HomeFurther DiscussionIsaiah 55-59: The Invitation

Isaiah 55-59: The Invitation

-by Pastor Ashley Brown

A Scandalous Passage

A handful of passages in Isaiah clearly contradict our expectations in scandalous ways. I addressed the first of those passages in a sermon on Isaiah 13-27, where God uses covenant language for Egypt and Assyria. The second passage I addressed in a blog on Isaiah 41-48. Another of these scandalous passages arises in the section Larry preached this week. In our passage this week, Isaiah uses shock value to drive home the point that God’s promise of grace is made to all who are contrite and lowly in heart. Here is what Isaiah scandalously writes in Isaiah 56:3-8:

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.”

Why This Is Scandalous

The Old Testament Law is clear: eunuchs and foreigners may not enter the congregation of God’s people (e.g. Deuteronomy 23:1-8). And yet, Isaiah blatantly declares that eunuchs and foreigners who are contrite and lowly of heart are His people (verse 3). They hold fast to His covenant and receive an everlasting name from Him, echoing the covenants with Abraham and David. Even more scandalously, verse 6 speaks of foreigners who “join themselves to the LORD, to minister to Him.” This term, “minister”, refers to priestly service! Verse 7 says the LORD will bring these foreigners to His holy mountain (Jerusalem) and make them joyful in His house of prayer (Temple), and their sacrifices will be acceptable on His altar! Why?! Because His Temple will be a house of prayer for all nations! And to drive the point home, the LORD says He will gather others besides those He has already drawn.

Around 700BC Isaiah declared that one day the LORD would tear down the covenant divisions between the Israelites and the nations. In fact, before He is done, He will have expanded even the Levitical priesthood to include people from among all the nations! This last, scandalous twist occurs when Isaiah builds to his climactic vision of the New Creation. There, at the end of Isaiah 66, the LORD describes people coming from all nations, “just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD [the Temple]. And some of them also I will take for priests and Levites, says the LORD.” (Isaiah 66:20-21)

A Scandal That Shaped Jesus’ Ministry

This scandalous passage (Isaiah 56:3-8) lies behind Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. By Jesus’ day, the leaders of Israel turned the LORD’s house of prayer for the nations into a place to rip them off, and Jesus went in to clean house. When challenged on His actions, Jesus quotes this very passage from Isaiah (Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46). Isaiah’s words about God bringing eunuchs and foreigners into God’s covenant assembly were on Jesus’ mind as He was cleansing the Temple! The leaders of Israel were trying to hold the nations at a condescending distance, just as Jesus determined to throw wide the gates in accordance with the LORD’s prophecy through Isaiah! Is it any wonder, “The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him”? (Luke 19:47)

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