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This scripture expresses an undifferentiated and contextually unlimited word of authority to the 'Christian race' (1 Peter 1:9, 1:1), remaining in force while the 'race' does so, on earth; and indeed, the "morning star" is a post-pilgrim gift (Revelation 2:28).
For how long, then, is one to take heed to this word of prophecy ? "until the day dawn..." Indeed, prophecy concerns not only the forthtelling but, in its most extensive role, the foretelling of what God will cause to be true - that is to happen. In a sense, where foretelling is concerned, God gives the word, then history illustrates the work, establishing the established word by works, so that what was sure is still more sure!... so that both agree, word and work. This is a twofold exegesis in one; which, while controlled by the word, is exhibited by the work.
To study the word and miss the exegesis of history - is less a lapse than vice versa; but still is it a short-circuit of God's total impartation (cf. Isaiah 49:1-11, Matthew 24:3-14; 24:33); for the WORDS determine it, and the WORKS attest it, as God so clearly asserts in Isaiah 41, 43, and 48, in his challenge from omniscience and omnipotence, to man!
What terminology will do more justice than these words with the 'millennial' prefixes (above) to God's distinctive and insistent use of actual ongoing history, to confirm continually to us His power, control and prophetic precision ? What terms will reflect this in distinction from alternative terms for the matter, which do less than justice to it ?
Now, in the terms premillenial and amillenial, there is - for general eschatological words, an undue emphasis on a relatively distant aspect. Better for this purpose and for present apologetic impact, would be the distinctive terminology: allegorising and non-allegorising... signifying respectively what short-circuits and what, on the other hand, gives due weight to history and the divine emphasis just noted. It separates any question of context-constrained use of imagery from interpreter-constrained use of undue licence in exegetical imports, inputs and implants. Literal and non-literal interpretation as a criterion is here irrelevant: it is a matter of context constraint and human restraint in integrity to the text and what it warrants. Figures and forms are clear to the disciplined reader, we find, just because God is the writer; and if we keep to the tracks and the rules, we will not presume.
Put slightly differently: whatever allegorises Scripture is adding to (or subtracting from) the same; unless the text and context warrant such an approach; for the Scripture must interpret itself (Proverbs 8:8-9; 30:6). Indeed, to interpret it beyond or short of itself is, in its own way, as much a case of tradition adding to (or voiding) God's word as any other traditionalism. True, in this case, it may not affect salvation; but it does affect its fruit. For all of this fruit, we must have zeal!
What then do the noted Scriptures (para 2, p. 1089 supra) teach concerning Israel's distinctive future? This we have already outlined in sufficient part for our purpose. But what then IS Israel ? This too we have considered; but wish to set forth simply and in summary manner at this point, to preclude any confusion. Of this, there has been enough in this eschatological field.
What then could the term 'Israel' reasonably mean ? It could mean, in a vacuum -
i) the Old Testament Nation, Israel; or
ii) This nation viewed more comprehensively, as a continuing race, yet one not divorced from its beginning; or
iii) any body spiritually occupying a post similar to that of Israel, in essence.
These are three. Within the third, through differentiation there arises a fourth. The term 'Israel' could meaningfully refer to such a body as iii) above denotes-
a) the Christian Church or as
b) the whole two-covenant church, Old and New, viewed in its essential unity ... for the two-covenants, Old and New, are not novel to each other. On the contrary, the New is a development and fulfilment of the Old.
Now in the passages noted, we have been at pains to point out the force with which God specifies Israel the historic nation, with a past involving:
2) the calling of God;
3) the disobedience to God;
4) the exile;
5) the restoration;
6) the divorce on grounds of disbelief; and
7) the reunion on grounds of faith.
ALL are not always explicitly present; but taken comprehensively, are stated or implied in such a delineament of history as they move and rove in their respective areas, mutually reinforcing and expanding. Now this is not to say that there are not other passages where this type of coverage is NOT in view, or designable; for God is not limited to using only one form of meaning for 'Israel'. Indeed, there is more than one case in Scripture where 3a) (as we shall shortly notice) is clearly included, and this on contextual grounds. It IS to say, however, that rightly dividing the word of God, and using each text and context with meticulous fidelity to its local particulars, there is found a variety of usage. Indeed, the term 'Israel' can mean 'prince' Jacob; or the nation resulting at the outset.
