Isaiah on 'Theology of Mission' as Man's Purpose
Man has wrestled with the fundamental questions of existence since before thoughts were recorded. Modern man is still seeking answers to “What is the meaning of life?” and ultimately “Why are we here?” Yet nearly 2,700 years ago, the prophet Isaiah was whisked into the throne room of God and received untold revelations directly from the sovereign Creator Himself on such matters. True to his calling the answers were concealed in such a way that people will “be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving” (Isaiah 6:9).
Throughout the collected sixty-six books of Isaiah's prophesies several themes reveal the answer. First, the sinful and wicked nature of both God's chosen people and the nations is clearly evidenced as man's barrier to the presence of God. This evil against themselves, others, and God Himself demands justice, which is manifested as the wrath of God. Then a third theme (which seems irreconcilable at first) of God's mercy for His chosen people and the nations runs parallel to the lengthy passages of judgment. These paradoxical attitudes of God amazingly find harmony through yet another theme, that of a Messiah. Described in detail, while indirectly, The Messiah would take man's place and receive God's judgment of evil as their substitute, so that any, including outsider nations, could now enter into God's presence. Thus the answer to man's questioning fully appears in the final theme: sharing the message of the Messiah's redeeming actions to not only His chosen people, but also all nations, peoples, foreigners, and Gentiles.
The Wicked Rebellion of Man
Sins of God's Chosen People. God appears as a jilted lover in the very first chapter of Isaiah. His beloved creation, mankind, has fallen away from His ways (Genesis 3), and He chose an unknown people to rear and bring up into a mighty nation (Isaiah 1:2). Now the very people chosen to act as light in a dark world had instead succumbed to the darkness they were called to dispel. The Lord sings a song for the chosen people as if they were a vineyard, revealing the diligence and care He poured into building up his vineyard expecting a vibrant crop (5:1-3). Despite His labors, the vineyard yielded only grapes of idolatry, arrogant pride, and immorality.
Idolatry - Worship is being given to the idols (2:6-8) that Hezekiah's and Josiah's reforms targeted (2 Kings). God laments that what glory He is given is not genuine and heart filled, but empty contrived lip service consisting of little more than made-made rules (Isaiah 29:13). Even fools speak folly, spreading errors about God depriving the people of His nourishing word (32:6).
Pride & Arrogance - The chosen people are described as children reared by God Himself, but spurned Him and become sinful, corrupt, and evil (1:4). Their actions in political matters further evidence the chosen people's unfaithfulness, as they turned to themselves (22:11) and to alien powers for protection to make plans and alliances without the God's guidance (30:1&31:1).
Immorality - Worst of all, Isaiah describes rampant immorality through woe oracles against the evils God's chosen nation had committed: greed (5:8-10), drunkenness (v11-15), contempt (v18-19), deception (v20), arrogance (v21), reveling in injustice (v22), complacency (32:9), making unjust laws (10:1), and depriving the poor, the widows, and the fatherless (v3).
Sins of All Nations. Having left God and His Truth long ago, the people of the earth are denounced by Isaiah nation by nation for following their own ignorance and false gods. Even so, the sins of pride & arrogance, immorality, and idolatry appear to match the chosen people's sins.
Immorality - Without God's moral law each nation's immorality is practically assumed. Tyre is known as the prostitute of the earth (23:17) for its reveling (v12) and other sins. Babylon is described as a ruthless one (13:11) who caused groaning (21:2b). Similarly, the immorality of Assyria is revealed through the names “destroyer” and “traitor” that Isaiah ascribed to her (33:1).
Pride & Arrogance – Nearly every nation mentioned in Isaiah is guilty of self-exaltation including: Philistia (14:29), Moab (16:6), Egypt (19:11), Arabia (21:16), Tyre (23:9), and Damascus (17:13). Assyria's pride & arrogance is clear from its boast to Hezekiah regarding the inevitable fall of Jerusalem (v18-19), but God points out that Assyria wasn't content to just be His instrument of judgment (Isaiah 10:5), desiring to see her greatness rule many nations (v7-9). Babylon receives special attention, a nation so haughty and prideful (13:11) that her theft of what belongs to God could be an allusion to the fall of the devil (14:12-15)!
