Isaiah: Beyond Religion. Part 2 (Israel, America and the Church)

Picture taken from Idaho Journal State Politics website

As I began preaching through the book of Isaiah I quickly realized that I needed to make an important decision regarding how to interpret the judgment that Isaiah says is coming.

(The sin): “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.” Isaiah 1:4

(The judgment for the sin): “but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 1:19

I believe that modern Christians have, in many instances, assumed that when we apply texts like these to our world today it is a judgment against the nation of America. It is easy to understand their logic. America is just like the nation of Israel in the year 740 BC, sinful.

Here is the big problem. The judgment in Isaiah is not against “pagan culture”. The judgment is against God’s covenant people.

Consider what God says in 1:11. “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.” Isaiah 1:11

The judgment in Isaiah’s day was against God’s people for putting on a religious show yet their hearts were far from God. To apply this text today would mean that the church has to take a long hard look at themselves first, repent and again seek him with all of their heart.

Big deal you say? What difference does this little hermeneutical discussion make in regards to every day life?

The primary indictment against Israel and Judah in the book of Isaiah was that they were not pursuing mercy and justice. Are we? Or have we fallen into a religious routine that is primarily about getting our needs met and making our life better? Are we (the church, Christians) known as a people who care for the marginalized, oppressed, poor, vulnerable or are we spending more time being angry, judgmental and right? A lot of it has to do with how you interpret the prophets in the Old Testament.

“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless; plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17

Redemption History and Hermeneutics

I have come to understand that there is not one passage of Scripture, Old or New Testament, that makes any sense unless it is seen in the light of Jesus Christ. I might be able to unpack and explain a passage in Ruth, but unless I see it’s connection to the gospel I will fail to understand it fully or have the power to live it out in daily life.

With that said, I find myself enjoying the Gospel Transformation Bible. Here is an excerpt from the introduction (viii)…

Gospel Transformation Bible

It is important to remember that the ‘redemption’ component of biblical history begins unfolding long before the crucifixion narrative in the Gospels. The Bible reveals the dawning light of redemption near the very beginning. Immediately after Adam’s and Eve’s sin, God says to the one who tempted them, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). Bible scholars refer to this verse as the “first gospel.” It is God’s first promise to redeem his world and people-broken by Adam’s sin-by the divine provision of One who would come through a human source to defeat Satan while also suffering an awful attack from him.

This early verse in Genesis sets the stage for all that follows in the Bible. The rest of human history will be played out on this stage. Thus, every piece of Scripture that follows has a redemptive context. Our goal as Bible readers who are interpreting as God intends is not to try to make Jesus magically appear in every text, but to show where every text properly stands on this redemptive stage. Jesus is the chief and culminating figure on this stage. The stage is set for him; all that transpires on the stage relates to him; and we do not fully understand anything on the stage until we have identified its relation to him.

It should be emphasized that placing every text in the redemptive context does not mean that every text mentions Jesus. Rather, every text relates some apsect of God’s redeeming grace that finds it’s fullest expression in Christ. Ultimately, we understand who he is and what he does by how he “fleshes out” the message of redemption that unfolds throughout the Bible.