So often, people seem to try to 'protect', this or that, as if the word of God were not its own authority, but a novice or a child; and from this source doubtless much of the wholly unnecessary confusion on predestination has arisen, the Pharisee protecting his philosophy, wrongly confused with the word of God, and the Sadducee protecting his 'rights' to free thought. Let the word of God be inspected; it will protect itself.
Now in the specific passages in view - let us say, Ezekiel 36-39; Zechariah 9-14; Jeremiah 3-33 (esp. 3; 30-33), with Isaiah 9, 40, 42, 44, 48, 49, 52-53 as a back reference - there is a certain conspectus of defining details. There is a particular orientation. This, let us be explicit, is not to say that certain extended applications are not possible; it is to say that the primary reference for 'Israel' is characteristically definable and clear.
What do we find ? Within that clear, historical and contextual structure already noted as applicable (see 1-7 above), we simply cannot find any control from the perspective of view iii a), cited just previously. It does not fit.
The reason is straightforward. If limiting this family of scriptures in the terms chosen, to the New Covenant Church - as iii a) requires - we should find that this Church does not have this series of contextual characteristics... then this family of scriptures simply is not characterisable in that way. For the Christian Church as an entity, it was merely 1) out; and 2) in, relative to the Lord; and this, for it as an entity, is all, relative to the point. Dealing with it in its essential and intrinsic properties, we are forced to notice that the New Covenant Church - is not now theocratic and national, with all the resulting political perplexities and their correlative historic complexities. That was the case with the Old Testament 'Israel,' the churchly nation and national organ - in turn called, rebellious, exiled, restored. This New Covenant Church cannot be conditioned to, or characterised by these substantial national and historic specifics (as listed and applicable - supra, 1-7).
Rather is it a simple structure in this regard, resting in most direct form on Christ, and turning on the axis of faith from darkness to light. It is true there is a common essence at the heart of both covenants; but it is not at all true that the specifics of the particular Old Testament passages in view are limited to this essence. On the contrary, they appeal to, assume and demand those specific particulars apposite to the Old Covenant nation Israel, and to it alone.
Clearly again, in the contexts under review, Israel cannot mean the nation Israel as limited to its pre-Christ epoch, or even terminating marginally on His advent; as the central structural place of Christ in the functions of the period in view is a major characterising feature.
This effectively and simply removes two possibilities - i) and iii a) - from the contexts, the particular contexts in view.
Lest the latter seem altogether too summary for rapacious 'mountain climbers' however, let us extend it. We have argued 'Israel' here cannot mean merely Old Testament Israel in its pre-Messianic era. We added that it does not adapt even to Old Testament Israel fading away at the advent of Christ. But let us provide more detail on this latter point.
A consideration of the Ezekiel passages - and in particular for brevity, of 38:8, 39:28-29, 37:23, 39:7, 36:9 ff., 37:14; 37:24-26 - with say, 23:31, brings out, in context, a series of correlative predictions. From these we note that there is to be:
i) the deliverance of Israel, the people, which is never to be annulled or lost;
ii) the country of Israel, never more wrested from them;
iii) a characteristic and central acknowledgment of Christ as King David's son, the Shepherd who gives His life;
iv) a blessedness featured and focussed in Him, through Him and because of Him upon the people; and
v) a purity following a purging from idolatry, which will not again be lost.
Now let us consider Israel the nation compressed into the post-Babylon era: the period of the restoration leading up to and possibly touching upon Jesus' earthly life. Let us deal with a specifically and peculiarly Old Testament Israel, in other words, both as to extent and as to time. Let us consider the restoration to be one ushering in the main features of the epoch with reasonable expedition, and leading on to Christ at the end. What then ?
We find that if this period be opted for, we would have all five criteria just listed as i) to v), being violated. We have to face that the land of Israel in this context and with this content, was wrested from their hands; the deliverance was both annulled and lost; Christ was not at all centrally acknowledged and given a formal focus characteristic of the period. In fact, when He did - at the end of the period in view - arrive, He was formally crucified: an INFINITELY different sort of attention to that specified for our period in Scripture! Further, the purity was lost, and this in an idolatrous bonanza in which the true God, Jesus Christ was bypassed, so that what was worshipped was NOT the true God. That of course, is precisely what idolatry is. Such an interpretation, then, would precisely contradict the contents of the passage.
