Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why the Incarnation Matters: Isaiah the Universalist

                After exhorting the Kingdom of Judah to righteousness, Isaiah begins what could be called the “Messianic” Prophecies.  While they certainly do foretell the coming of the Chosen One, I think we must look deeper.  We must consider how they would sound to their initial audience.

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills, and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say:  Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways, and that we may walk in his paths.  For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples…

               While this is a very inspiring text, the average Jew of that time would’ve looked at it in one of two ways.  He would’ve viewed it inspiring, or thought of Isaiah as a madman.  We must consider the context in which this was written.  Isaiah lived during a time of great unrest.  The King of Judah was a vassal of Assyria.  It was the King of Judah who requested the aid of the Assyrians, which eventually led to the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel.  The Jews of this time were lowly vassals, and a divided people.  The prophet speaks of a time when not only are the children of Jacob united, but the entire world is united under the faith of Yahweh.

               Contained in this call is the call to their original purpose, and something even greater.  It is frequently noted that the original purpose of the nation of Israel was to be a “priestly” nation, bringing the light of Yahweh to the nations.  Yet I submit that Isaiah is going even further.  In these “latter days”, they will be a lot like the first days. 

               From creation through Abraham, there was no “Jew” or “Gentile.”  In the earliest times of creation, man was of one mind and language.  Once again remembering our history, we remember how bad we human beings corrupted that initial vision.  Far from changing that vision, God reaffirms it.  If the successive covenants God established with man looked to be an accommodation to man’s weaknesses, the foretelling of the “latter days”, we see something entirely different.  All the people of the world are God’s people.

                Already we see in this calling a promised new covenant.  Under the Old Covenant, there were distinctions between Jews and Gentiles.  Under the Old Covenant, the law had evidence of man’s weakness and sin.  Many in Israel had no desire to learn the ways of Yahweh, much less the nations!  Isaiah follows his prophecy with an indictment of precisely this fact.  Trusting in their own devices, man has perverted the initial purpose of the Kingdom, and they will suffer as a result.

               Yet why does Isaiah prophecy of such a time?  Such a vision would be almost impossible to reconcile with the facts.  I would say, that’s the point.  God will do this not because of Israel’s merits.  Their only merit is destruction for their acts.  In the beginning of this series, I spoke about how God called us to union with Him.  Even though we rejected that call, the call is still made, and that call will come to fruition.    Yet we need help.

                I believe the Scriptures point to this help, albeit in an indirect manner.  After giving the “lay of the land” so to speak, Isaiah recounts a vision he has.  In this vision, he appears right before the throne of heaven itself.  Faced with such majesty, Isaiah recognizes his utter unworthiness.  At that time one of the Seraphim places a hot coal upon his lips. 

                If one ever tries to eat something that is too hot, one gets a burning sensation in their mouth, and we immediately recoil.  We talk about how that ruins our taste buds.  Well think of placing a burning coal on your lips and inside your mouth.  Such would destroy any trace of our taste buds.  So why did this occur?  Man needed to have his spiritual taste buds burned away.    In that act, the angel states that his guilt is removed, and is cleansed from his sin.  All of those impurities are removed by God, so the prophet can fulfill his ministry. 

                Likewise, we must do the same.  If we look to aspire to this calling Isaiah gives, we too must be purified.  Our senses have not only been darkened, but they have been perverted.  Elsewhere in his prophesy he states “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil!”  It is only through God’s gift that we can be purified, and become able to fulfill our original calling.  Once we have been cleansed, we must then learn of what our true calling is.  Isaiah gives us that in our next section.

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