Deuteronomy 29; Psalm 119:49-72; Isaiah 56; Matthew 4
THE LAST SECTION OF ISAIAH (chaps. 56-66) focuses primarily on the period after the return of the first exiles from Babylon. This, too, was an enormously troubled period, as other Scriptures attest (especially Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah). But some of Isaiah’s vision extends beyond the early years of return to the ultimate hope—the new heaven and the new earth (e.g., Isa. 65:17). In some ways the situation of the people described in these chapters mirrors our own: we live between the “already” and the “not yet,” between the glory of what God has already accomplished and what God has not yet done but has promised to do.
The opening verses (Isa. 56:1-8) emphasize two themes:
First, the Lord says that those who wait for his salvation, which is “close at hand” (Isa. 56:1), must “[m]aintain justice and do what is right” (Isa. 56:1). The reason, he says, is that his “righteousness will soon by revealed.” In other words, one of the fundamental motives for the righteous behavior of believers is that it anticipates the consummated righteousness that is still to come. Unlike so many of our contemporaries, who live for the day with little serious thought devoted to the future, we are committed to living in a way that anticipates the future. That is part of what it means to “[keep] the Sabbath without desecrating it” (Isa. 56:2). Isaiah’s readers will not then simply be keeping a rule, however divinely authorized, but will be demonstrating two further things: (a) their allegiance to the Mosaic covenant (and therefore to the God of the covenant), and (b) their living out of patterns of rest that are simultaneously tied to God’s rest (Gen. 2; Ex. 20) and to the rest to come (cf. Heb. 3:7-4:11).
Second, the Lord promises that the blessings to come are open to people whom many have systematically excluded. After all, there were passages in the Law of Moses that excluded the emasculated and the foreigner (especially Moabites and Ammonites), e.g., Deuteronomy 23:1-6 (and cf. Lev. 22:24-25, and the parallel with animals). Still, it is hard to believe that these laws were meant in every case to exclude genuine converts, or the accounts of Rahab and Ruth (the latter a Moabite) would make little sense (Josh. 6:24-25; Ruth 1-4). On the one hand, the community cleansed by the suffering Servant is to touch no unclean thing and come out from “Babylon” and be pure (Isa. 52:11); on the other, the Lord here insists that the eunuchs and foreigners are to be admitted (Isa. 56:3-8). The difference, of course, is conversion, in which God gives them “an everlasting name” (Isa. 56:5), such that they hold fast to his covenant (Isa. 56:4).