Indeed, it was just this attitude of setting at nought the commandments of God for the sake of their traditions, which in due time led to much of their hostility to Jesus and thus towards God. Jesus exposed this long trend (Mark 7:7, Matthew 23), with such beautiful skill assessed in the predictive and characterising coverage of Isaiah (28:5-18), a passage which thrust on in scope to the actual arrival of the Messiah (28:16). It was this hostile and wayward suppression of the truth which found its fulfilment in their crucifixion of Christ and His denunciation, as God, of their futile, traditionalised worship. As worship not of God, it represented in the very heart of Jewry, the long and high placed central core of idolatry. It was this which weighed like a crushing burden on Israel in broad terms over the span of time leading to Christ.
It must be concluded that this interpretative attempt hardly provides a successful siting of the prophecy or a satisfactory understanding of the contextual term 'Israel.' This approach did, after all, involve a capriciously restrictive definition of 'Israel.' It led to an oppressive chronological compartmentalising. It forced upon us a five-fold violation of the context. It is clear we cannot afford this caprice.
Here we must repeat a stress. It can scarcely be too often emphasised that our task is not to get into theological corners and 'slug it out' for this view or that view of all Old Testament usages of 'Israel.' Rather must we sift the matter out for each. Dare we attempt to homogenise the word of God with preferred or attractive assumptions ? Will these not in time become 'traditions' ? "Making the word of God of none effect" ? Mark 7:7-9; Matthew 15:6...
Small wonder that there has been so much contention as to which culinary creation to whip up. The pure milk of the word however must not be whipped up, but drunk up, as it is; and each glass as it comes must we imbibe from the nutritive source.
A third possibility - which would appear in our overall scheme as iii b) - is the two covenant church viewed in its essential unity... and there is an essential unity. Is this the content of the term 'Israel', in the selected family of contexts, which is in view ?
This step however would involve an impossibility at the outset. A (two-testamental) church, selected for its unified theme - one which cannot dispense with faith according to the word, in God - would then at one phase cease to be a believing body! (A simple reference back to the criteria drawn from the relevant Scriptural passages above, 1) -7) p. 1102 supra - will confirm this fact.)
Is a body characterisable as blind, broken and rejected to be equated with the living Church and temple of Jesus Christ ? Is that which in essence has faith and is distinctive because of it, to be made equivalent to that which has not faith and is distinctive because of the lack of it ? If this form of approximation is permissible, then let us cease to reason or use words, for neither has then any further meaning.
A contradiction in terms (*2) will not form the basis of an interpretation. In particular, the two-covenant church would provide an impossibly confused form of 'interpretation' for the select, correlative passages which we are studying. The essential and striking "blindness" (Isaiah 42:19-25) on that interpretation, is for those who nevertheless 'see'; and who "will not walk in darkness"... and that on Christ's own authority. The Israel addressed, for example, by Isaiah at this point is called to attention by the apostrophe: "Hear ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see..." Not only so, blindness is centred definitively in this Israel - "Who is blind, but my servant ?" It would be a wonderful exercise in word jumbling to make the Christian Church which fulfilled Israel's testimonial mission, to be the very criterion of deafness and the very ballerina of blindness... from which, indeed, blindness could take its name! Who... but My servant!
Will this do ? Not at all. It does not interpret, but rather would annul the word of God. The Israel with whom God will break covenant (Zechariah 11:10) are, then, here homogeneous in principle with Christ's Church against which the gates of hell will not prevail; and which indeed, Biblically designated, is Christ's body (1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 4:15-16, 1:22-23) ? Will this 'view' conform to the word of God ? Scarcely! An essential unity between components must feature what is common to both; and it does not admit for either of them the incorporation of the outright contradiction of what is essential to it and characteristic of it. In these Scriptural contexts, therefore, the bipartite New Covenant and Old Covenant 'Israel,' the national component and the international component, cannot apply. The word of God disallows it.
