Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—Living in Covenant with God
Chapters 56-66 are the third section of Isaiah’s book. You might remember way back when we began our study of Isaiah, I gave you the background of the Prophet and his book. I told you at that time that most critical scholars believe that the Book of Isaiah has multiple authors. Most accept a two-author scenario while others say even three authors can be detected.
Those who accept the two-author view contend that chapters 1-39 were indeed written before the Babylonian Exile by a Judean Prophet named Isaiah who lived in the early 7th century B.C. These same critical scholars, however, believe that chapters 40-66 were written by a Judean Priest after the Jews returned from their seventy-year exile. They refer to these chapters ad Deutero-Isaiah which simply means Second Isaiah. There are three primary reasons for this:
1) Critical scholars say that the poetry in chapters 44-66 is better than the poetry in chapters 1-39—that there are differences in style and vocabulary;
2) Critical scholars point to the different subject matter between the section. Chapters 1-39 deal primarily with God’s judgment, while chapters 40-66 deal with redemption and salvation, and
3) Critical scholars, by default, deny the supernatural. When Isaiah calls King Cyrus by name in Isaiah 44:28—one hundred years before he lived—multiple-author supporters cite this as an example of specific information only someone living at that time could know. Since Isaiah died long before the time of Cyrus, Isaiah obviously could not have written chapters 40-66.
Ah, but there is more: Other scholars have suggested yet a another division within chapters 4-66. They believe that another Jewish Priest or unnamed Prophet authored Isaiah 56-66 which they refer to as Trito-Isaiah or Third Isaiah.
There are, however, many fine evangelical scholars who contend for a one-author view and that author is the Prophet Isaiah. While I don’t have time to give you a detailed account, one-view supporters have ably defended the view that the Prophetic Book of Isaiah has only one author and that there is no textual evidence that the various parts of the book have ever existed as separate documents. I have no reason to doubt the one-author view.
Bottom line: You’ll probably never have to worry about this. Your chances of winning the lottery are probably better than the chances of a co-worker asking you, “So tell me, do you think the author of Trito-Isaiah was an 9th-century B.C. Jewish priest or a member of the 'school of the prophets'?” Trust me, that ain’t gonna happen. However, I thought you needed at least a brief summary of the issue.
So then, let’s turn our attention to this third section of Isaiah. It opens with promises of a grand salvation yet to come. God saves people so that they might know Him and the only way they can truly know Him is to become like Him. Those who have received the forgiveness and deliverance of God also receive grace to live as God lives. We are to live righteously. God declares, “Be ye holy because I am holy.” If God’s people will do this, all stratus of people and all the nations will come to know the Lord.
As people chose to live in obedience to God, He empowers them that they might become the servants of God. The grace of God is free, but those who receive it are expected to take hold of it in their lives and live it out. God informs those who chose grace empowered obedience that there will be rewards in their eternal salvation.
I. FUTURE BLESSINGS vv. 1-2
- the nation had gone into Captivity because she had disobeyed the Law of God, particularly the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8)
- now they have returned to the Land and God, through the Prophet, would remind them of the covenant that exists between them because deliverance is drawing near
- it was 750 years away as we reckon time, but that’s a moment in time to God
A. THOSE WHO HAVE RECEIVED MIGHTY BLESSINGS FROM THE LORD HAVE AN OBLIGATION FAITHFULLY TO DO HIS WILL
- verse 1 is a command to be righteous
- “Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: For my salvation is near to come, And my righteousness to be revealed.” (Isaiah 56:1, KJV 1900)
- that is not so
- people are urged to do what is right
- “Learn to do well; Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, Judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17, KJV 1900)
- Isaiah links present behavior with future salvation and blessings
- by no means
- salvation—whether Old Testament or New Testament—is always by faith in the promise of God
- Salvation has always been understood in three tenses:
- Past tense—our justification by faith alone
- Present tense—our sanctification that comes by living out our faith in the world
- Future tense—our glorification that comes in the eternal kingdom when we are fully conformed to the image of Christ
- because the Lord will bring salvation to those who believe, they should act justly in the present
- salvation on earth is spiritual deliverance and physical protection, but there remains a future salvation for God’s people also
- He calls us to the same hope
- “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:3, NIV84)
B. WE RECEIVE HE BLESSINGS OF GOD BY KEEPING COVENANT WITH GOD
- verse 2 states how that was expressed under the Old Covenant
- “Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” (Isaiah 56:2, NIV84)
