Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Isaiah 10: 20-23

A Remnant Will Return

20 Now in that day the remnant of Israel, 
and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, 
will never again rely on the one who struck them, 
but will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel.
21 A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.
22 For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea,
Only a remnant within them will return;
A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness.
23 For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, 
the Lord God of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land. 

The center section of Isaiah Chapter 10--our passage today--provides a hopeful chorus in the midst of opening and closing verses focusing on woes and destruction. (Although we will not be completely free from discussion of destruction today, either. Let's hit it first.)

"A destruction is determined...."
--vs. 22

God makes no bones about there being a time of destruction. Israel will be decimated by the Assyrian Empire. It is said twice in this passage. Verse 23 in the King James Version is translated as such: "For the Lord God of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land." 'Consumption' implies a using up of a material or a wasting away. [Online Etymology Dictionary] Back in the 1800s, if you had consumption--what we would later call tuberculosis (an infectious, bacterial disease)--you would be quarantined in an institution and probably would not have lived. The kind of consumption or destruction is, as verse 23 says in the NASB, " the midst of the whole land," or, in the Hebrew, "a full end." [Strong's] If you lived, you went off to exile, and the nation would not stand.

Not only will the destruction be total, but it will be "determined" (vs. 22) and "decreed." (vs. 23) God is straight up on this fact, too. This is part of His plan. His wrath cannot be held back. The apostasy of Israel is too great to let be without response. God says punishment is coming, and He determines the who, where, when and how. It's important to say, too, that this is "destruction overflowing with righteousness." (vs. 22, emphasis mine) With God, there can be no other way. We may not be able to fathom destruction with righteousness--even though we might wish we could orchestrate such--but this falls under the category of things Isaiah names later in Chapter 55 (vs. 9): "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts."

"Though it overflows, it is not at random, but in righteousness, which signifies both wisdom and equity. God will justly bring this consumption upon a provoking people, but he will wisely and graciously set bounds to it."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

With the mention of the idea of boundaries comes the main thought of the passage:

"A remnant will return...."
--vs. 21

For me, a remnant is like that pictured above--leftover pieces of fabric from completed sewing projects. Sometimes, a remnant from the fabric store may be just what is needed to finish off a project that requires just a small bit of something (and often at a discount!). You can see the word remain in looking at 'remnant'. To remain somewhere is to stay in place. In Hebrew, the word used by Isaiah means "the remainder, the residue, the rest." [Strong's]

Though God presents Israel with the clear word that its nation will be destroyed, sent into exile, and spread out far and wide, He also says that a remnant will be spared and will return to Him. For a nation that was as populated and prosperous as Israel, particularly being God's chosen people, the news is both tough and hopeful. Tough because it is only a handful of grains taken from a nation of a great seashore. Recall God's words to Abraham in His establishing a covenant with him:

"Indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies."
--Genesis 22:17

Mighty Israel would not return en masse and be restored unto God. He spells out the boundary. Those returning "...will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel." (vs. 20) In this regard, there was hope for those who in their hearts did honor God in this way. God planned that such a remnant be crafted with the intent to come back together, to serve and honor Him as they once had. To be restored as a people. To be a new beginning of a Kingdom of growth.

"....'Remnant' has a special significance in the prophecies of Isaiah, as denoting 'a holy seed,' or spiritual kernel, of the nation which should survive impending judgment and become the germ of the people of God, being blessed of God and made a blessing...."
--International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

With Judah watching Israel fall and hearing the words of Isaiah, one would wonder why most of Judah's kings didn't get the message. Were these not incredible warning signs to Judah's leadership that alliance with God was so much more important than alliance with other nations (particularly large empires that consume smaller countries)?

"They [the remnant] shall no more again stay upon him that smote them, shall never depend upon the Assyrians, as they have done, for help against their other enemies, finding that they are themselves their worst enemies. Ictus piscator sapit—sufferings teach caution. They have now learned by dear-bought experience the folly of leaning upon that staff as a stay to them which may perhaps prove a staff to beat them.”
--Matthew Henry

Isaiah's words would fall upon mostly deaf ears in Judah, as the nation would know its own version of a "dear-bought experience" in their exile to Babylon. Do we accept that, as Matthew Henry says, "Sufferings teach caution"? Do we learn from all of our mistakes, our failures, consequences and trials?

There are many who say that belief in God is a crutch in a life that doesn't need support. Maybe, as Christians, we've just come to know that we can be our own worst enemies, and we would rather not rest on a crutch that would beat us senseless. We need guidance. We need grace. We need strength. We need forgiveness. We need support!

"...If the root is holy, the branches are too. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith."
--Romans 11: 16b-20


A burden removed.... 'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week: Isaiah 10: 24-27

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).