28 Jul 2016

Arise, Shine, Foreigners, Worship & Shalom: Isaiah 60, the New Testament and the Mission of the Church

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Church, Exegesis, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Mission, Salvation

Isa 60Today’s blog comes from The Bean Coffee House in Colorado.

A Hidden Gem

One of the great overlooked chapters of the Bible is Isaiah 60. Now of course the opening lines are familiar too many because we sing them but perhaps not realizing from where they come.  It is a breathtaking vision of what happens when Yahweh graciously gathers his scattered people and the healing of the world that results from such astonishing mercy. The chapter is practically an outline of the New Testament itself while describing the missional agenda of God’s People.  We may appreciate dimensions of the New Testament and the “church” more fully when we prayerfully soak in the Spirit message from the prophet.

Yahweh’s Parousia (60.1-2)

Arise, Shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness for the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.”

These majestic words comes near the end of the canonical book of Isaiah and to perceive just how explosive these words are we need to have the whole sweep of the previous chapters before us.  The book is divided rather easily into three major sections. Chapters 1-39 highlight what Moses testifies to in Deuteronomy 9, that Israel had “been rebellious against the LORD as long as he has known you” (9.26, NRSV). God has called for loyalty as he has continued to be gracious in the face of “wickedness, rebellion and sin.” But judgment did arrive and exile came.  Chapters 40-55 are like a lightening bolt at midnight! Just when Israel is deemed dead and buried, the voice that called forth the creation of the universe now summons Israel from the grave of exile.  The Creator of the world and of Israel is now the also the Redeemer leading Israel out of Babylon in a brand new Exodus.

Is it any wonder that the origin of the NT word “gospel” is to be found in these chapters of Isaiah!?  Chapters 56-66 we find the newly redeemed from the grave people of God still rebellious, still full of sin, still a complete failure before the Holy One of Israel.  Thus we have the graphic description of God’s people hopelessly lost in the grip of sin and death:

For our transgressions before you are many,
and our sins testify against us.
Our transgressions indeed are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
rebellion and treachery against the LORD,
turning our backs on our God,
inciting rebellion and oppression …
So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance …
Truth is nowhere to be found …
(59.12-15)

This is the condition that prevails a the opening of chapter 60.  God’s people are not the light of the world as they were called-created-to be (cf Isa 49.6).  God’s people are as lost in the dark as the idolaters themselves! How often it is still the case that disciples are no better than the “nations” around them.

But what Israel could not do, Yahweh has done! That is the explosion of verses 1 and 2. Yahweh has come.  The glory of the Holy One of Israel has shown forth and it has “appeared over you.” The church has been correct through the centuries when these verses have been read at Epiphany … God’s glory has arrived in the midst of the darkness in Jesus (so many texts come to mind from Angels in Luke to John’s celebration of the light shining in the darkness!).  Grace burst through darkness, sin and most of all death to heal the world.

But is Isaiah 60 the light of grace is first over the fallen, blind, impure, unfaithful children of God! God heals the nations by healing his people! This of course echoes the old Abrahamic covenant where God promises to bless the whole world through the children of Abraham. Yahweh has come back to his people!

LightThe Nations See the Light of Grace (60.3-16)

We need to be careful and prayerful readers of Scripture.  Throughout the Hebrew Bible, God’s goodness to Israel has a missional thrust. That means Yahweh shows himself to be the True God to the Gentile pagan world by being gracious to Israel! This is true in the Exodus, in the Wanderings, in Ezekiel, in the Psalms and also here in Isaiah. Again Moses in Deuteronomy is instructive here.

Why did God decide on Israel? Moses says it was not because they were “numerous,” which is an ancient way of saying they were insignificant, so insignificant that people had no qualms in feeding infant Israelite boys to the crocodiles! Ezekiel tells us that Israel was like an exposed and abandoned baby girl that was left to be eaten by the wolves.  Israel was the refuse of the world!! No one wanted them!! That is why God picked them … Yahweh has a habit of picking “the least of these.” But the chosen ones are also incredibly ungrateful.  Everyone would be happy to get rid of Israel … sort of like a pest.

