January 4, 2012

Thursday after the First Sunday after Christmas, the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 144, Is. 66:14-23
Evening – Ps. 29, 98, Is. 49:1-7, Lk. 3:15-22

Commentary
Isaiah 66:14-23, 49:1-7

This morning’s reading from Isaiah 66:18 and following is a continuation of Is. 66:1-16 and cannot be understood apart from those verses. The passage actually begins in verse 14, which tells of God’s grace toward His servants and His indignation toward His enemies. Verse 15 begins to reveal how grace and indignation will be executed. God will come with fire, chariots, and whirlwind, meaning the destruction and killing of military conquest (66:16).

Two kinds of enemies of God are portrayed. First is Jews in the sin of idolatry. Verse 17 pictures them participating in pagan rites and worshiping idols. Some Jews left their religion behind to join pagan cults. Others imported elements of paganism into their own faith. At times, even the Temple of God was filled with pagan idols. Its halls rang with their prayers and its altar ran with the blood of their sacrifices. Those who have done these things will be consumed as by a consuming fire (17).

With these things firmly in our minds we are ready to look into our reading for today. Verse 18 refers back to 17 as justification for God’s wrath. He knows the works and thoughts of idolatrous Jews. He has seen them give His glory to idols and attribute His providence to inanimate objects. He knows they have followed gods that blessed their sins, rather than live the pure and holy life He demands of them. They have even persecuted Jews who would not join their sin (66:5). They and their gods will be consumed.

The second group of God’s enemies consists of Gentiles who come to make war on Israel. They lift up their sword against God’s anointed people, and that is the same as lifting up their sword against God Himself (Ps. 2:2). The Church is the Body of Christ, and he who persecutes it persecutes Christ (Acts 9:4&5). As the Gentile empires come to make war on Israel, they find themselves also falling to the sword. We see in the history of the Jewish people a parade of conquerors taking the land, each conqueror conquered by another, which is also conquered by another. From Assyria to Babylon, from Persia to Greece, and even mighty Rome, empires have come and gone while Israel, both old and new, remains.

Not all Gentiles are destroyed, for the grace of God extends to them as well. Many survive the judgment of God and are brought into His Kingdom of Grace. The Jewish people often enjoyed a steady stream of Gentiles coming to God and becoming members of the Covenant People. Converts often took their new faith back to their own countries and people (66:19).

Seeing the application of this chapter to the Jews of the Babylonian era and beyond, we again come face to face with an important part of the book of Isaiah, namely its Christological meaning. The events of these verses cannot possibly be fulfilled by a simple return of the Jews to Jerusalem and Judea. They can only find their ultimate meaning in the Kingdom of the Messiah and the establishment of His Kingdom in the hearts and minds of people of every race and nation, and in their elevation into the New Heaven and earth, which is the glorious fulfillment of all the promises of God in Heaven forever.

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