The Ekklesia in Prophecy – Isaiah 54-56

Photo of the Book of Isaiah page of the Bible

I’ve been a bit late in posting the next part of my refutation of Bullinger, so I thought I’d make a small detour in responding further to his claim that the Ekklesia is not prophesied in the Tanakh.  This could actually become something of a regular feature.

Here we’ll begin by quoting a passage of Galatians which even Bullinger would have to admit speaks of the Ekklesia:

Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman.  But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise.   This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.

Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.  But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.  For it is written, “REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.”   And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.  (Gal. 4:21-28)

The quotation in all caps is from Isaiah 54:1.  This quote comes right in the middle of what we might call the Gospel According to Isaiah, in which he presents a proclamation of “good news” (Heb. bosarah) extending from chapter 40 through the end of the book.  In fact, many scholars have made the claim that this radical shift in tone from doom to hope is evidence of two Isaiahs.  It isn’t (Yeshua anticipates this in John 12:38-39), but rather evidence of the importance of the message of hope.

The axis around which Isaiah’s Gospel revolves is chapter 53.  This deserves its own blog post some day, but for now, it’s enough to note that even in the Talmud it is acknowledged as a Messianic prophecy:

Rabbis said, “His name is ‘the leper of the school house,’ as it is written, ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted’ (Isa. 53: 4).”
–b. Sanhedrin 98b

Immediately after that, we have the prophecy cited in Galatians:

Sing, barren, you who didn’t bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who did not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife,” says the LORD.  “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of your habitations; don’t spare: lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes.  For you shall spread out on the right hand and on the left; and your seed shall possess the nations (or gentiles), and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.”  (Isa. 54:1-3)

The verb “shall possess” is yirash. It can mean to “will dispossess, will take away,” but here it is meant in the sense of “will inherit.”  That is, this poor, widowed woman who is mocked by another just as Sarah was by Hagar, will have an overabundance of children who will actually inherit the Gentiles.  This same promise is given in Amos 9:11-12, the passage upon which the Acts 15 Council made its decision to admit the Gentile converts as Gentiles:

In that day I will raise up the tent of David who is fallen, and close up its breaches, and I will raise up its ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old; that they may possess (yirsho) the remnant of Edom, and all the gentiles who are called by My name,” says the LORD who does this.

This is one of those cases where the Masoretic marks actually get the sense of the passage wrong.  The words Edom and Adam have the same Hebrew letters; only the vowels are different.  The Septuagint translates it anthropoon, “men” or “mankind.”  The significance to the Jerusalem Council is clear:  The fallen tabernacle of the Davidic monarchy would only be raised again when there existed a remnant of mankind, a company of gentiles–not Jews either by birth or circumcision–who were called by the Name of the Holy One as gentiles.

Even Bullinger’s ultra-dispensationalism could not envision such a company of gentiles being anything other than the Ekklesia.

When Paul cites this passage in Galatians, it is not as mere application of a passage that refers to Israel to the Gentile Church.  To Paul, the student of Gamaliel ben Hillel, Rabbi Hillel’s principles of interpretation came as naturally as breathing.  Here two principles in particular play out in his interpretation:  G’zerah Shavah (Equivalence of Expresions, which we have already explored in the Amos quote) and Davar Hilmad Me’anino (Explanation obtained from context).  Why did Paul take this prophecy to refer to the Ekklesia?  Not only because of what came before (the sacrificial prophecy of chapter 53), but by what comes in the ensuing two chapters.

Chapter 55 is the purest invitation to the New Covenant found in Scripture:

Come, everyone who thirsts, to the waters! Come, he who has no money, buy, and eat! Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. . . .  Turn your ear, and come to me; hear, and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David (i.e. Messiah).  Behold, I have given him (the Davidic Messiah) for a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander to the peoples.  Behold, you (Messiah again) shall call a nation that you don’t know; and a nation that didn’t know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you. (vv. 1, 3-5)

Isaiah’s use of the singular “nation” (goy) here should not be taken to mean Israel, but is meant rather to invoke Deu. 32:21, “I will move them to jealousy with those who are not a people. I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation,” which Paul also alludes to in Rom. 11:14.

This sweeps us into Isaiah 56, which proves that these inherited Gentiles were not to be second-hand subjects of the Kingdom, but rather full members of the Covenant and members of the Holy People, even partaking in Israel’s sabbaths:

Thus says the LORD, “Keep justice, and do righteousness; for My Salvation (Yeshuah-ti) is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.  Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast; who keeps the Sabbath from profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

Neither let the foreigner, who has joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, “The LORD will surely separate me from His people” . . .  Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath from profaning it, and holds fast My covenant; even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  (vv. 1-3, 6-7)

That last line, of course, was uttered by Yeshua Himself when He cleansed the Court of the Gentiles of the Temple of its merchants and moneychangers.

The entire message of Isaiah 54-56 is exactly that which Paul wished to convey in his letter to the Galatians:  Yes, the Assembly of the Messiah is being mocked as lowly now, but was nevertheless inheriting the Gentiles, not as subjects and not as people separated from the Jews, but as full citizens receiving the Water of Life free of cost and entering into the same Covenant with the Holy One that Israel enjoyed–even enjoying the Sabbaths that are the sign of the covenant and participating in the Temple worship.

This same prophecy that Paul quoted in rebuke of the Judaizers, by the way, also stands as a rebuke to the growing contingent in Messianic Judaism which claims that the Sabbaths, Feasts, and other “sign” commandments are for the Jews only, and Gentiles need not apply for membership in our synagogues.  If the Holy One outright calls for “the foreigner” to keep the Sabbath (as He also does in Lev. 25:6) and if He extends even the worship of His Holy House–which is the sign of the Covenant if anything is–to all nations, then how can we claim that those of Gentile descent are any less grafted-in today?