Idolatry - Even though the nations aren't considered God's chosen people they're still held accountable for forgetting God as their Savior, their rock, their fortress (17:10), instead turning to the works of their hands in the forms of altars, Asherah poles, and incense altars just as Damascus did (v8). Moab is likewise condemned for her high places and powerless shrines (15:2 & 16:12). Assyria's idolatry barely needs explanation as Isaiah simply denounces Sennacherib's blaspheming (37:23) and his death in the temple of his god Nisroch (v38). Yet idols are said to tremble before God, just as in Egypt where even their mediums and spiritists will be found powerless (19:1-3) and Babylon's images will lie shattered on the ground (20:9c).
All are found guilty of defiling the earth through bloodshed (26:21), merrymaking, revelry, and drunkenness (24:6) which are violations of the laws, the statutes and the everlasting covenant (24:5) that God has woven into the fabric of the whole earth to which all are held accountable (2:12-18). In light of all this rebellion, God seems to throw up His hands asking the rhetorical question “What more could have been done for my vineyard that I have done for it?” (5:5a). A sober reminder to Christians today, that God's patience & persistence does have an end.
The Justice of God
Judgment of God's Chosen People. In God's throne room, Isaiah fears his own ruin as a sinful man in the presence of God (6:5). For there is no peace for the wicked according to God (48:22). God calls His people to reason with Him, so He can spare them the sword of justice if they will stop resisting and rebelling against Him and are willing and obedient (1:18). Sadly they chose the former and they reaped destruction and exile for the seeds they sowed.
Destruction - In the song of the vineyard, God declares that He would remove His hedge of protection from His people and allow them to be destroyed since He found bloodshed in Judah when looking for justice (5:5-7). Thus God lifted a banner to summon nations to come swiftly and speedily to destroy those who spurned the Holy One of Israel (v25-30). God dispatched Assyria to loot, plunder, and trample people who angered Him (10:6). The chosen people's lands became desolate and their cities burned with fire, stripped and laid waste by foreigners (1:7).
Exile- God's destructive judgment wasn't indiscriminate. The humble and needy were spared while the ruthless, the mockers, the evil seekers, and the justice deprivers disappeared (29:19-21). God decreed that His people would go into exile for their lack of understanding (5:13), just as king Ahaz was warned that briars would one day overrun a vacant land (7:22-25).
Judgment of All Nations. None are exempt from God's justice; God will execute judgment upon all people (66:16). He must repay wrath to each, including the distant islands, according to what they have done (59:18). Just like God's chosen people, nations and distant islands would be judged through war and exile by God's tools, Assyria and Babylon (8:9).
Destruction – Just as it was for Jerusalem, God made the foreigners’ stronghold and city no more (25:2). He silenced the uproar of foreigners, the song of the ruthless was stilled (v5). Isaiah pronounced woe and judgment on every nation that rebelled against God's law, Philistia (14:31), Moab (15&16), Egypt (19), Edom (21:12), Arabia (v16), Tyre (23), and Damascus (17). Even Assyria and Babylon, the instruments of God's judgment, did not escape justice as the nations they crushed massed together against them for war (13:4).
Exile - Using Assyria and Babylon, God in His sovereignty removed the boundaries of nations, plundered their treasures, subdued their kings, and gathered all the countries (10:13-14). While the greatest offenders were treated like Sodom & Gomorrah (13:19), God spared remnants from many nations. Some in Moab would become contract labor, but would survive (16:14). A remnant in Damascus would be like the glory of the Israelites (17:3). Even Tyre, at the end of 70 years, would return to ply her trade with all the kingdoms of the earth (23:17).
Iniquities separate all people from God since He cannot stand sin (59:2). As a result, our offenses and sins testify to our rebellion and treachery against God (v12-13). Thus, God must step in to apply justice and Truth when it cannot be found in societies of yesterday and today.
