6.39 Isaiah -- the Uniqueness of Israel A
Although the Book of Isaiah has been carefully structured, it is like a great symphony in which motifs recur and intertwine. It seems both simpler and clearer to pick out individual themes concerning race than to proceed in sequential order. The first theme we will discuss is the place of Israel in God’s plan for history.
As we have seen throughout this study, just about every message from God to Israel over the preceding 1300 years emphasized the unique status of Israel among the nations. Specific instructions, commands and judgments may have varied, but God consistently reminded His listeners that Israel was not like all the other nations. And that is the one message that is universally denied today outside of people who believe the Scriptures: no modern nation or secular politician believes the Jews are or ever have been the special people of the God of the whole world. This is a primary point of conflict between the Bible and modern governments.
But the uniqueness that the Old Testament consistently asserts for Israel does not necessarily work to her advantage... because, by failing to live up to her calling, Israel reaps as severe a judgment as the ignorant Gentile nations that surround her. Let us look at aspects of Israel's status that are important to Isaiah:
a. The Sinful nation
Like most of the prophets, Isaiah emphasized that Israel was not unique among the nations because of any righteousness, obedience, spirituality, or moral superiority on the part of the Jews. His first words (Isa 1:2-6) were a thunderous indictment of the conduct of Israel:
Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of
evildoers, children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the
Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him (Isa 1:4).
The accusation of sin applied to both kingdoms:
The Lord has sent a message against Jacob;
it will fall on Israel.
All the people will know it—
Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria (Isa 9:8-9).
Judah is falling;
their words and deeds are against the Lord,
defying his glorious presence (Isa 3:8).
The descriptions of the nature and extent of sin are colorful:
See how the faithful city has become a harlot!
She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell
in her -- but now murderers! (Isa 1:21).
The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress(Isa 5:7).
The highways are deserted, no travelers are on the
The treaty is broken, its witnesses are despised, no one
The land mourns and wastes away (Isa 33:8-9).
Israel's watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge;
they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark;
they lie around and dream, they love to sleep....
"Come," each one cries, "let me get wine! Let us drink
our fill of beer!
And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better" (Isa 56:10-12).
But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot
rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud (Isa 57:20).
This is the Lord’s indictment upon His people, it is the prosecutor’s list of charges, and it reaches back many generations:
Your first father sinned; your spokesmen rebelled
against me (Isa 43:27).
You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your
ear has not been open.
Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were
called a rebel from birth (Isa 48:8).
The phrase “total depravity” applies here, not perhaps in its precise theological definition, but as a description of the seriousness of Israel’s situation. It is beyond the ability of the Israelites to fix by means of calling a fast or putting on sackcloth and ashes for a week, or sacrificing a bull or sheep. In fact, the truth is that man himself can do nothing to mend the broken relationship to God. It is now up to God to act, and judgment is unavoidable.