Is it necessary to add that the specific features of 'Israel' ( 1) -7) p. 1102 supra) similarly exclude the use of that term to apply to what lacks this series of contextual criteria ? But let it, for completeness, be said. What indeed prevents the limitation of this particular contextual term 'Israel' to the new Testament Church, equally prevents its inclusion of that Church in its specific intent. Whatever is to cover many things must be sufficiently general to admit reference to each of them; and what is not, what includes decisive contrary features, excludes that to which it cannot apply. We select our designations so as to fit what we wish to designate ... Unless we are specialists in confusion, we will not wish to contradict with our words what we intend with our thoughts. There IS a Church common to both eras; yet it is not specifiable with this series of contextual criteria.
Now in this case, what would be the anomalous alternative... should we elect to read 'into' Israel the Christian church component, as a primary intention? We should then have to subtract from those specific features written in the word of God, and thereby add to the applicability of the term 'Israel' in these contexts... achieving by these means an increased generality, unwarranted by and contrary to the context. Moses however, justly exhorts us, and that repeatedly, neither to add to nor subtract from God's word (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:28,32; 13:18). Here, both these limits would be broken. Let us suffer his word of exhortation. Let us recall Proverbs 30:6 and its dire exhortation. Who would want to run reckless into that structure...
Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar.Once again, therefore, in these passages of Scripture, iii b) cannot apply. What does apply is Israel the Old Testament nation, viewed quite simply, believing or unbelieving (as just shown), in its historic development and involvements as depicted, reviewed or predicted, just as God shall see fit to deal with this people. That is reached by reductio ad absurdum. In the span depicted, phases indeed both of general belief and unbelief are historically incorporated (cf. the sweep of another passage - Romans 11).
This exposition does have the additional advantage that the prophets address themselves in this series of contexts with an admirable candour to Israel the historic nation, as a matter of observable fact; and they deal with its various phases of belief and unbelief as it were, as a family matter. They are quite distinctly viewed with free temporal scope, both prior to and in the time of Jesus Christ in His power and glory (cf. Luke 24:44-46). He was, and is, after all, THAT prophet to whom they were so critically, crucially and cardinally directed by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). It was pre-eminently all ... their own business; although of course it has come to be ours too, now that we are here; for we feed from their own rejected Source and Saviour.
We are 'grafted' on (Romans 11:17).
The essential finding here is that allegorising is both an unnecessary, unwarranted and confused activity in these contexts, relative to 'Israel'; as is - however unintended - any other context-distorting activity. Thus a little exploration merely returns one to that enviably clear and inestimably valuable consideration: what is written.
Since then, it is written, we do not deem it a matter of opinion that the designations given to define 'Israel' in these Scriptural locations, for their primary reference, admit subjective interpretations at all. There is not merely no ground for making these particular scriptures to which we have referred, not to refer to the people to whom they were addressed; there is only contradiction, addition to and subtraction from scripture if this liberty be indulged, this flamboyant theological flair be followed.
This having been said, we must seek to cover the needful point of precision without delay or distraction; for there is one reference to 'Israel' which in one of these contexts does vary from the point made. It does so however in a systematic, artistic and literary manner which is really in one sense a play on it. This is Isaiah 49:3. Here in focus is the 'suffering servant,' the sinless because sacrificial offering, who is to "bear their iniquities" (53:6-11). Here then is the Saviour; whereas God Himself as in Isaiah said - "Beside me there is no Saviour" - 43:11. Here is God incarnate. Here is the Messiah of Psalm 2, in whom we are to put our trust; though it is indeed cursed to put our trust in man, even if he be a prince, as David exhorts us, and Jeremiah 17 confirms. Here is, therefore, God-as-man. Here is He who is to constitute the covenant, and who as such is the contractual agreement of God, the very word of God in Person, not this time written, but incarnate (49:2; 42:6).
In a situation in which the nation formed to show forth God's praise (43:21) is a cardinal and categorical failure (49:5,7), Christ is here depicted in a way both sovereign and sardonic, splendid and poignant, as 'an Israel' in which God will be glorified. Effectually and needfully, He substitutes for Israel the failure (iv).
