6.49 Isaiah -- Dichotomy

Nowhere else in the Bible, except perhaps in the Book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament, is there such a split between "here and now" and "then and there."  Isaiah is sure that the present is a time of inescapable judgment, it is an age of crisis and defeat.  BUT -- there will come a day, which no man then living will see, when God Himself will intervene and transmute human failure into divine victory.  God Himself will take the reins of history, His Spirit will once again move creatively in the midst of chaos, and His works will bring joy to those who look to Him:

        The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
                because the Lord has anointed me
                to preach good news to the poor.
        He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
                to proclaim freedom for the captives
                and release from darkness for the prisoners,
                to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor
                and the day of vengeance of our God,
                to comfort all who mourn,
                and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
        to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
                the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
                and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
        They will be called oaks of righteousness,
                a planting of the Lord
                for the display of his splendor.

         They will rebuild the ancient ruins
                and restore the places long devastated;
                they will renew the ruined cities
                that have been devastated for generations.
          Aliens will shepherd your flocks;
                foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
          And you will be called priests of the Lord,
                you will be named ministers of our God.
          You will feed on the wealth of nations,
                and in their riches you will boast (Isa 61:1-6).

The day of vengeance is also a day of comfort for those who grieve in Zion: what you receive depends upon whether you are one of the oppressors or one of the remnant: poor, brokenhearted, captive.  But what has made them poor? -- decades, or centuries, of subjugation, living in "places long devastated."  God will overturn the judgments of man, the rulers of society, the foreigners who have invaded and imprisoned.  

         

We see in this passage, which is a portrayal of the end-times, a re-enactment of the Exodus, but on a worldwide scale.  The prerequisite to deliverance in both cases is prolonged suffering by God's people, 400 years in the first instance.  And Isaiah's point is that you cannot get the crown of beauty or oil of gladness without first drinking the cup of suffering with God's people.  A spirit of despair precedes putting on the garment of praise.  And it is not merely a despair for one's own bad circumstances, it is grief over the despoiling of God's plan.  One lives in the light of the knowledge of God's past acts of deliverance and His covenant promises, and yet looks out upon a land governed by powerful, greedy and ungodly leaders -- and mourns.

       

This is what God is going to overturn, and in the place of the corrupt rulers He will establish "oaks of righteousness," whose job will be to restore and renew "the ruined cities."  The subjection of the Jews to Gentiles will be reversed: 

         Aliens will shepherd your flocks;
                foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.  
         You will feed on the wealth of nations,
                and in their riches you will boast.

          Foreigners will rebuild your walls,
                and their kings will serve you (Isa 60:10).

This dichotomy between current subjection and future glory runs through the whole book, and through Isaiah's life.  And he cries out for God to bridge the gap, to end the tension:

          Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
                 that the mountains would tremble before you!
         As when fire sets twigs ablaze
                and causes water to boil,
          come down to make your name known to your enemies
                and cause the nations to quake before you! (Isa 64:1-2)

           Isaiah, with his contemporaries, looked with eager expectation to the next Exodus and the new Moses, and to the final work of God that would fulfill the patriarchal covenant and extend its reach to all the earth.