Monday, June 2, 2014

Isaiah 4: From Reproach to Restoration

Isaiah 4: From Reproach to Restoration

The previous chapter ended with a description of the Lord taking away from Israel all sources of strength and beauty, and the violence that would bring death to most of the men of Israel. Chapter 4 describes the end of that sorrow and the beginning of their salvation. Isaiah proclaims the future exaltation of "the branch", and the reversal of fortune for the survivors left in Zion. Judgement will bring pride and honor, holiness and safety.

Verse 1: God brings reproach.

This verse seems a conclusion of the previous chapter. In the wake of God's removal of support and supply, the political and religious leadership will crumble, and war will decimate the male population (Isaiah 3:25). The ratio of men to women will plummet. Women will suffer reproach.

Isaiah 4:1 (ESV) And seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, "We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach."

Women will be desperate to escape reproach, willing to marry without any promise of support as long as they belonged to a man.

"Contumely" means arrogant rudeness or contempt, from Latin tumere (to swell with wrath). "Pudenda" means human external genital organs, especially of a woman, from Laten pudere (to make or be ashamed). "Carp" means to find fault or complain, from Old Norse karpa (to boast) and Latin carpere (to pluck).

The reproach suffered by the women would not be caused by poverty: the women would work for their own food and clothing. Their reproach came from not having a name.

"Appellation" means a name or title, from Latin appellare, to address.

What do you think?

Verse 2: God brings restoration.

The women described earlier desperately desired a name of honor. In the second verse Isaiah exalts such a name: The Branch.

In that day of the LORD's judgement of his people, The Branch would be seen as beautiful and glorious, and worshiped with pride and honor. The survivors would be judged holy, with their sin washed and cleansed away. The LORD would cover all of Mount Zion with his protection.

Isaiah 4:2 (ESV) In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel.

Verse two is written in the form of two parallel clauses. "The branch" and "the fruit" could be considered to be the same object. "The Branch" would be beautiful and glorious, and it would be the pride and honor of the people. "The Fruit" would be another title for "The Branch".

An early instance of "branch" in the Bible is found in the description of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Genesis 19:25 (ESV) And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

"Grew" is the same word as "branch". It was a literal reference to grasses, shrubs and trees...any kind of plant. The related form of this word, meaning "to sprout" can be found in the Genesis account of Creation.

Genesis 2:5 (ESV) When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground,

"Sprung up" is the same word as "to sprout".

These are literal references to plants. But God inspired his prophets to use the words "to sprout" or "sprout" in reference to one special person. Isaiah spoke of "sprout" in both a literal and figurative sense, describing how righteousness and praise will grow like plants:

Isaiah 61:11 (ESV) For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.

The Psalmist refers to an anointed "horn" sprouting from the family of David:

Psalm 132:17 (ESV) There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.

"Horn" refers to a person of power. Joseph was described by Moses as a prince among his people, as a bull with the horns of a wild ox, goring tens of thousands of people (Deuteronomy 33:17).

Jeremiah described the Branch as a descendent of David, becoming king of all Israel:

Jeremiah 23:5-6 (ESV) Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: The LORD is our righteousness.

Jeremiah 33:15 (ESV) In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Zechariah declared a high priest, Joshua, to be a forerunner or type of the Branch.

Zechariah 3:8-9 (ESV) Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.

Zechariah 6:12 (ESV) And say to him, Thus says the LORD of hosts, Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD.

Zechariah prophesied of the time in which the LORD's wrath against his people would end. The enemy nations which had been a tool of correction would in their turn be chastised by the LORD for their part in ruining the nation of Israel.

In the day of the LORD's deliverance of his people, The Branch would be seen as beautiful and glorious, the pride of the people.

"Splendor" comes from a word meaning to shine, or be bright. "Conspicuous" means clearly visible, from a word meaning to look at with intensive force. To "amass" means to gather together a large amount of material or things. "Turgid" means swollen, distended or congested, from a word meaning to swell. To "array" means to create an impressive display, or an ordered arrangement of a thing, from a word meaning to prepare. "Copious" means abundant in supply or quantity, from a word meaning plenty.

Isaiah was urging the people to look to the future with eyes of faith: from the LORD will come someone small and inconsequential at first, but they will grow to be someone of splendor, someone great, filled with beauty and order and abundance. This anointed One would rise to majestic honor and magnificence.

What do you think?

Verses 3-6: God keeps record.

The last section of this chapter describe God's restoration of his people. Through his judgement the LORD will wash away all filth, cleanse all stains, rendering all who are left alive as holy. The LORD will cover over the whole assemble a refuge and shelter.

In verse three Isaiah connects holiness with those who have been "recorded for life":

Isaiah 4:3 (ESV) And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem.

We find reference to God's book in Exodus. Moses saw clearly a connection between forgiveness and being "recorded" in God's book:

Exodus 32:30-33 (ESV) The next day Moses said to the people, You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin. So Moses returned to the LORD and said, Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin — but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written. But the LORD said to Moses, Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.

God appears to have a book in which is written all who have no sin held against them.

This phrase is found in Psalms 69, decribing those not found "recorded for life":

Psalm 69:27-28 (ESV) Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.

Being "recorded for life" means to have the LORD's forgiveness of sin, rescued from punishment, regarded by the LORD as completely righteous.

Not long after Isaiah, Daniel received a vision:

Daniel 12:1 (ESV) At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.

The later prophetic word from Daniel supports the idea that the trouble endured by the people of Israel was not relieved in Isaiah or Daniel's time.

Jesus refered to a heavenly book of names:

Luke 10:20 (ESV) Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Paul rejoiced in this same book:

Philippians 4:3-4 (ESV) Help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews makes a solid connection between the survivors of Israel with the called out ones of Christ:

Hebrews 12:22-24 (ESV) You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.

The promise of relief and restoration was made by the LORD through Isaiah, but it was not realized during the lifetime of Isaiah, nor any of the prophets who followed Isaiah. But for Christians, it seems that the death and resurrection of Jesus accomplished all that the LORD had promised, at least in a spiritual sense.

"Recorded for life" refers to an action completed in the past. God knows the name of every person who has lived and will live, and he's enrolled in heaven those he has chosen. Through thick and thin he'll bring them to himself.

What do you think?

What does this passage teach us?

photo credit: pangalactic gargleblaster and the heart of gold via photopin cc