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Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.
Category - Bible Commentaries
In prophesying the fate of Damascus and Syria as a whole, the prophet interrupts his message and turns his attention to Ephraim-Israel, saying in Isaiah 17:4,
4 Now in that day the glory of Jacob will fade, and the fatness of his flesh [flesh] will become lean.
Isaiah refers to Israel as Jacob to emphasize “his flesh” and the fact that his 20-year time in exile in Haran set the prophetic pattern for the nation’s later exile to Assyria. Jacob was a fleshly believer until he recognized the sovereignty of God and thereby became an overcomer named Israel. The nation in Isaiah’s day was no longer worthy of being called Israel, so the prophet refers to it by its fleshly name as Jacob (“deceiver, supplanter,” literally, “a heel-catcher”).
Once again, the prophet uses words that prophesy on a deeper level. The nation’s “flesh” was to become lean. The Hebrew word for flesh is basar, which has a double meaning. In this case it is translated “flesh,” but later in Isaiah 61:1 it is translated “good news.”
61 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news [basar] to the afflicted…
Jesus quoted this at the start of His ministry in Luke 4:18, saying, “He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.” Hence, the “good news” is “the gospel” of the New Covenant that Christ preached. In John 6:54-56 Jesus explained this, saying,
54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
To hear His gospel was to eat His flesh. Jesus was expounding on the Hebrew word basar.
So when we compare Jesus’ words with those of Isaiah, we find that the Jacobites in his day were “lean,” because they had been consuming the wrong gospel. They had consumed fleshly gospels rather than the true gospel of Christ. Eating Christ’s flesh would have fattened their spirits, but instead, they had eaten the fleshly words of the false prophets, which had made them “lean.”
Isaiah 17:5, 6 says,
5 It will be even like the reaper gathering the standing grain, as his arm harvests the ears, or it will be like one gleaning ears of grain in the valley of Rephaim. 6 Yet gleanings will be left in it like the shaking of an olive tree, two or three olives on the topmost bough, four or five on the branches of a fruitful tree, declares the Lord, the God of Israel.
The prophet shows here that the law of gleanings was prophetic and referred to the remnant, that is, the overcomers. The “reaper” in this case was Assyria cutting down the Jacobites as if they were stalks of grain. Likewise, Assyria shook the olive tree to bring the olives into his own vat for his own use. And yet God promised to retain a remnant of grace (gleanings) in the midst of great tribulation.
The law of gleaning grain and grapes is found in Lev. 19:9-11,
9 Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God. 11 You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.
Deut. 24:20 speaks also of gleanings from the olive tree:
20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.
This law is directly related to the law giving widows, orphans, aliens, and the poor the right to glean in any man’s field. We see this illustrated in the story of Ruth, who gleaned in Boaz’ field (Ruth 2:23). Those who did not have man’s covering—the protection of a kinsman redeemer—were covered and protected by God Himself (Exodus 22:22-24). As their Protector, He also provided for their needs through the law of gleanings. This is God’s welfare system.
The gleanings thereby represented the remnant of grace which enjoys the direct covering of God Himself. They have been orphaned by the church, often exiled (excommunicated). So we read the cry of David in Psalm 27:9, 10,
9 Do not hide Your face from me, do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation! 10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up.
With this in mind, we find Isaiah comparing the Assyrian conquest of Israel as beating the olive tree but sparing the gleanings that represent the remnant of grace.
Keep in mind that under the Old Covenant, the law of gleanings was a command, which men were responsible to obey, but under the New Covenant, this law was a promise that God was responsible to keep.
Because it was a promise, it was also prophetic of the years in which “Jacob” was in exile during the long tribulation. Paul says in Rom. 11:7 that the remnant of grace was “chosen,” and that the rest of the Israelites were blinded—i.e., not “chosen.”
There has been a remnant in every generation, even in the midst of great wickedness and darkness when it appeared that righteous people were nowhere to be found (1 Kings 19:10).
The remnant of grace acts as a preserving agent in the midst of wickedness and corruption in the world. These are also the first fruits, whose purpose is to sanctify the harvest. Whenever the priest offered the first fruits offering to God (barley, wheat, or grapes), it sanctified the harvest, allowing the people to harvest their crops.
Paul refers to this same purpose in another way in Rom. 11:16, saying,
16 If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.
Isaiah 17:7, 8 foresaw the purpose and the ultimate victory of the remnant, saying,
7 In that day man [Adam] will have regard for his Maker and his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel. 8 He will not have regard for the altars, the work of his hands, nor will he look to that which his fingers have made, even the Asherim and incense stands.
Dr. Bullinger’s notes on this verse tell us:
A man. Lit. the man. Heb. adam.
He explains that when adam appears with the definite article (“the”), it refers to the man in Gen. 2:7. Otherwise, without the definite article, it refers to mankind in general. In the case above, Bullinger says that it refers to Adam himself, who stands as the representative or head of all mankind.