This usage of 'Israel' is a lordly and yet a demonstrable adaptation of the name of the de facto sinful "prince with God" (Israel's signified meaning) to the Son of God sinless per se, the prince of peace on whose shoulders shall be the government, and of whose kingdom end shall not be (Isaiah 9:6-7). Far however is it from falsifying our reasoning from the general contexts and contents of our chosen stratum of Scriptural references in this section. On the contrary, this other 'Israel,' this light to the nations given for a covenant - the Suffering Servant, is not merely determinable demonstrably in meaning. It lends brilliant and edifying force to the base by deft contrast, as we see.
This adaptation having, for completeness, however been noted, we return to our theme: that the generic force of the term 'Israel' in these contexts can and should be declared unequivocally, and is as noted (ii). It is a matter of perception of what in the text is in fact self-determinative. Certainly, this involves a restriction on the process of romanticising, on casual allegorising, as on any capricious limitation that must resort to it. That restriction is the data... what is written. It is this, first, which must be perceived.
It involves the consideration that in all good writing securing for itself the word 'clear' (Proverbs 8:9)... such as indeed the wisdom of God produces - allegory must by that very epithet, establish itself by adequate means. A fortiori indeed, however, it must not be assumed by means which contradict the text itself!
Thus this concept and content is coerced here by what is written; and it must be followed by those who will in consistency look to the word of God, past philosophy, as given... that is, not a subject for 'interpretation' in the inventive sense, but for exposition in the attentive sense. In this work, these texts therefore are accordingly used without apology or qualification, as clear in meaning and determinate; and by the warrant of Scripture.
Their place in the apologetic is thus taken simply as a datum ... albeit one carefully verified.
of the Light and Shade of
Terminology Prophetically, with special reference to the New Testament
Extension on the Depth of Divine Dealings and the Precision of Divine Announcements
A. New Testament References
Certain New Testament scriptures are of interest in their implications concerning prophecy and its impact.
1) Those in Colossians 1:25-26, Ephesians 3:4-6 and Romans 16:25. The first tells us that "Christ in you" was a mystery hid from ages and from generations. This could be
a) because people did not perceive the teaching, though it was written in the Old Testament or
b) it was not, in that particular element, aspect, fulness, written.Ephesians 3 tells us that the concept of being fellow-heirs, the Gentiles with the Jews was not indeed known in former times, prior to those of Paul, as it came to be exposed through his own ministry. Obviously, Isaiah 65 tells us of the replacement of Jews (as the explicit, formal exhibit of godliness among the nations) by certain Gentiles - as shown in Ch. 9 supra. The concept of togetherness, however, believing Jews and believing Gentiles, is now highlighted. Romans 16:25 advises us that the preaching of Jesus Christ is now exposed, though the scriptures of the prophets held this news, (as shown indeed so well by Acts 8:29-35 and John 12:41 - and by inspection, as shown in Ch. 9 supra).
The result ? We are advised that:
a) the high-impact wonder, mystery of "Christ in you", the hope of glory: that this particular feature and focus either was written by the former prophets and not grasped, or simply was not written; while
b) on the other hand, the preaching-basis of Jesus Christ Himself was written; and that
c) the togetherness of Jew and Gentile in this new gospel (though as Romans shows, it is old through prediction) is in Paul's day exhibited in a much more patent manner than was formerly the case.All this is of course abundantly confirmed.
Indeed the Gentile emphasis of Isaiah 66:16-20 is so intense, and the 'priests' and 'Levites' drawn from those who had not even heard God's fame is so provocative (cf. Isaiah 66:3, 65:13-15), allied with the communal phrase ''all of your brethren'', that in the light of the 'new name' for God's servants (65:15) and His 'new' people, it is clear that a certain fellowship is implied between converted Jew and converted Gentile, in the milieu of the newly established Jewish people (Isaiah 66:7-9). These are acceptable by a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31, Ezekiel 16:59-63, Isaiah 65:13-15, 52:13-53:12, 66:4), open freely to all (Isaiah 55:1-6, 53:1,10). This fellowship in the Messiah of Jew and Gentile believers is not proclaimed, not highlighted as by Paul, but it is intimated: and as to that, though the Jews en masse have still to come to their Messiah, it is verified at the time of the return of the nation to its site.
