Repentance

A requirement for repentance is an awareness that you have done something wrong. You don’t necessarily have to be aware of a law in order to break it, but you do have to be aware of it in order to feel sorry that you broke it. An example of this is the person that gets a speeding ticket. Before he was stopped by a police officer, he may not have been aware that he was driving 15 mph over the speed limit. Depending on whether or not he can afford the fine or wants to have the ticket on his driving record, he may feel sorry afterwards that he broke the law.

“To repent means to make a strong turning to a new course of action…Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action” (5162). Before the Israelites were taken into captivity, they formed alliances with the nations around them and often paid tribute to foreign kings in order to avoid war. The children of Israel stopped expecting God to defend and protect them and were arrogant about their military capabilities (Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah 701 B.C.). One of the reasons the people didn’t repent was they were no longer reading God’s word (2 Kings 22:8).

God intended the exile of the nation of Israel to bring the people of the southern kingdom of Judah to their senses. Whereas they had been dwelling safe and secure in the city of Jerusalem for hundreds of years, Sennacherib’s successful attacks on Judah’s fortresses served as a warning that God was no longer protecting his people as he had before (Isaiah 36:1). Judah’s appeal to God shows they were beginning to get the message. Isaiah declared, “O that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, as when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence” (Isaiah 64:1-2).

By the time the people of Judah were taken into captivity they had become aware of their moral failure. Isaiah declared, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as the leaf; and our iniquities like the wind have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6). Isaiah was speaking prophetically, so at that time, the people were still rebelling against God. It wasn’t until they were in captivity that the people began to repent.

Isaiah spoke of the inevitability of Judah’s captivity, but the actual event was still almost a hundred years away. Isaiah indicated that in the end, everyone would abandon their faith and turn away from God. He said, “And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou has consumed us, because of our iniquities” (Isaiah 64:7). In essence, Isaiah was saying that God was no longer paying attention to what was going on with his people. Although he hadn’t abandoned them completely, the LORD was not working for, but against them.

Only a remnant of God’s people would return to the Promised Land after their captivity in Babylon. Those that would return were expected to do so because they had repented of their sin. One of the characteristics of repentance is submission to the will of God. Isaiah described a change of heart that would be evident in the remnant in terms of clay, that which can easily be molded and shaped into a usable vessel. He said, “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thine hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

Phase Two

The LORD identified Cyrus king of Persia as the shepherd that would lead his people out of captivity (Isaiah 44:28). God referred to Cyrus as his anointed (Isaiah 45:1), a term associated with Israel’s Messiah. In Cyrus’ case, this title meant that he was consecrated by God for a special office or function. Cyrus was a pagan king that did not know God. The LORD declared about him, “For my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me” (Isaiah 45:4).

God intended to use Cyrus for his own purposes in order to demonstrate his sovereign control over all his creation. In explaining this strategy the LORD said, “That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:6-7). Cyrus’ connection to Israel’s Messiah made it possible for God’s people to see that Jesus was to be the savior of the world, not just Israel.

The idea that God would save the world was a new concept for the Israelites because up to that point the Gentiles were excluded from having a relationship with God. If Israel had kept God’s commandments, they might have been able to retain their exclusive rights to his inheritance (Isaiah 48:18), but as it were, they chose to rebel and forfeited that right (Isaiah 48:19). Therefore, the LORD said, “Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them” (Isaiah 48:6).

The Israelites’ captivity would prepare them for a new assignment. Phase two of God’s redemption plan required his people to become messengers, spreading God’s word throughout the earth. The scattering of God’s people was not just to punish them. God had always intended for the world to hear of his fame. What the Israelites didn’t know, and were being told for the first time, was they would be sharing their story with the Gentiles in order to get them to repent.

Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob. And they thirsted not when he led them through deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out. There is no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked. (Isaiah 48:20-22)

 

Babylon

Babylon was not a random city where God chose to send his people into captivity. It says in Genesis 11:27-28 that Abraham’s father, Terah was born in Ur of the Chaldees or Chaldeans. Around the 19th century B.C., it says, “Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees” (Genesis 11:31).