So the world is in shock, or to use the biblical language they are in wonder or awe that Yahweh sticks with them.  It is as if Yahweh’s faithfulness to Israel in the face of their blatant faithlessness is a test of his own character. If Yahweh can be true to them then imagine then imagine what kind of God the Israelites really have … the Only God!

So in Isaiah 60.3-16, Yahweh’s blindingly bright grace brings about a revolution within the created order for both his people and the nations.

Nations shall come to your light
and kings to the brightness of your dawn

The light is not Israel, her holiness or anything of the sort.  The Light that is “your light” is Yahweh himself! Israel is blind and in the darkness.  But when the nations see what Israel’s God has done for Israel they see him, they are astonished by him (not us!).  The Light draws the nations just as Jesus said “if I be lifted up I will draw all …” The drawing power is not us but the beauty of the astonishing grace of the Holy One of Israel.

So Isaiah says the nations will come and they will bring even Israelites with them (vv. 4 & 9). How often it is the case that the grace of God comes to the faithless people of God through those we assume do not know God.  I have experienced it many times in my short life.  But in some of the darkest moments of my life God has used “nonbelievers” to reconnect me back with himself over and over again.  Such a divine mystery.

When the light dawns on the people of God the nations respond by bringing gifts.  This, again, echoes the Bible’s paradigmatic moment of salvation the Exodus.  When God redeemed the nobodies from slavery he disposed the Egyptians to give them riches (Ex 12.35-36) so now the nations bring their wealth to the light.

Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill  and rejoice
because  the abundance of the sea
shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall
come to you …

Foreigners shall build up your walls …
Your gates shall always be open:
day and night they shall not be shut,
so the that the nations shall bring their
wealth ...”

This is all done “because he [Yahweh] has glorified you” (60.5, 9, 10-11)

Those in tune with the biblical narrative will certainly recognize NT allusions to this passage from the Magi at Jesus’s birth to Paul bringing his collection from the Gentiles to Jerusalem to descriptions of the New Jerusalem in the renewed Earth in Revelation 21-22.

But the Gentiles do not simply bring treasure to the Light that is revealed in Israel.  The Gentiles now come to worship!  Once Yahweh has appeared in the midst of this blind people we call God’s People, we see taking place what was supposed to occur from the inception of God’s people at the beginning.  Israel was called to be a “kingdom of priests” for the nations (Ex 19). The entire nation of Israel is to the world what the Levites were to Israel itself. They were to mediate God’s glory to the world and simultaneously reflect Yahweh’s glory back to God in worship.

There are plenty among God’s people that still do not quite grasp this most basic purpose of the church.  The church exists to lead the world in worship of the one true King who has been so astonishingly gracious.

So Isaiah says the Gentiles will come and worship because of God’s supernova of grace upon Israel

They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and proclaim the praise of the LORD …

the rams of Nebaioth {an Arabian tribe} shall
minister to you; they shall be acceptable on my altar,
and I will glorify my glorious house …

The glory of Lebanon shall come to you,
the cypress, the plane, and the pine,
to beautify the place of my sanctuary;
I will glorify where my feet rest
(60.6, 7b, 13)

The nations are not coming again because of Israel’s goodness but because of God’s shocking act of grace.  Not only will the nations come and worship God (not Israel) but the people of God themselves will finally know who the One True God is … Yahweh.

THEN you will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior,
your redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob
(60.16)

God’s grace “converts” the nations but it also “converts” those who should have known who God is.  How tragic it is to this day that so many believers-even those that quote the Bible-have no “knowledge” of the God of Israel.  In light of Isaiah 60 it is no wonder that the great student of Isaiah, Paul, said that it is the “God’s kindness leads to repentance” (Rom 2.4).  That Spiritual truth is written in neon lights across the pages of the Hebrew Bible, including Isaiah 60.