15:13-17. Here James cites Amos 9:12.
The rebuilding of the "tabernacle of David", James finds to be agreeable to this context, which continues (in Amos) to speak of the extension of the kingdom to "all the heathen who are called by My name" (the Lord is speaking). The name for such (Isaiah 65:13-15) is to be 'another', not identical with that held by the Jews, as a mere single nation. Isaiah makes it clear (Isaiah 53:10) that it is to depend (53:1) on whoever believes in the Gospel of the sacrificed Messiah. Isaiah 44:5 also indicates that one will call himself by the name of the God of Jacob, whilst ANOTHER will call himself "the Lord's". To these words of Amos, of course, the activities of the in-bringing of many Gentiles by the very power of God, agree, and do so intimately, richly and strikingly. In terms of Amos 9, the "Son of David" has a far broader tabernacle than that of the Jews, being a "light to the Gentiles" as well (Isaiah 49:6).
What God will choose (viewing it from the time of the speech of James) for the Jews in terms of His unconditional (Genesis 17) real estate contract is not there touched, though Paul uses language which agrees with more of this element in Romans 11:26 (cf. Isaiah 66:6-10 and p. 1111 infra).
Similarly Paul in Romans 9:25-27 quotes from Isaiah 10:20-23 (as well as from Hosea 2:23) in bringing to light the predicted era following the Christ's incarnation (Micah 5:1-3) on earth, and so uses the prophets freely, relative to the salvation of Christ both for Jew and Gentile, for this day of the Lord to which Isaiah so emphatically refers (here in 9:1-7, 11:1-5). The era of course progresses to its finale (Isaiah 9:1-6 to 11:6-16; Micah 5:1-3 to 5:4-15 cf. 7:7-9 to 7:14 ff.; Joel 2:28-32 to 3:1) as is the case indeed in Amos (9:11 steps to 9:13-15), proceeding to the special Jewish segment, in its place in the divine disposal of history. The sequence may proceed indeed to the divine millenial rule, as in Isaiah 65:20 ff., Joel 3:18). In all this, there is no difference to the Gospel given (Isaiah 65:13-15, 66:3 cf. Romans 4), though God has His own order of events (cf. Romans 11:25-26, Zechariah 12:7-14, Luke 24:25-26).
This promised land aspect is important in vindicating God's name to the unbelieving world, which thinks it can apportion things as it will, or that God is merely a Spirit, or unimportant or whatever. (See pp. 514 supra, 1111 infra).
B. The Depths of Divine Dealings in Ezekiel's Bones and Isaiah's Cloud - cf. pp. 794-795 supra
This is made very clear in Ezekiel 36-37, as we see in Ch. 9 (supra) more than once, as God declares that so (i. e. as He replaces the Jews in their land and brings them back to Himself in His time, as He delivers and establishes them there), the nations will learn. (Cf. Isaiah 49:19-21,26, 66:8,15-16 - "for" is even repeated: they learn God's faithfulness and His militant might!) God did it all. His discipline and His deliverance were planned; declared, and are done. (Cf. Ezekiel 36:20-36 - note esp. v.36. God roundly states: "I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.") Further, the Jews too will have a realisation! Paul in Romans 11 makes this most apparent, even magnifying God in wonder at His deep plans! The place is in fact to become 'like the garden of Eden', and with Israel already reputedly exporting some 800,000,000 floral stems annually - the world's third largest flower exporter and one of the smallest pieces of national real estate among the countries: this is already a blooming prophecy.
Their conversion, however, in large numbers is, as seen in Ch. 9 supra, still to come, as is the final tumultuous assault on their nation, by an international force, centred to the North. Thus, in Ezekiel 37 we see an epochal gathering together of the scattered Jews, as if they were dispersed bones, a skeletal army: there is in this exactly the astounding feeling of overcoming the seemingly impossible, frequently evoked by the constant repatriation of Jews with money and aeroplanes quite often, to this day. (Ethiopia and Russia were more romantic sounding exhibits earlier in 1991; then we read of Jewish evacuation from India, and of high sentiment as they leave - why, from their prosperity ? There is a certain call...) The saga continues, expands.
