Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Isaiah 49: God Has not Rejected Israel

Isaiah 49:1-6 Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name.  He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor." But I said, "I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.Yet what is due me is in the Lord's hand, and my reward is with my God." 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, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength —  he says: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."

Isa 49:13-16 Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me."  "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.

Isaiah 49 is clearly a reference to the Christ himself, for no human could ever qualify to be "a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth" (49:6). Paul himself quoted this verse to refute the Jews' rejection of the Gospel: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" (Acts 13:46-47). So there is no doubt that this Isaiah passage is a reference to Christ. But yet it is interesting that Christ has said prophetically: "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." 

Christ's first priority is to bring Jacob back to God and gather Israel to himself. That all his Twelve were Jewish men demonstrated this priority. In fact, he once told his disciples not to go Gentiles homes but to "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matt 10:5-6). Paul also demonstrated this priority in his ministry: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Rom. 1:16). In the above Isaiah passage, God said to Christ: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth" (49:6). 

What all this means is that Gospel was meant for the Jews first, and then the Gentiles. The Church (ekklesia) is a new Man created out of the two: Jew and Gentile believers. The New Covenant is a continuation (revised and upgraded) of the Old Covenant, not a replacement of the Old. The new came out of the old and it does not replace but revise the Old Covenant. There is both continuity and discontinuity with the Old Covenant. The Gospel is a promise to the Jews to restore them back to God. As much as many Jews have rejected the Gospel, so many Gentiles have rejected the Gospel too. So, for the Jews who are still holding on to the Old Covenant, it is a covenant of promise whereas the new covenant is a covenant of fulfillment. Jesus himself has stated very clearly that He did not come to abolish but to fulfill the Old Covenant: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt 5:17). While the fulfillment is better than the promise, they presents one continuum, not dis-continuum.

Israel has the Old Covenant -- the Promise as spelt out in the Law and the Prophets. God's calling of Israel cannot be revoked because it is God's promise to their forefathers: "As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom 11:28-29, ESV). What Paul is saying here is that though the Jews have rejected the Gospel, God has not rejected them because of His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So, the Jews remain God's covenant people who still live by the Covenant of Promise.

However, the Church comprises Jews and Gentiles who have received the Covenant of Fulfillment through Christ. We have a better and superior covenant because we have the Holy Spirit. Both covenants are covenants of grace that result in our election (salvation) as God's people.

But God has not forgotten His ancient people:
Isa 49:14-16 But Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me."  "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me."

Father, we thank You that You are a God who is faithful to Your covenants - whether it be a covenant of promise or fulfillment. But it is through Your grace that we are elected and therefore saved from judgment. Thank You Lord that those who are believers in both covenants are Yours. Amen. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to leave your comments.