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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
Isaiah 51:9-11 says,
9 Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not You who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? 10 Was it not You who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a pathway for the redeemed to cross over? 11 So the ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, and everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
The prophet tells the “arm of the Lord” to “awake, awake,” as if God could ever fall asleep! Psalm 121:4 says, “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” In the Hebrew idiom, to awaken referred to doing something, as opposed to doing nothing. Men do nothing when they are asleep. The prophet thus foresees the time when God does something to redeem and ransom Israel.
Meanwhile, of course, it was God’s purpose for Israel to go into captivity; hence, He did nothing to stop it. The “arm of the Lord” signifies His power, strength, and ability to do something. Isaiah looked back to the precedent when God redeemed Israel from Egypt and how He “dried up the sea” to make “a pathway for the redeemed to cross over.”
Such moves of God are time dependent, for they come within the context of God’s awakening, so to speak. The captivity and exile of Israel was to last thousands of years, so no one should have expected such mighty acts of God to be repeated any time soon.
While many assume that this prophecy was fulfilled in 1948 with the Jewish immigration to the old land and the establishment of the Israeli state, it was not.
God was not interested in seeing a migration of people from one location to another. He is more interested in their return to God, that is, their repentance and acceptance of Christ as King. That did not happen in 1948, in spite of church expectations. Christian Zionists then put off the great repentance for 3½ years, and then to 7 years. When the expected Jewish conversion to Christ failed to occur by 1955, they went silent but did not give up their view that Jewish Zionism was the fulfillment of the “return” of Israel.
The law of tribulation in Lev. 26:40-42 makes it clear that God’s arm will not awaken until the people “confess their iniquity… and also in their acting with hostility against Me.” Only then will God “remember My covenant with Abraham” and “remember the land.” Although a few individual Jews have repented of their hostility against Jesus Christ, the vast majority have not done so. Therefore, they have not yet returned to fulfill the prophecies in a lawful manner.
The law is prophetic because it sets the terms and conditions for both exile and return. The prophets comment and interpret the law, applying it in greater detail, but they do not contradict the law. They do speak of a change of covenant, however, and so the last half of Isaiah is all about the New Covenant. In Jer. 31:31, 32 the prophet speaks specifically of the New Covenant,
31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers…”
The covenants define the manner in which men are to be perfected. The Old Covenant makes man responsible to perfect himself by the power of his own will. The New Covenant makes God responsible to perfect us by the power of His Spirit. Many do not understand this. Zionists think it means that God will bless unbelieving Jews unconditionally even while they reject Jesus as Messiah and King. But the New Covenant actually makes God responsible to turn the hearts of men so that they may be saved in a lawful manner—that is, by Abrahamic faith and Sarah’s New Covenant.
We see no such mass conversion among those Jews who have “returned” to the old land under political Zionism. Atheistic Jews from Eastern Europe did not suddenly turn to God, though some turned back to Judaism. But a return to Judaism was a return to the same religion that has rejected Jesus as Messiah for nearly 2000 years. It does not fulfill the terms of Lev. 26:40, nor does it meet God’s definition of “fruit” that God requires.
Judaism’s lack of fruit was the reason Jesus cursed the fig tree (Matt. 21:19), and when Jesus prophesied that the nation would come to life at the end of the age, it was to remain fruitless (Matt. 24:32-34).
The only way that Zionism might fulfill the prophecies of Israel’s “return” is to bear fruit. This is required of all men, not just Jews or Israelites. It does not matter where they live; what matters is which covenant is being fulfilled in them. Has God chosen to reveal Christ to them? Do we see the fruit of such revelation? If not, then they are not yet “chosen,” for they are still blind, as Paul tells us in Rom. 11:7.
In my view, all Jews will ultimately bow their knee to Jesus Christ, along with the rest of humanity (Isaiah 45:23). That is not the issue. The issue is when will men bow their knees? Those who do so in the present age will receive the inheritance promised in the New Covenant before the rest of humanity. But the first resurrection and the fulfillment of Tabernacles come with an obvious deadline to become overcomers.
Those who do not repent soon enough to grow to spiritual maturity will be like the foolish virgins who did not have sufficient time to buy oil at the last minute (Matt. 25:8). If Jews repent at the last minute, they will not have time to become overcomers before the deadline.
Zionism has failed to bring repentance to the Israeli state, even after two generations have passed. A greater “return” is required, and God will not choose unbelievers to rule His Kingdom. Jews are not saved by the Old Covenant, nor can they succeed in being perfected by their diligent study of the law through Old Covenant eyes.
Rom. 8:8 says, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” If they could, a New Covenant would not be necessary, nor would it be necessary for Christ to die for the sin of the world.
The two covenants define two plans of salvation. One of them sets a good standard of behavior, but only the second one actually works.
And so, Isaiah prophesies of people who are joyful as they return, not because they are able to immigrate to the land of their forefathers, but because God has changed their hearts and caused them to recognize Jesus Christ as King. The prophet compares this to crossing the Red Sea, which is a type of baptism. We read in 1 Cor. 10:1-4,
1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.
Hence, when Isaiah looked to the past to see the precedent for Israel’s redemption, we should not expect a virtual repeat of history. Israel will never again cross the Red Sea in that manner. We must look ahead to a New Covenant fulfillment of what happened in the past.
The Apostle Paul interprets Isaiah’s prophecy to mean that under the New Covenant, the people will be baptized into Christ, not Moses; that they will eat the same spiritual food and drink—the body and blood of Christ (John 6:51-53); and that they will drink of the water of life and truth from Jesus Christ.
There is no other way that God will bring anyone out of the house of bondage.