Hence, we can see this as a reference to Jesus Christ first, for He is said to be “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). Christ, in turn, leads the entire human race back to God, even as the first Adam had led them all astray (Rom. 5:18; 1 Cor. 15:22).
We may view Isaiah’s prophecy as the result of God’s promise and as the sanctification of the whole harvest after the first fruits have been offered to God. Jesus Christ will not look to man-made altars, that is, altars made of stones shaped by man. An altar represents one’s heart, and when men try to become righteous by their own efforts and works, they only pollute their inner altars. The law of building altars is found in Exodus 20:25,
25 If you make an altar of stone for Me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for if you wield your tool on it, you will profane it.
The remnant of grace are those whose heart-altars are shaped by the Holy Spirit. Old Covenant men attempt to perfect their own hearts by regulating their behavior by the power their own will, their own strength, and their own works. Though their altars may look beautiful on the outside, they remain polluted in the sight of God. This is the bad news gospel of the Old Covenant.
The true gospel of Christ changes the heart from the inside. This results in a change of behavior in one’s daily life. Changes in behavior are not the cause but the effect of the Holy Spirit’s work within us. This is the New Covenant gospel of Christ (basar).
When Isaiah 17:7 says, “In that day,” the prophet refers to the future when the promises of God will be fulfilled through Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant.
The prophet then speaks of a more immediate “day.” Isaiah 17:9, 10 says,
9 In that day their strong cities will be like forsaken places in the forest, or like branches which they abandoned before [“because of,” KJV] the sons of Israel; and the land will be a desolation. 10 For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the rock of your refuge. Therefore you plant delightful plants and set them with vine slips of a strange [zur] god.
This “day” is the day of Jacob’s exile, when their cities will be abandoned. The ungodly actions of the “sons of Israel” were the cause of this desolation. They had forgotten the God of Abraham who had fathered the nation.
Moses prophesied this apostasy many years earlier in Deut. 32:18,
18 You neglected the Rock who begot you and forgot the God who gave you birth.
Instead, they figuratively planted vineyards “with vine slips of a foreigner” (or foreign god). The word picture is that of an Israelite husbandman splicing grape stems from foreign lands onto his vines. Spiritually speaking, it refers to the Israelites trying to splice the doctrines and practices of foreign gods into the worship of the God of Israel.
The result, as we will see shortly, is that the “vineyard” had become polluted by false gods, and that this is why Israel’s cities were to be abandoned and Damascus was to become a “heap.”
Isaiah 17:11 concludes the prophecy that refers to the Assyrians “harvesting” the Israelites as if they were a field of grain or an olive tree.
11 In the day that you plant it you carefully fence it in, and in the morning you bring your seed to blossom; but the harvest will be a heap in the day of sickliness and incurable pain.
The Israelites might build a fence (i.e., a wall) to try to protect or defend that which they produce, but “the harvest will be a heap” regardless of what they do, because of their lack of repentance. Keep in mind also that Ephraim means “double portion of fruit.” Ephraim had been given the Birthright of his father, Joseph (1 Chron. 5:1, 2). After the Dominion Mandate was separated from the Birthright and given to Judah, only the Fruitfulness Mandate remained in the Birthright.
Ephraim was thus responsible to bring forth fruit (the sons of God), but obviously, they had failed to do so under the Old Covenant. The “harvest,” rotting in a heap, was the final result of this failure to bring forth the fruit that God required of the Birthright holder. The Birthright holder was cast out and appeared (on the surface) to be hopelessly lost.
However, the prophets all agreed that in spite of this disaster, the Birthright was not lost forever but was to be recovered in the end. Hence, the sons of God would be manifested later at the appointed time, when the feast of Tabernacles was to be fulfilled historically. But Tabernacles could not be fulfilled until Passover and Pentecost had first been fulfilled.
We know from Scripture that Jesus fulfilled the feast of Passover when He died on the cross and the feast of Pentecost was fulfilled afterward in Acts 2:1. The fulfillment of these feasts during Christ’s first coming prepared the way for the fulfillment of the second set of feasts at His second coming—culminating with the feast of Tabernacles, when the sons of God are to be brought to birth to fulfill the responsibility of the Fruitfulness Mandate.
The advent of the New Covenant made this possible (and inevitable). The New Covenant was established by Christ’s death and resurrection in the first set of feasts, but only when the second set of feasts is fulfilled will this fully come to fruition. In the interim, Ephraim’s captivity and exile as the “lost sheep of the House of Israel” served to postpone the manifestation of the sons of God until the time of judgment had ended. (See Jer. 50:6 and Matt. 10:6.)
In spite of the ruined harvest under the Old Covenant, God has preserved for Himself a remnant, that is, the “gleanings,” which remain separate from the general harvest. During this long “seven times” of judgment and tribulation, the Birthright’s Fruitfulness Mandate has remained separate from the Dominion Mandate.
In the time of the ruined harvest, God has preserved a small remnant and has instilled in them the New Covenant faith of Abraham (Rom. 4:20, 21). These “gleanings” and “first fruits” are called to take the lead in fulfilling the promises of God.