with them of old
time have we transgressed” (Is. 64:5). They took the message of
Ezekiel to heart- unlike the majority. And thus this was the sad
end of the great plan developed by the God of all grace for His
people in Babylon. They rejected it, and hated His servants who
brought that good news to them.
(1) Here are some
nice examples, which reflect the spirituality of those men. Ezra
said that God had punished them less than their iniquities deserved
(Ezra 9:13), somehow alluding to the prophecy of Is. 40:2, which
said that at the time of Zion’s restoration, God would admit to
having punished her “double for all her sins”. Yahweh in His love
and pity felt that He had punished them twice as much as they deserved;
but Ezra realized that it was less than what they deserved. Similar
is Ezra 9:8: “And now for a little space grace hath been
shewed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and
to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our
eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage”. This uses the
same relatively rare Hebrew construction as in Is. 54:6-8, which
likens Judah to a young wife who had been “refused” during the 70
years captivity: “For a small moment have I forsaken thee...in
a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment”. Here
is Yahweh, likening Himself to a faithful husband feeling more guilty
than He was, taking upon Himself the fault for it all, saying that
for the “small moment” of the captivity, He had forsaken His people.
But Ezra saw that “little space” as a time when they received grace;
he understood the prophecy of the figs in Jer. 24, that it was only
through the captivity and the fact God had graciously not destroyed
them but rather preserved them there, that there was the opportunity
for a remnant to re-establish the Kingdom. What may appear to some
as forsaking is in fact God’s grace to us, when spiritually discerned-
whether it be deep within our own lives, or in the state of affairs
upon this planet. Yet it should be noted that the prophecy of Jer.
24:6,7 about the good figs seems not to have come true at the restoration-
although it could potentially have done so.
(2) Other historical records suggest
that the Samaritans dearly wished to worship in the Jews' temple,
and only built their own one because the Jews disallowed them. See
M. Gaster, The Samaritans (Oxford: O.U.P., 1925) p. 28
(3) See The Lives And Deaths Of
The Prophets in J.H. Charlesworth, ed., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha
(Cambridge: C.U.P., 1985). The same book claims that Isaiah was
sawn in two by Manasseh, and Jeremiah was stoned to death by the
(4) See my The Jewish Satan
in The Real Devil .