Later, when God made a covenant with Abraham in the land of Canaan, he said, “I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it” (Genesis 15:7). God’s plan of redemption for his people included Abraham’s descendants being made into a great nation (Genesis 12:2) and their captivity in the land from which Abraham had first been called out (Isaiah 43:14).

It was appropriate for God to send his people back to the land of Abraham’s ancestors because their idol worship originated there. Babylon’s primary idols , Bel and Nebo were a father and son duo connected with the two golden calves worshipped in Israel. Isaiah explained that these idols were not only the cause of Israel’s captivity, but they would be taken captive with them (Isaiah 46:1-2). God’s intention was to once and for all do away with these false deities.

God’s ability to direct the course of events made it possible for him to bring things full circle. Even though Jerusalem was still decades away from destruction, God warned his people, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (Isaiah 46:9).

God’s vengeance on Babylon was due primarily to its arrogance. Isaiah declared, “And Babylon the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:19). Isaiah described God’s humbling of this nation in terms of a woman who would mourn the loss of her virginity. He said, “Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground; there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans; for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate” (Isaiah 47:1).

The Chaldeans were known for their practice of astrology. Perhaps their greatest claim to fame was their ability to foretell events that threatened the security of their kingdom. Using a sarcastic tone to mock them of their certain doom, Isaiah stated, “Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee” (Isaiah 47:13).

The way

Unlike the exodus when all of the children of Israel were delivered from slavery, captivity was a means of separating out those who wanted a different way of life from those who were content with a lifestyle of sin. When the Israelites went into captivity, God had not yet fulfilled his promise to provide a Messiah or Savior for his people. Only those who returned to the Promised Land at the end of their captivity experienced the fulfillment of God’s promise.

Isaiah encouraged God’s people to not give up on God’s promise by describing the scene of their return as a desert that blossoms like a rose (Isaiah 35:1). The real incentive for return was the hope of a transformed life. Isaiah depicted the Messiah’s ministry as a miraculous intervention in the lives of desperate people. He said:

Behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence, he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:4-6)

Isaiah compared God’s offer of salvation to a well-known and well-traveled road (Isaiah 35:8). The children of Israel were well aware of the LORD’s promise of a Messiah. The trouble with God’s people was they didn’t want to give up their sin. Isaiah referred to salvation as “The way of holiness” (Isaiah 35:8). What he meant by that was there would be a process of salvation available that would result in a transformed life, but only for those who chose to return from captivity (Isaiah 35:9-10).

At the heart of Isaiah’s message about returning to Zion after captivity was the concept of a consecrated life. Many of Israel’s leaders were poor examples of being set apart for God’s work. What Isaiah wanted the people to understand was that it was possible to live a life for God and be happy, in spite of negative circumstances. Isaiah spoke of being ransomed (Isaiah 35:10), which meant some intervening or substitutionary action would effect a release from an undesirable condition (6299). The undesirable condition of God’s people was punishment for their sin. Those who were redeemed would escape punishment and be set free from the power of death (Isaiah 25:8).

God’s Territory

The Promised Land and in particular mount Zion was considered to be God’s territory. As much as God was interested in protecting and preserving his people, he was also interested in maintaining possession of the city of Jerusalem. Knowing the Assyrians intended to capture and take possession of Judah’s capital, Isaiah declared, “So shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof. As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it” (Isaiah 31:4-5).

The terms defend  and deliver were typically used in connection with God’s people, but in the case of mount Zion, or as it was also known as, Jerusalem, God’s resources would be expended to retain a territory dedicated to his Messiah. Zion was mentioned throughout the book of Isaiah appearing in 31 of its 66 chapters. Clearly Isaiah saw Zion as a critical element of his prophecy about Israel’s future. The significance of Zion was both its geographical location and its purpose as a worship center for the entire world. According to Isaiah, the LORD founded Zion (Isaiah 14:32) and would reign there after his judgment of the world for universal sin (Isaiah 24:23).

Although the importance of mount Zion was connected to God’s people, the LORD’s protection of it was independent of their situation. God intended to personally defend his territory (Isaiah 31:4) in spite of his children’s rebellion. In fact, the LORD told Isaiah, “Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever: that this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD” (Isaiah 30:8-9).

