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In Isaiah 52:3-5 God says that His people were sold for nothing. The divine court did not require Assyria to pay anything for their slave. The Assyrians then “oppressed them,” or mistreated them. As most people know, men have little respect for that which they obtain free of charge. Then, beginning the middle of Isaiah 52:5, God says through the prophet,
5 … Again, the Lord declares, “Those who rule over them howl [yalal, “howl, wail, lament, cry out”], and My name is continually blasphemed all day long.”
Who is howling or wailing? Who is blaspheming, and why? Paul refers to this passage in Romans 2:23, 24,
23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24 For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written [in Isaiah 52:5].
Paul says that the Gentiles blaspheme God because of Israel’s “breaking the Law.” Paul applies this to the Jews in his day, as we see in verses 17-22,
17 But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God, 18 and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, 21 you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
In other words, if a religious leader is hypocritical, it causes the Gentiles to blaspheme God. The Jewish priests claimed to know the law and thought themselves to be guides to the blind, lights to those in darkness, correcting the foolish and teaching the immature. But Paul questions their observance of the law and suggests in so many words that they are hypocrites who ought to teach themselves the same lessons.
Overall, Paul was building his case that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This included the Jewish leaders, who thought that the Gentiles were blind and foolish idolaters while they themselves were righteous.
A Testimony During Captivity
The fact is that Judah was under Rome’s dominion at that time. Judah had been in captivity since the fall of Jerusalem in 604 B.C., first to Babylon, then Persia, then Greece, and finally Rome. Their time in Babylon was under the iron yoke (Deuteronomy 28:48); after 70 years, Judah’s sentence was reduced to a wooden yoke (Jeremiah 27:12; 28:12-14).
This alteration allowed them to return to the old land to serve their sentence there while remaining under the dominion of Persia, Greece, and Rome. In Paul’s day Judah was still under the wooden yoke, but the influence of radical priests and rabbis eventually stirred up the people to revolt against Rome. They disregarded the teachings of Jeremiah and again tried to break the wooden yoke, as Hananiah did in Jeremiah 28:12. Hence, God replaced their wooden yoke with an iron yoke and sent them once again into captivity to foreign lands.
The point is that Judah as a whole did not set a righteous standard for the world to follow. They failed to be a light to the nations, for their hearts were full of darkness. They did not understand the laws of tribulation, nor did they agree with God’s lawful verdicts. For this reason, the “Gentiles” (i.e., nations) blasphemed God continually, thinking that the Jews manifested the nature and will of Yahweh. In fact, the Jews misrepresented God.
While the Apostle Paul directed his words toward the Jews specifically, he also spoke more widely to a general audience. He set forth the general principle that “through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?” John tells us that “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). When Christians put away the law and think they now have the right to violate it when they disagree with it, they too “dishonor God” and cause the nations to blaspheme God.
In other words, when the nations blaspheme God, it is not simply their fault. When the "leaders" of the nations "howl" their blasphemies, they are reacting to the misrepresentation of God's nature that they see in those who claim to know Him. Prior to the coming of Christ, it was the fault of the Jews who had been entrusted with the law and yet found ways to violate it by their traditions. Isaiah 49:6 says that Israel’s calling was to be “a light of the nations.” This was also Judah’s calling. It has always been the calling of all who claim to be the people of God.
Later, it was the fault of the Church that put away the law and soon lost its revelation of the nature of God. As with the Jews in times past, the Church lost its calling as a beacon of light in a dark world. The Church became just another corrupt political establishment.
This is well documented by Church historians, bishops, and archbishops who were horrified at the immorality they saw coming from the Vatican itself. In more recent history, the Protestant movement has also corrupted itself. It seems that every movement becomes corrupt if it is given enough time.
God judges the ignorant nations for their idolatry, but the greater judgment is upon those who were given the light of truth and yet rejected it. That is why judgment begins at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). They are the ones most responsible for the darkness in the world.
The Good News
In Isaiah 52:6, 7 God gives His response to the blasphemy,
6 “Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore, in that day I am the One who is speaking, ‘Here am I.’ 7 How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news [basar], who announces peace [shalom] and brings good news [basar] of happiness, who announces salvation [Yeshua] and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
God promises that in spite of all the blasphemy, “My people shall know My name.” In other words, God’s people will know His nature, as expressed in the law. This is a New Covenant promise issued by the sovereign God. It is a declaration of what He will do by the power of His might and the counsel of His own will. It is as if God Himself steps out of the shadows, waves His hand, and says, “Here I am; I am the One who is making this promise.”
God takes the responsibility to send evangelists to bring “good news,” that is, the gospel of Christ. The Hebrew word is basar, which has a double meaning: “good news” and “flesh.” The good news is that Christ has come in the flesh so that we may eat His flesh (John 6:53), thereby consuming “good news,” i.e., believing the truth.
This good news is the message of the overcomers who bring the light of Christ to the world. The light of Christ is the antidote to the blasphemy being spoken among the nations. They also announce peace (shalom), or reconciliation. Hence, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:18, 19,
18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
This word of reconciliation is the message that “announces salvation” (Yeshua). It is the gospel of Yeshua-Jesus Christ, who has reconciled the world to Himself by paying for the sin of the world (1 John 2:2). The debt has been paid. God no longer considers the world to be His enemy. It is truly “good news,” for it is not a word of condemnation. It is not the bad news gospel of divine hostility, but the good news of peace between former enemies.
This peace is a New Covenant message, because it is based fully on the decisions and actions of a sovereign and loving God who has done what is necessary to save the world. The message is not that man has initiated his own salvation by the power of His own will, for such salvation would be by the works of men. The voice of the good news messenger is “Your God reigns!”
This is not an Old Covenant message of salvation. It is not about man fulfilling his own vows of obedience to obtain salvation, as we see in Exodus 19:8. It is about God fulfilling His promises, vows, and oaths. It is about God overruling the will of man in order that they may be saved. It is about God opening the eyes of the blind and releasing those who are held captive by sin.
The New Covenant did not say that God gives man the power to fulfill his own vows, as most Christians have been taught. Such would be another form of Old Covenant salvation. The New Covenant is where God has vowed to save the world, and if He should prove incapable of doing this, then He alone is responsible for the failure. He cannot blame blind men for not healing themselves of their blindness. Neither can He blame the deaf when God Himself has stopped their ears (Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 6:10).
John 1:12 and 13 makes it clear that we have the right to become children of God by faith in His name and that this is not done by the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but God’s will alone. While men may object because it is not of men’s works, New Covenant believers rejoice, knowing that the salvation of the world is assured by the promise of God. Nothing, not even the will of men, can prevent this. Though it will certainly take a long time to accomplish, in the mind of God, it is already a done deal.