Isaiah shows that God was appalled at the world's fallen and helpless state, “so His own arm worked salvation for Him, and His own righteousness sustained Him” (59:16). Since the relationship between God and man could only be restored once the guilt of man was completely atoned for (27:9), God provided The Messiah to intervene. Just as the blood of bulls, lambs, and goats replaced the blood of man in the atoning sacrificial system (1:11), so too could the life of a man be given in exchange for another (43:3). Thus God came down as a servant to take up man's infirmities. He was pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities by God, so that by His punishment He might bring peace upon us (53:4-5). So even though all have gone astray, God laid upon Himself the iniquity of all (v6) those who repent of their sins (v20).
Isaiah declared The Messiah would be born of a virgin and be named “God with us” (7:14), reigning endlessly on David's throne (9:7) and exalted as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace” (v6). Then “in that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His place of rest will be glorious” (11:10). For it was known that God called Him before He was born (49:1) to be a light to Israel and to the Gentiles to bring God's salvation to the ends of the earth (v6). The Messiah would reverse Isaiah's message so that “what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand” (52:15). Thus, man's question will become “who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (53:1).
The Mercy of God
Restoration of God's Chosen People. Once justice has been accounted for, the chosen people of God will no longer be ashamed. By gaining understanding and accepting instruction, the wayward will stand in awe of God by acknowledging His holiness (29:23-24). God's mercy through The Messiah will reverse the exile with a remnant and destruction with restoration.
Remnant - Isaiah declared that despite the coming exile, a remnant of Israel would truly rely on The Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and would return to Mighty God (10:20-21). God offered comfort to His people, telling Isaiah to speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim that her hard service had been completed and that her sin has been paid for (40:1). Furthermore, a future fulfillment may come in the day of the Root of Jesse, as God reaches out His hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of His people from all over the earth (11:11).
Restoration – God reversed the destruction of Israel and Judah by reminding them of their chosen status (formed by God in the womb) (44:2). God promised to strengthen them and help them with His righteous right hand as they return from the ends of the earth (41:10). With The Messiah, the light of God's glory would once again rest on the chosen people and cut through the darkness over all peoples in hopes of attracting all nations and kings to God (60:1-3).
Inclusion of All Nations. With the arrival of The Messiah the gloom of the world will be no more and all the nations once humbled through destruction, but will be honored (9:1). The nations once exiled to the land of the shadow of death will be reconciled as God's people (v2-3).
Reconciliation - As God restores His chosen people in their own land He promises to join and unite them with aliens (14:1). God warns His chosen people not to exclude foreigners who love and bind themselves to God to serve and worship Him, for He has promised to gather and bring these exiles (and still others) to His holy mountain and give them joy. Furthermore, He will accept their sacrifices on His altar, so that His house will be called a house of prayer for all nations (56:7). Through the reconciling message of the Messiah, God invites all who are thirsty to come to the waters and to buy wine and milk without cost (55:1-2), so that God's chosen people will be known and exist among the peoples of all nations (61:9).
Honor - Through the Messiah, God will finally destroy the barriers between all peoples, and God will prepare a celebratory feast for all nations (25:6-7). The effects of sin and death will be swallowed up forever, and His people’s disgrace will be removed from all the earth as all tears are wiped from all faces (v8). Even Egypt and Assyria, the nemesis to God's people will be united and blessed, declared as God's people and His handiwork alongside Israel (19:25).
Thus, all who repent of their sins through the Redeemer (59:20) will become a blessed people living in a new heavens and new earth (65:23) as promised by the new covenant that God makes with His people. Today, we must recognize that God still esteems the humble (66:2).
The God-Given Purpose of Man
All Nations Summoned to God's Chosen People. Once The Messiah of God made a way for man to be restored to Him despite their wickedness, He fully outlined their purpose. The splendor endowed upon them by The Holy One of Israel, would summon nations they knew not, drawn to God's majesty in them (55:5). As they come, the nations who see their immorality will be made pure, their pride will be humbled, and they will trade their idols for true worship.