Clearly, the Ekklesia was prophesied in many passages of the Tanakh, and these passages were routinely quoted by the Apostles as they sought the Holy One’s will in how to integrate this massive influx of Gentiles into the synagogues.  As a result, not only ultra-dispensationalism but also certain aspects of mainstream dispensationalism–the claim that “the Church” was a mystery not described in the Tanakh–must be set aside so that the true teaching of Scripture may be seen.

Shalom.

If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy When the Stars Fall: A Messianic Commentary on the Revelation, available in both dead tree and dead electron format!

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4 Replies to “The Ekklesia in Prophecy – Isaiah 54-56”

  1. Many like yourself feel that Jesus is on every page of the Tanakh. He is not! Many like yourself use Isaiah 53 to prove your point. It is in error. The 53rd chapter of Isaiah is known as the fourth servant song.

    Israel is one unit. I have heard many times that Christians believe that G-d blinded the eyes of our Jewish people. Do you realize how foolish that sounds?
    For nearly thirty-four hundred years G-d tells us to open our eyes and yet millions of jesus followers think He changes His way.

    There is no messiah named Jesus. There is no second coming. The theology that surrounds a second coming again is foolish. No where in our Jewish scriptures does it say such a thing.

    How is it that christians can come along and tell us (Jews) what is and is to come? Please check your theology.

    I understand we all need to belong, but not at this price. The jesus you follow so closely said himself, “The blind follow the blind into the pit.” I will end by saying, that statement has come to pass long ago. It is alive today. To bad.

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    1. Shalom, Lawrence. I appreciate you taking the time to write.

      Regarding Isaiah 53, are you aware that in both the Talmud and in the Midrash Rabbah, it is identified as a Messianic prophecy? In the Talmud, after a short discussion in which various disciples try to prove from the Scriptures that the Messiah’s name will be the same as or similar to that of their rabbi, we read:

      Rabbis said: His [Messiah’s] name is ‘the leper of the house of study,’ as it is written, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted . . .” (b.Sanh. 98b, q. Isa. 53:4)

      Likewise, in the Ruth Rabbah (5:6), in a commentary on Ruth 2:14, we read:

      “Come near” means come near to the Kingdom. “Eat of the bread” refers to the bread of Messiah’s royalty. “Dip your bread in the vinegar” refers to Messiah’s sufferings, as it is said, “But he was pierced for our transgressions” (Isa. 53:5).

      You’ve actually written at a fortuitous time, as I’ve been engaged in a careful study of Isaiah 40-56 for the last month or so. I wanted to understand what the prophet understood to be the “good news” seven hundred years before Yeshua was born. If you read the passages carefully, you’ll find that there are two seemingly contradictory descriptions given of this Servant.

      Just a few examples: On the one hand, the Servant is a light to the nations and opens the eyes of the blind (42:6f), but on the other the Servant is blind and deaf (42:18-20, cf. 6:6:9f)–which by the way answers your issue about being called blind. It was our own prophets, not the Christians, who first accused us of being so!

      Anyway, on the one hand, the Servant is crushed for his own iniquities (42:24), but on the other hand, the Servant is crushed for the iniquities of others (53:5f), specifically, the sheep which had gone astray, which must refer to Israel as Hashem’s flock. The Servant is Israel (49:3), but on the other hand the Servant is other than Israel, to raise up Israel as a third party (49:6).

      So what are we to make of all this? Are there two Servants? Yes and no. See, in ancient thought, the king is not a separate entity from his kingdom. When we had good and faithful kings, like David or Hezekiah, Israel prospered. When we had evil kings, we fell away and were punished. Even in the case of good kings, their sins would bring punishment on the nation, as we see repeatedly in the case of David. But by the same token, their righteousness would bring blessing even when the nation as a whole was still worshipping at the “high places,” as we see in Hezekiah.

      Israel is indeed Hashem’s servant, now and forever, but the prophet himself points to the fact that we have been blind, we have been disobedient, we have gone astray. The rabbis, by the way, make the same points quite often. But does that mean that Hashem’s purpose has been thwarted by the sins of mortal men?

      No, because Hashem Himself chose a Servant out of the Servant who would lead the way in redeeming Israel and her purpose by suffering for the sins of the scattered flock, as Isaiah says in chapter 53. Listen again to the prophet’s words: “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us to his own way; but Hashem has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him”–Him being the Servant of 52:13, the Arm of Hashem of 53:1. And because this Servant is in fact the Davidic King, He is also Israel, accomplishing Israel’s purpose–to be a light to the Gentiles (49:7) who wait expectantly for His Torah (42:4).

      Tell me, what other Jew in the history of the world has brought more pagan Gentiles into the knowledge of Hashem the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob than Yeshua of Nazareth? There is no one else even close.

      By the same token, the rabbis who see the sufferings of Israel in Isa. 53 and its related passages are absolutely right to do so. Again, as with the King, so with the nation. There are not two servants, one blind and one wise, and one suffering and the other whole. There is one Servant, led by its King–even when they do not acknowledge yet His Kingship. Just as Joseph’s brothers did not recognize the Holy One’s anointing of him to rule, and just as David was persecuted by Saul and fled to the Gentiles, Mashiach was not recognized at first by His brothers, but has gone ahead of them to save many from the famine of hearing the words of Hashem, feeding them the bread of life which is the Word of God.

      Thank you for giving me the opportunity to converse with you, and shalom u’vrecha.

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