Where will they go ? (exactly fulfilling Isaiah 49:19). How will they be accommodated ? (This calls to mind the use of the West Bank area for Russian Jews, alleviating the 'crush'.) By air they come, notably form Ethiopia, but not from there alone, first in the clandestine operation, and then openly of late; and this agrees with Isaiah 60:8. There is the same theme of wonder, of amazement, of divine bounty, of astonishing results/methods in chapters 66 and 60:
Before she travailed, she gave birth; before her pain came, she delivered a male child. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? ... Shall a nation be born at once ? (Isaiah 66:7-8).This is in context with the call to rejoice with Jerusalem (Isaiah 66:10), echoing the cry of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:43 to the nations, the Gentiles to rejoice with the delivered, straying but returning people, the Jews. Again, in Isaiah 60:8, (cf. the poignant reinstatement of vv. 13-15, and the glittering martial drama looming from 59:16-21), we find this similar apostrophe:
Who are these who fly like a cloud, and like doves to their roosts ? and
Who has begotten Me these, seeing I have lost my children ... a captive and removing to and fro ... these, where had they been ?comes the word of prophetic vision and amazement, in Isaiah 49:21.
They returned indeed to their 'roosts', their habitual place long vacated, and they did so in ships, in airships in the most astonishing manner, if you conceive of the time of the prophecy, which speaks of the amazement as if empathising with the audience, at such a strange and exotic development, illustrating both the divine pity, and power to implement the divine decision made of yore, for the Jewish people. Constantly, in return and rebuilding, in things national, transportational, horticultural, confrontational, the saga of fulfilment continues for the Jews, rising to Exodus-style might (Micah 7:7-10, 12,15-18) for a nation once explicitly God-related, but now fallen.
Let us now return to Ezekiel 37, and the army of bones, in a figure representing returning Israel. It is first, then, assembled back in the land.
What now? The 'army' is to be given
spiritual life (cf. Zechariah 12:7-14), focussed onto their slain Messiah,
mourning for their sins. Walking now with their Messiah (Ezekiel 37:25),
they shall have Him in their midst for ever: the phase
is ultimate, irreversible (Ezekiel 37:23,27-28). No more
will they stray to idolatry! Their King is not only for them, but with
C. There is No Analogy to the Power of the One who uses the Power of Analogy
God at will refers now to Israel the nation, now to the church of believers including the Jew and Gentile components, now to the Jews who will become Christians, now to the essence of Christianity whereby anyone may partake of the "new name" which is stretched out to the Gentiles, and which incorporates the reality of the despised Messiah. He can, in Isaiah 60 (15-18) for example, move through the coming of faithful Jews to the gospel, to the essence of the gospel to which any may come, making clear that the very walls are salvation; so continue in chapter 61 to the poor and to the distressed, in terms of the one and only gospel, working from mercy to later coming judgment.
He may speak in repudiation of the Jewish nation, from any blessed interactive relationship with the Lord, in Isaiah 59:1-18, with one of the most pungent denunciations of all time (resembling not a little Matthew 23, where the Lord Himself is speaking direct), turn to the annunciation of the new name for believers, in Isaiah 65, with the stinging rebuff to a nation which has shown hostility too much and holiness too little; in 62:2 more intimately touch the penitents' return, and in 59:20-21 even such from 'Jacob' (cf. p. 820 supra). He can speak of the tabernacle for all in Amos 9, which after all is built on that descendant of David, the Messiah, to be explicit, and of extending it to Gentiles; and then proceed, in Amos 9:13-15, to predict a new era for Israel itself (''Behold the days come ... '') - for an absent people (v.14) in absence called 'Israel', whom He delivers from captivity. (Cf. Micah 7:14-16's acrid, special kind of deliverance provision after 5:1-3 and 7:13!) Then it will indeed have a national identity which is not merely one of unbelief, but rather one of equal participation.
