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Lowell Brueckner

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Grace for Strangers and Outcasts


51. An expository study of Isaiah, chapter 56

The Kingdom is at hand

One of the main themes of our last chapter was hunger and thirst and in the Beatitudes, Jesus proclaimed: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt.5:6).  Here in this chapter God calls to a people to “keep justice, and do righteousness”.

These are not a religious people, trying to do good works, confiding in them in order to attain their salvation. His salvation is at hand; they are anticipating His deliverance and preparing their hearts: “Soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed” (v.1). ). Isaiah may be encouraging the Jews threatened by Sennacherib or those in Babylonian exile, but it is an appropriate word also for the coming Messiah, of whom all the prophets spoke. Like those that Jesus blessed in the Beatitudes, so these are a blessed people. Though there may be many, they are addressed individually: “Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast.”

In the time of John Baptist, a man’s whole world came to a halt, as he left his daily chores and necessary work, in order to hear this final prophet, as he pointed him to the Savior. This person “keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it”, resting from his own labors and turning to God, giving Him His proper priority and worthy honor. (In chapter 58, I want to write more about the Christian Sabbath.) He is repentant and “keeps his hand from doing any evil” (v.2). It is a day of momentous spiritual significance and no time for careless living. John said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt.3:2).  I tend to believe that we are living in a similar time.

The eunuch and the foreigner

Isaiah singles out two classes of people, who would generally be ignored and disdained… the foreigner and the eunuch: “Let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree’… To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant. I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (v.3-5).

To be a eunuch meant to accept anonymity, to be bereft of children and to be deprived of any meaningful future. Therefore he says, “I am a dry tree”… no blossom, no fruit. All those disadvantages are swept away for the one, who turns to please the Lord and live for His glory. God will engrave his name in a monument, not only to be seen in his day, but to be remembered in generations to come. In fact, his fame will extend into eternity.

“Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people… The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer” (v.3, 6-7a).

Two foreigners come to mind, as I write… Rahab and Ruth, one a prostitute, the other a Moabite widow. One is condemned to die in Jericho, the city of destruction. Her life is saved (Josh.6:17), she finds a place in Israel (Josh.6:25), marries a prominent Judean, becomes an ancestor of the Christ (Mt.1:5) and her name lives on in the New Testament (Heb.11:31; Jam.2:25). She comes into the blessings of eternity.

By law, Ruth, a Moabitess, is forbidden a place among the Israelites (Dt.23:3), yet by grace, she also finds a place among God’s people (Ruth 1:16,17). She marries a prosperous Bethlehemite, Boaz (Ruth 4:13), and her name enters the genealogy of the Son of Man (Mt.1:5). Everywhere and at any time, when the Bible is read around the world, these two women are honored. Let no one today say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people” or “I am a dry tree”. You sense your unworthiness, of course, but you are honoring the grace and will of God by accepting His love and favor.

What a magnificent portion of Scripture! Do these words bring a humble warmth into your heart, as they do mine? Two thoughts have come to me these days: Because of the understanding that the Lord gives to us concerning Himself, we fall in love with Him. Because of the greatest part of His person, which is beyond our understanding, we can do nothing else, but worship Him. How great is our God! How big is His heart to take into consideration the outcast and the stranger!

The Kingdom of God is not a system, an organization, an institution, a set of rules, and certainly not a business or a building. It is a house of prayer, a place of communion and fellowship, where we come to know Him intimately. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (v.7b). Jesus called it His Father’s house and taught us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven”. Because of the Jews’ violation of His house, only a symbol in His day, Jesus, in anger, cleansed the temple of commercialism. The house, the burnt offerings and sacrifices, mentioned in verse seven, are spiritual. Peter says, “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 P.2:5).

Paul teaches, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Ro.14:17).  The Millennial Reign of Christ will bring this principle to its highest level. The gates of the city of Zion will be open to the foreigner, the gentile, and he will share the fullness of joy, which the Jew inherits. The Lord gathers the outcasts of Israel, but He also says, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered” (v.8). The Good Shepherd said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also” (Jn.10:16). So He has formed His flock of Jews and Gentiles, who want for nothing that is worthwhile, who lie down together in green pastures and are led beside still waters.”

Blind watchmen and mute dogs

In the closing verses of the chapter (v.9-12), Isaiah has left off prophetic utterances to speak of current events. He tells of the beasts, who have come to devour, of blind shepherds, and of silent sheepdogs. Jesus wept over sheep without a shepherd. It is sad for the Jew and for the church, surrounded by wolves, when there is no loving and capable leadership. Paul was deeply concerned: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things…” (Ac.20:29,30). Imagine a situation, in which those who are supposed to be watchman are blind and without knowledge. Well, not much is left to the imagination; in actuality, they are in abundance these days. Mute watch dogs are also plentiful, to be condemned for their guilty silence.

J. C. Ryle, a 19th Century bishop of the Church of England, captures exactly the attitude, of which Isaiah writes, in his book, Warnings to the Churches (I translate from Spanish): We save ourselves from many problems by closing our eyes and saying, “I do not see any danger”. It is easy to plug our ears and say, “I do not hear anything”, and because we hear nothing, we feel no alarm… Be careful of supposing that we are not in any kind of danger… (Beware of assuming) We rest upon solid ground; it may be that others will fall, but we are safe!

Be advised that the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles made constant reference to the Old Testament as a document which carried the same authority as the New. Be advised that they quoted the Old Testament as the voice of God, as though each word had been given by inspiration… Let us arm ourselves therefore, on the one hand, with a profound knowledge of the Word of God. Let us read our Bible more diligently than ever and familiarize ourselves with every part…

Let us not be held back for fear of controversy. The thief loves dogs that do not bark and the watchmen that do not raise their voice in alarm. The devil is a thief. If we are still… we please him and displease God… Paul feared false doctrine… and he wanted to teach us that we should contend for it jealously and fear the loss of truth more than the loss of peace. The truth of Christ in the church is even more important than maintaining peace.

A lack of concern is very prominent today in the church. It exists because of a love for the status quo. The false shepherds say, “Tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure.” They want nothing to disturb the peace of their comfortable positions. “They are all silent dogs; they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber.” It is leadership, given over to a concern for salary, living space and, in one hyphenated word, self-indulgence: “They never have enough… let us fill ourselves…” The great goal is to lean back, relax, keep a positive attitude and enjoy life.


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