Purity - God's people were made into a covenant and a light for all peoples so that they may open eyes that are blind to sin and to free captives who are imprisoned to the darkness of this world (42:6). All people are called to turn and seek the Lord while He may be found, so that they will receive His mercy to forsake their wicked ways and evil thoughts (55:6-7). Foreigners who come to love and worship God by keeping His law and holding fast to His covenant will be accepted and brought to His holy mountain (56:7). The splendor and purity on God's people will be like dawn drawing all nations out of the thick darkness over all peoples (60:3).
Humility - As God raises the banner of The Messiah beckoning to Gentile nations, their pride will melt and even kings and queens will bow down and serve the descendents of God's people (49:22-23). Those who oppressed God's people will instead serve God and His chosen people (61:5), and even the strong prideful nations will turn and revere God's people (25:3).
True Worship - Isaiah speaks of true worship as the mountain of God where His temple will be established and where all nations will see it and stream to it (2:2, 24:15, 42:10). Idol worshipers will be left to their idol collections to save them, but those who take refuge in God will be included in His promises (57:13). With the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth all of man will come and bow down before God, while those persisting in their rebellion against God will continue to be punished where worms and fires do not die (66:22).
Proclaiming the Message to All Nations. The Messiah came as a witness to all peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples (55:4). With The Messiah's sacrificial deed to reconcile man, God's people are told to “let this be known to all the world”(12:4) so that justice replaces their immorality, witness of God replaces their idolatry, and God's Glory replaces their self glory.
Justice - Through Isaiah, God tells His people that nations are waiting in hope for God's arm to bring the justice of salvation (51:4). His people are to bring His teachings to all distant islands so that all peoples can put their hope in them. Thus, they will not falter or be discouraged, knowing that The Messiah will establish justice on earth (42:4).
Witness - Purpose will be found even in the judgment of God's people (52:5), as it reveals how wonderful are the feet of those whobring God's good news of peace and salvation to all the ends of earth (v10) Therefore, God's people are commanded to depart and go out (v11) knowing God will reveal Himself to those who did not ask for Him, seek Him, or call on His name (65:1).
God's Glory – Finally, Isaiah reveals that God is sending His remnant among the nations who have not seen God's glory (66:19), so that the people of all nations and tongues might be gathered to see His glory (v18). God will set the sign of The Messiah among all peoples of all nations so that His chosen people may bring them back to God for His glorious use (v20-21).
In preparation, God's chosen people are given the responsibility to raise the banner of The Messiah for all nations to see and to prepare a way for them, by opening the gates, removing barriers and building a highway (62:10). Then through the proclamation made to the ends of the earth about the The Messiah, God will once again call man His Holy People (v11).
A first read seems to show Isaiah randomly oscillating between loving and judging the nations. However, a careful reading unveils a harmony of these extremes through God's story of man's redemption. Isaiah was undoubtedly knowledgeable of Ecclesiastes (12:13) understanding that life without God was meaningless and that any purpose of life had to come from its creator. Yet, that purpose was disrupted through the “Wicked Rebellion of Man,” separating him from God since evil cannot coexist with God's majesty. Due to God's perfect holiness, “The Justice of God” must judge all evil, or else justice would become a mockery. However, as a God of love, He set about to restore man through “The Messiah.” God would substitute Himself for man and take the judgment for man's evil wickedness. Thus, “The Mercy of God” could be granted to all people without violating the demands of justice. Simultaneously, this message of reconciliation was disclosed as “The God-Given Purpose of Man.” Thus, the answer to man's question of existence, had been provided at creation, but only slowly revealed through God's chosen people.
As the church we must learn from Isaiah and from the story of God's redemption. We must first look at our sins and the sins of the nations and recognize that they require the judgment of God. However, God provided Jesus Christ's death and resurrection as the way to purify our sins and allow us to join His chosen people in worship on His holy mountain. This substitution has not only restored God's chosen people, but also included every tribe, tongue and nation upon the earth. The magnitude of His saving work reverses the effects of sin and changes those it redeems summoning the resistant to its grace and mercy. As people are reconciled to God as His chosen people through His chosen people, they recognize the meaning and purpose they've been searching for: to proclaim the good news of The Messiah's saving work to all the unreached.