In that day... ? Why in that day, even Egyptians and Assyrians (Isaiah 19:23 ff.) will find a way to the Lord. God is not really limited to our little ideas of things; we have to expand our horizons to that one gospel of that one Messiah (who is Jewish) who first is rejected by His own and then is preached to those nations who had not been His own, and who with a "new name" is available to "everyone who thirsts" (Isaiah 62:2, 55:1-4), being given as a covenant. For it is too little that the Jews alone should have Him (Isaiah 49:6-7); and indeed too much at the phase of their rejection! but rather He will do all things in His time, repudiate the repudiators, bring them back, preach His one Gospel (cf. Ephesians 4:4) to ALL peoples, and bring back the unbelieving Jews ("not for your sakes, be ashamed...") to their land that the nations may 'know' that He is the Lord, and has disciplined and acted as He would. This He said; this He has done, and in last matters, is currently doing. Apologetics should blare this truth.
He can repudiate nations like Moab also, as in Isaiah 15-16, with great pathos and concern, which yields at length to judgment before a recalcitrant people. Moab, says Jeremiah (48:42) "shall be destroyed as a people". This does not of course, in the same chapter, preclude a latter days diminuendo, remnant style attenuation to the point that a once proud people are allowed some measure of return. As a people, they are destroyed, but persons may return minus dominance and the power of place, in a metamorphosed existence.
It is always necessary to see the context and never permissible to extend the statements. In some ways, it is like science; you must learn to live with particularity and avoid philosophy. It is necessary with the word of God to use no less precision than in any other study, than in science; the word which controls nature is not to be made a play-pen, but a constraint. It is not good enough to hold forth vaguely about thought-of intimations, and ignore the very specific indications of what is actually being said.
If God wants to deem a nation destroyed (looking at its power, hauteur and national panache, sovereign continuity and style) and yet finds it possible to restore them in slender and chastened style in a near ultimate-day act of mercy, this is for Him to say and to define. It is of course quite possible to reduce and humble a team, a man or a nation so that they are 'destroyed' relative to their former pretensions, name and flamboyance; and yet have them, like a Berg or a McEnroe (I speak only of a return after discontinuance in their cases), return without entirely having what made them distinctively what they were, what made their name. In the case of the tennis players, that was a matter of undisputed and maintained pre-eminence.
In the case of nations, it can be their particular prowess and name, likewise. That gone, in God's time, they are permitted at His august will, to clamber back in some style to a form of life. The point is made; the prominence attained is devastated; any return is by Permission and in another mode. (In the case of Babylon, eternal termination is declared - Isaiah 13:20. It is God's option, not our own!)
So the Jews: they too return, but in another mode. Not as with Joshua do they return to their land; and they also, not with their own distinctive name, do come. They come as a people (Ezekiel 36) disgraced, shown bountiful grace in terms of an unconditional aspect of a covenant, by which God shows His sovereignty and they their need of... His grace. This they receive as do all the rest: on His terms, in terms of the new name of the Lord who gives spiritual communality in the gospel to both Jew and Gentile, Moabite and Egyptian, whilst carrying out whatever He has at any time said He would do.
This He does not least as a testimony to truth, integrity and the reliable power of His word, the irreproachable character of His covenants and the distinctive character of His dealings, whether with the Jew or anyone else. Let us hear:
I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it (Ezekiel 36:36).Then indeed: ''all the nations which are left all around you shall know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate.''
Again: "Like a flock offered as holy sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem on its feast days, so shall the ruined cities be filled with flocks of men. Then shall they know that I am the Lord" ( Ezekiel 36:38).
*2 The inviolable character of unilateral divine promises such as Genesis 17:1-8, 22:18 declare (cf. Paul's sustained emphasis on this feature in Galations 3:15-29, esp. in vv. 15-17) merely confirms the realities of the definition of terms, as shown in this Appendix.
The inviolability of the word of God applies both
1) to the spiritual blessings
available to all nations, through Abraham's ''seed''
- Christ (Genesis 3:15 with 22:18, 12:3); and
2) to the geographical blessings specified to Abraham ''I will give to your descendants after you the land ... as an everlasting possession'' (Genesis 17:8); and in detail to the prophets. As Deuteronomy 32 and Ezekiel 36-37 show, even discipline for sin does not here annul, but only involves temporary exile.
Terminological pregnancy however does not give birth to terminological confusion, far less to contradiction in terms.