Today’s Chocolate: Theo Orange 70% Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: Isaiah 56
Welcome back to Isaiah 56. Yesterday, I found plenty to say about the first verse alone (and, for that matter, the exigencies of drafting a blog post in the Chicago O’Hare Airport without a laptop). Today we’re digging into the meat of the chapter, which concerns foreigners and eunuchs and how they relate to Israel, God’s chosen people. The Sabbath, as we’ve seen, is also an important element, so let’s check it out.
Reading this passage yesterday, I quickly picked up on the phrase “profaning the Sabbath,” which appears in verses 2 and 6. Isaiah, relaying God’s words, says, “How blessed is the man who…keeps from profaning the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil” (56:2). I wondered if “profaning” was the Hebrew word chaneph, which Isaiah used to describe the morally polluted earth in chapter 24. It’s not.
It’s chalal. We’ve seen this word before; Ezekiel accused the Israelites of profaning the Sabbath in Ezekiel 24, and it has a root meaning of “to pierce.” The word plays an important role in the prophetic tradition, showing up roughly ten billion times in Ezekiel, and also occurring in Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Zephaniah, and Malachi. At various times in Israel’s history, the prophets indict those who profane the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:17-18, Ezekiel 22:8), the land (Jeremiah 16:18), God’s name (Jeremiah 34:16, Ezekiel 20:14, Amos 2:7, Malachi 1:11-12), the sanctuary (Zephaniah 3:4), the covenant of the patriarchs (Malachi 2:1), and more. When you profane the Sabbath, you break it: you pierce through it, you breach its integrity, you rupture it with your work. Isaiah’s message in this chapter is that God blesses the man who doesn’t pierce the Sabbath and who refrains from committing evil–any man, even eunuchs and foreigners.
God has given Isaiah a prophetic vision for a more inclusive Israel. Isaiah delivers this message: “The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, ‘Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered'” (56:8). Israel enjoys its status as God’s chosen people not because of their moral superiority to the other nations, but simply because God chose them. In fact, as we’ve seen in past chapters, they’ve been scattered and subjected to judgment at the hands of foreign nations because they’ve neglected God’s calling. But in this verse, God reveals his plans to use their dispersed state to bring other peoples into the fold. Ages before Isaiah, God promised Abraham: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). With his promise to gather others to himself and his chosen people, God intends to bring Israel back to its roots–not a nation who rejects foreigners and eunuchs, but one founded on God’s covenant with Abraham to bring good things to humanity through his descendants.
In keeping with the Christmas spirit, I’d like to mention that this prophecy is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike, have separated themselves from God by doing evil. Each one of us has broken some part of the law, failed to keep it, pierced it through–chalal. But God took on flesh, came to earth as a human being, bore the penalty of death for our sins on the cross, and rose from the dead to reconcile us to himself. In Romans 11:17-24, Paul describes this as being grafted into the Tree of Abraham. By faith, anyone can become part of God’s blessing to the world through the Jewish people. All it takes is to trust Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. By and large I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but it’s important to remember what Isaiah was looking forward to: salvation for everyone. And salvation has come.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Enjoy your holidays. And for those keeping count at home, there is another reference to wine in verse 12.