Arise Shine AtarahShalom Descends Upon the World (60.17-22)

Isaiah tells us when Yahweh arrives and shines the light of his Presence that the something happens to the broken world that we know from personal experience and Genesis 3-11 epically describes. The division between nations disappears.  Those who once were conquerors and victims are not so any more. Those who once worshiped false gods do so no longer and those who worshiped the True God but lived faithlessly now gather together to worship the One God as One People.  The Savior of Israel says

I will appoint Shalom as your overseer
and Righteousness as your taskmaster.
Violence shall no more be heard in your land,
devastation or destruction within your borders;
you shall call your walls Salvation,
and your gates Shalom.”
(60.17-18)

God’s grace to faithless Israel results in the healing of the divisions of the world.  It is akin to a return to Eden where shalom and righteousness reign.  But that is not it.  It results in the restoration of humanity to communion with God as in Eden.  God’s Presence is so brilliant that “the sun will no longer be your light of day … but the LORD will be your everlasting light” (60.19).  Israel and the Nations restored to a proper relationship to God brings the world into the fellowship of peace, righteousness and the glorious Presence of the creating and redeeming God.

Conclusion: Isaiah Outlines the NT and Mission of the Church

My attention was first drawn to Isaiah 60 reading Christopher Wright’s magnificent work The Mission of God back in 2006/7.  I have since come back to it repeatedly prayerfully working through the text line by line. It is one of those texts that hold the entire biblical narrative within a few verses.  It was Wright that stopped me in my tracks when he suggested that Isaiah 60 is an outline of the NT itself (my books are in storage so I do not have access to CW or I would provide page numbers but here in the The Bean Coffee House in Gunnison, CO, I am going on memory).  But I think he is basically correct.

Isaiah 60 is addressed to a “raised from the dead people” … renewed Israel today has no more righteousness than those addressed in this epic chapter.

Isaiah 60.1-2 = Gospels, birth & resurrection: God has come in Christ, the Light has dawned, salvation is an accomplished fact of God

Isaiah 60. 3-16 = Acts and the Epistles, the mission of the church, God dwelling among us through the Spirit, the people of the new creation standing out in the sea of darkness calling others to worship the living and saving God

Isaiah 60.17-22 = takes us to the consummation of the Story of God in Revelation 21-22 where sin, darkness, death are banished and God makes his home shining his the light of his glory, shalom and righteousness in the renewed earth.

Thus in a very real sense we have “New Testament Christianity” in the Hebrew Bible laid out for us in Isaiah 60. Isaiah 60 shows what God’s people are supposed to be.  If God dwells with us then we are attractive. If Yahweh chose to appear among a sinful people then we his people must do the same! Why do we think God shall be gracious to us when we demand holiness on the part of the world before we go.  But “arise, shine” is what WE do. We shine forth in the power of God’s own redeeming love to dispel the darkness.

Why is it that there is not a single verse in the New Testament about going and knocking on a door but there are several that say things like “when the pagans see the hope that lies within you …” “make the teaching of God attractive …” or some such idea.  God’s New Creation People are placed by God within the old fallen world as Salt, Light, Leaven whose message is:

“Look at what the God of the Universe has done to Us! He in his stunning grace wants to do this to you!”

Such a people-those that “know the Lord”-have only one message to the world … Look at the beautiful God of all grace. He will come live with us as we together show the world what the new world looks like.

Such a message, Isaiah says, is our Gospel.  The Gospel is never the message about God’s People for we are blind and sinful.  The message is what God, the Lord, has done and he draws all to the Light.  It is lofty. It is majestic. It is bold and it is so powerful that Isaiah quotes God as saying …

I am the LORD; in its time I will accomplish it quickly” (60.22)

This is why we pray “Come Lord, quickly!”

4 Responses to “Arise, Shine, Foreigners, Worship & Shalom: Isaiah 60, the New Testament and the Mission of the Church”

  1. Richard Constant Says:

    Thanks Bobby great great great as always.
    Always wanted to know what that Lord come quickly meant anyway now I do batteries dead love you bro blessings

  2. Profile photo of limb2016 Robert Limb Says:

    Tha

  3. Profile photo of limb2016 Robert Limb Says:

    That Charles Jennens really knew is stuff, didn’t he?

  4. Dwight Says:

    Jesus is THE light, while we are just the light or rather a reflection of the light or a filter of the light. The light we dispense is imperfect compared to THE light of Jesus. Often we promote ourselves as the light, instead of stepping back and letting the real light shine through the word of God.
    Israel was only blessed because they were the nation that Jesus the Light would come through, even though Israel though they were the light to the nations.

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