6.48 Isaiah -- Hope for the Gentiles
We have looked at several Scriptures which declare judgment on the Gentiles, or that the Gentiles will serve Israel in the future age. But there are a number of other passages that are unreservedly hopeful and positive towards foreigners. In these, Isaiah breaks new ground in declaring the global impact of God's plan of salvation. It is true that the fulfilment of these words lies in the indefinite future. Still, we can imagine that generations of "righteous Gentiles" found assurance in these Scriptures that God accepted them. Later, many of these same verses were cited by New Testament authors as being applicable to the revelation of Jesus Christ. We shall take a look at some of these explicitly "pro-Gentile" passages.
a. Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it (Isa 40:4-5).
The idea that all the earth will see the glory of God is a major theme of Isaiah. It even occurs in his majestic vision of God:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory (Isa 6:3).
Numerous examples of the universal display of God's glory can be given: Isa 12:4-5, Isa 14:7, Isa 40:5, Isa 52:10, Isa 59:19, Isa 61:11, Isa 66:23. These verses are a counterpoint to those of universal judgment.
b. The Servant and the Gentiles. Several passages indicate that the Lord's Servant will bless the Gentiles.
In the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles,
by the way of the sea, along the Jordan.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned (Isa 9:1-2).
Part of this passage is quoted by Matthew in the New Testament (Mat 4:15-6). The condition of the Gentiles is accurately characterized as being one of darkness, but this evokes the compassion of God. He will send "a child, a son," whose reign will spread peace to the nations. See also:
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations....
I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant
for the people and a light for the Gentiles (Isa 42:1, Isa 42:6).
See also Isa 49:6.
c. This is a curious verse:
so will he sprinkle many nations (Isa 52:15),
It apparently refers to the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifice on the horns of the altar. This leads into the most famous of the Messianic passages:
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all (Isa 53:4-6).
The atoning work of the Servant extends to Gentiles. He even becomes a "guilt offering" (Isa 53:10), and the Lord lays on him the inquity of "us all." This was the very chapter the Ethiopian eunuch was reading in his chariot when the apostle Philip met him (Acts 8:26-40).
d. They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the
Lord as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner
for the peoples;
the nations will rally to him,
and his place of rest will be glorious (Isa 11:9-10).
Not only will God's glory be manifested before the nations, as mentioned in "a" above, but the nature of God's salvation is described: universal peace and the knowledge of God. The term "Root of Jesse" is a Messianic title. (See also Isa 53:2 and Rom 15:12.) It is significant that the nations will "rally to Him," whereas many other end-of-the-world scenarios have the nations fleeing from Him in terror. This is similar:
My righteousness draws near speedily,
my salvation is on the way,
and my arm will bring justice to the nations (Isa 51:5).
e. A victorious note is sounded in Isa 24:
They raise their voices, they shout for joy;
from the west they acclaim the Lord's majesty.
Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord;
exalt the name of the Lord, the God of Israel,
in the islands of the sea.
From the ends of the earth we hear singing:
"Glory to the Righteous One" (Isa 24:14-16).
Unfortunately, in the next verse, we are back into the more common theme of judgment and destruction:
Terror and pit and snare await you, O people of the earth (Isa 24:17).
This apparent inconsistency can be attributed to two factors: 1. the tremendous variability of prophetic messages in general, and Isaiah in particular. 2. the "remnant" theme mentioned above. The people singing for joy are not the ones headed to the pit!
f. Another blessing that the Gentiles will share in is found in Isa 25:
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove the disgrace of his people
from all the earth (Isa 25:7-8).
Paul cites this verse in his letter to the Corinthians:
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor 15:54).
g. Turn to me and be saved,
all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other....
Before me every knee will bow;
by me every tongue will swear (Isa 45:22-23).
This is a rare example in the Old Testament of God inviting non-Israelites to know Him. Furthermore, they are bowing in loyalty, not cringing in fear -- because they ascribe to Him righteousness and strength. There is a similar invitation in Isa 55:
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations that do not know you will hasten to
because of the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord,
and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isa 55:5-7).
h. Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord
"The Lord will surely exclude me from his
And let not any eunuch complain,
"I am only a dry tree"....
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations" (Isa 56:3-7).
Leviticus prohibited Levites with crushed testicles from offering sacrifices (Lev 21:20). Isaiah made a bold statement of inclusion of two rejected classes. And he closed with the famous saying that Jesus quoted when he overthrew the tables of the moneychangers and cleansed the Temple (Mat 21:13).
We have been cherry-picking verses in this section, selecting only those that have a favorable reference to Gentiles. Yet this is not an inappropriate method, since the New Testament writers followed the same practice. And, as we have seen, mingled among the declarations of judgment and disaster on the nations, there is an abundance of promises for all mankind...in the future. It is supremely ironic that at the same time Israel as a nation faced its greatest threat from foreign nations, for the first time there was hope for inclusion of foreigners in the age-old Promise and Blessing of Israel.