Eventually, Jerusalem would fall into enemy hands (2 Kings 25:4), but not to the Assyrians. God would miraculously deliver Jerusalem from king Sennacherib of Assyria in 701 B.C. and delay the city’s destruction for more than a hundred years, allowing the people of Judah to escape Assyrian captivity and end up instead in Babylon. Isaiah described the Assyrian attack as punishment for the Judah’s rebellion.

Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, because ye despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon: therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out of a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant. And he shall break it as the breaking of the potters’ vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare. (Isaiah 30:12-14).

A sure foundation

One of the reasons God sent the nation of Israel into captivity was to get rid of all the people that didn’t believe in him. Captivity was a type of refining process that enabled God to work with only those who wanted to be a part of his kingdom. Particularly in the northern kingdom of Israel, there were many people that wanted nothing to do with God. Event the priests and prophets were willing to lie in order to lead the people away from God rather than to him.

Focusing on the time period when the Messiah’s kingdom would be established, Isaiah stated, “In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty unto the residue of his people” (Isaiah 28:5). We know this time period has not yet taken place because Jesus was rejected and killed by the people of Israel and his followers were scattered throughout the world after his death. The reason being, the Jews didn’t understand God’s plan of salvation included everyone.

God had revealed his plan, but his people misunderstood and rejected his messages. Isaiah explained the situation as though his people perceived God’s word to be childish nonsense. “But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little, that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken” (Isaiah 28:13).

A clue that Christ’s arrival on earth would not immediately clarify God’s intentions and initiate his reign was the declaration that a foundation must first be laid before God’s kingdom could be erected. Isaiah declared, “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation. He that believeth shall not make haste” (Isaiah 28:16).

The sure foundation Isaiah referred to was the process of salvation, which is now known as being born again. Whereas God’s people were originally determined by birth, according to the Lord, the Messiah’s kingdom would be determined by a deliverance from death. “And your covenant with death shall be annulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand” (Isaiah 28:18).

In his effort to cleanse the world of sin, God planned to show everyone it was possible to change the course of one’s life. The key to change was believing. Unfortunately, the majority of the Israelites didn’t believe and missed their opportunity to be saved. “Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord God of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth (Isaiah 28:22).

Special status

God’s plan for the nation of Israel was unique in that he guaranteed salvation for his people based on a special status they held. Because he had chosen the Israelites, the LORD was committed to them and went to great lengths to secure their position in his kingdom. God described his care for his people as that of a man tending his vineyard. The objective was to bring forth good fruit. Isaiah stated, “He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (Isaiah 27:6).

It may have seemed as if God was too harsh with the Israelites when he sent them into captivity, but the process of salvation was different for them than everyone else. Originally, there was a need for atonement, a transaction in which the sins of the people were covered through a substitutionary sacrifice. Isaiah explained, “By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin” (Isaiah 27:9).

As the Israelites were scattered like seed out into the world, their relationship with God became more evident to the people around them. It was obvious they were not like everyone else. God’s work continued in and through them in spite of their dispersion. In some ways, it could be said, that the disintegration of the nation of Israel was a sign to the rest of the world that God required payment for sin. If he did not let his own children get away with their rebellion, how much more would he punish those who denied his existence.

One of the characteristics of the last days, or end of time, is that there will be a harvest. During that time, God will call his people back home. Isaiah said, “And it shall come to pass in that day that the LORD shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, o ye children of Israel” (Isaiah 27:12). The gathering of God’s people was compared to the threshing of wheat in order to emphasize a separation from the rest of the world. The reference to one by one indicated that God would track the whereabouts of Jacob’s descendants and supernaturally return them to the Promised Land.

Although there was an initial fulfillment of this prophecy when a remnant of the nation of Israel returned from Assyrian and Babylonian exile, Isaiah 11:11 indicated there would be a second effort to recover the remnant of God’s people. It is likely the final return will be a complete recovery sometime in the future. Isaiah stated, “And it shall come to pass in that day that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem” (Isaiah 27:13).