- keeping the Sabbath was important under the Law (Ex. 20:8-11)
- “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11, NIV84)
- their belief was also demonstrated by turning away from the normal activities of life to focus on God
- people who so honor God will be blessed
- we take rest from our labors as a way of acknowledging that it is the Lord who provides for us
- remembering the Lord’s Day is a testimony that the world will go on without me, but I will not go on without the Lord
- untold Future blessings are promised to those who so authentic their faith
II. EQUAL OPPORTUNITY GRACE vv. 3-5
- verse 3 reverses the common thought among the Jews that foreigners and the impaired had no business in God’s house
- “Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” (Isaiah 56:3, NIV84)
- this contrasts with the exclusion of eunuchs under the Mosaic Law (Deut. 23:1)
- “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 23:1, NIV84)
- this is why the Ethiopian Eunuch in the Book of Acts is so excited about the Gospel
- the New Covenant means that he can fully participate in the salvation of the Lord
- no one is excluded from the opportunity to respond to God’s grace
- the Lord explains in verse 4 why those accustomed to thinking themselves outcasts can now hope
- “For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—” (Isaiah 56:4, NIV84)
- notice the personal pronouns in v. 5: My Sabbaths, please Me, My covenant
- their life and behavior results because of their personal relationship with God
- He is their focus
- those who carry the pedigree of Abraham or the heritage of religion?
- it is those who have entered into covenant with God and have a living relationship with Him
- those who are becoming like Him are truly children of God
- it is not genealogy but character that marks the servants of God
- “to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:5, NIV84)
- they may think they have no legacy in the Lord since they have no sons and daughters which indicate earthly productivity
- shockingly though, they will be memorialized forever
- those faithful to the Lord will be given a name which will not be cut off
- their legacy of faith rests with the Lord, not in their bloodline
- ILLUS. This is a wonderful promise to every believer who is laboring for the Lord in obscurity!
III. PROMISES TO THE FAITHFUL vv. 6-8
- verse 6 proclaims those who are not out of Israel would become part of the Lord
- “And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—” (Isaiah 56:6, NIV84)
- First, they joined themselves to the Lord
- the reason they have joined themselves to the Lord is: to minister to Him, to love His name and to be His servants.
- they join themselves to the Lord first and foremost to bless Him (which opens the way for God to eternally bless them)
- Second, they demonstrate the closeness of their relationship with the Lord by giving a day of their weekly life to gather themselves before the Lord to remember His blessings
- one day a week they reset their life compass to make sure God is at the center of their lives and not themselves
- Third, God will memorialize all who take hold of His covenant
- the first covenant has been broken so God will send His Servant to establish an everlasting covenant in His shed blood
- this covenant is one that can be kept by life in the Spirit which God makes available to all who daily will lay hold of it
- “these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7, NIV84)
- three things are promised those so joined to God
- The first is assistance: I will bring them to my holy mountain. God not only bids them welcome to journey with Him, but He incline them to journey, shows them the way to Himself, and leads them in it ( Ps. 43:3). God’s offer of guidance is certainly needed in the confusing wayward world in which we live
- Second, God promises joy and comfort in prayer. I will make them joyful in My house of prayer. Though they come mourning to the house of prayer, they will go away rejoicing, for they will there find such ease by casting their cares and burdens upon God, that, like Hannah, they will go away and their countenance will be lifted up. Many a sorrowful spirit has been made joyful in the house of prayer
- 3) Third, God promises acceptance: "Their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar." The prayers and praises (those spiritual sacrifices) of the devout are more pleasing to God today than those sacrifices of the pious Jews where under the old covenant. [Henry, Matthew: Matthew Henry’s Commentary : On the Whole Bible. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991, S. Is 56:3]
- “The Sovereign LORD declares— he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:8, NIV84)
- God is not finished gathering Israel nor others outside of the people of Israel
- God is the Gather
- He created the church and is working to bring people into it
- the church is a growing body
- though many have been gathered into it, there will be more gathered until the Lord takes us home to heaven
CONCLUSION: When a person is saved by the grace of God they are no longer doomed to live out life as they once did. There is power in God’s grace to live out life in faithfulness. It is not a power that one has or gains, but a power that flows from God as we become rightly related to Him. Those who surrender to live as servants of God find God’s empowering to live a life faithfulness to God.