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Future Promises

I struggled reading Isaiah 62 a little. This chapter is on the "vindication and salvation of Zion," according to the NRSV title for this passage. It doesn't help that I was simultaneously reading a book on Jewish history and was thinking about the Holocaust. It's difficult to think about the Jewish people's extreme persecution and trials and then read passages like this:

I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.
The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: “Never again will I give your grain as food for your enemies, and never again will foreigners drink the new wine for which you have toiled; but those who harvest it will eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather the grapes will drink it in the courts of my sanctuary."

The second temple in Jerusalem, started as a modest structure by the exiles and completely refurbished by King Herod, only lasted until 70 A.D. Not only was Israeli grain taken by enemies, but the people yet again end up being dispersed to other lands following the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in response to the First Jewish Revolt. Destruction followed when the Jewish people revolted and destruction followed when there was less resistance, arguably, as during the Holocaust. It's easy to see why many Jewish people, post World War II, participate culturally rather than religiously in Judaism. How to reconcile God's promises with the stark reality of history?

With this dark opening (!), we can go through chapter 62 and see some of the promises and, in particular, themes that are introduced earlier in Isaiah and are brought to a climax here.

  • Shining (verse 1). As recently as the chapter before (see, Isaiah talks about God's people shining. Even when the light imagery is not used, Isaiah is one of those books that clearly teaches that God's people are to be a image-bearers of God and who are to behave righteously in the world through right living and rectifying wrongs.

  • God's relationship to His people (vv. 3-5). Also carrying over themes from the previous chapter, the relationship discussed here is one of bridegroom (God) and bride (Israel). We also see God as parent (Father and Mother) elsewhere in Isaiah. For example:

  • Highways (verse 10)! There are a ton of highway metaphors in Isaiah, referencing the godly life as one of a journey. For example: Here in Isaiah 62, we read about the highway being built up so that people can go through the gates of Jerusalem.

  • The making of a new people (verse 12). This is the key to the whole passage, and a culminating theme of the book of Isaiah. The intent was always to develop the people of Israel not so that they stay the "frozen chosen" but to be a light to others and an example of God's redemptive work. The intent was always to expand beyond a particular racial group and be inclusive of every "tongue, tribe, and nation" (Revelation 7:9) to form the "Holy people, the Redeemed of the Lord" (Isaiah 62:12). More on this soon.

Regarding the second point, God's relationship with his people, we get a little more detail in this passage regarding the Bridegroom/Bride metaphor. Specifically, some translations talk about the Lord delighting in His people and also give the corresponding Hebrew female names that refer to this delight and the marriage between God and His people. The NIV translation, for instance, reads:

No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married.

Hephzibah and Beulah. These are not names that are at the top of the Top American Baby Names list these days! But there is something so beautiful in seeing God naming Israel with names that communicate His love. In a similar passage, Zephaniah 3:17 says that

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

We know that King Manasseh's mother's name was Hephzibah (2 Kings 21:1). He is credited as being the most wicked king in Judah, for reasons described in 2 Kings 21. This chapter in 2 Kings also references God Himself saying this regarding Manasseh:

The Lord said through his servants the prophets: “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle."

Some of the detestable sins included killing his own son and witchcraft. And yet his mother's name was Hephzibah. According to Rabbinic tradition, this Hephzibah was the prophet Isaiah's daughter. If true, this passage in Isaiah 62 must have been particularly poignant for Isaiah, if he names his own daughter Hephzibah. But also, if this is historically true, how horrifying that this righteous prophet who has a daughter whose name connotes so much love and blessing has a son-in-law who murders Isaiah's grandson and Hephzibah's son. To add to the terrible scenario, Jewish and ancient Christian tradition holds that it is Manasseh who murders Isaiah by sawing him in half. Some believe that the "hall of faith" passage in Hebrews 11 is referencing Isaiah when it describes some martyrs who were "sawed in half."

Very disturbing and horrifying.

Even if this ancient tradition isn't historically accurate, the Bible is clear that Manasseh's mother is someone named Hephzibah. This means that Manasseh's passionate foray into evil does not come because he was raised by a pagan mother. Hephzibah is a Jewish woman's name. His mother is Jewish and not a foreign queen who has no connection to Judaism. It makes Manasseh's behavior all the more perplexing. His story is dark and sad and is the final death knell for ushering Judah into exile. This is what we learn from 2 Kings.

And yet, it's important to read the entire Bible in context and to compare passages to one another. There is an epilogue we learn in 2 Chronicles about Manasseh's story. As this author writing for Ligonier Ministries ( explains, there are different purposes for writing the Kings and Chronicles books:

Written originally to the people of Judah in exile, 1 and 2 Kings are concerned primarily to explain why the Judahites were taken to Babylon. The exiles and their children needed to know why they were disciplined so that they would not repeat their sins. So, the author of 1 and 2 Kings tends to focus on the negative, to emphasize the idolatry that led to Judah’s exile.
On the other hand, 1 and 2 Chronicles were written to the people of Judah after they returned from exile. That audience needed to know how to receive again the covenant blessings promised in Leviticus 26:1–13 and Deuteronomy 28:1–14. Thus, the Chronicler tends to emphasize the positive, highlighting the obedience and repentance of the preexilic kings and people. By following those examples, the postexilic generation would again receive the Lord’s blessing.

What could possibly be the positive about evil King Manasseh? He appears to be beyond redemption. How do you come back from becoming a murderer, possibly multiple times over? How do you come back from failing your country so greatly that the entire nation is dragged into exile. These are not small mistakes, little errors.

And yet, 2 Chronicles 33 indicates this is the actual ending of Manasseh's life:

The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.
Afterward he rebuilt the outer wall of the City of David, west of the Gihon spring in the valley, as far as the entrance of the Fish Gate and encircling the hill of Ophel; he also made it much higher. He stationed military commanders in all the fortified cities in Judah.
He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel. The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.

This all sets the tone for a period of restoration and renewal in Judah. While Manasseh's son Amon fails miserably, and leads an unremarkable and yet evil two-year reign, he's followed by the reign of King Josiah. Josiah rediscovers the book of the law (Torah) through his efforts to restore and repair the broken-down temple. He turns to the prophetess Huldah to help interpret the Torah and teach its meaning. It's a beautiful and detailed two-chapter section on education reform, spiritual renewal, and adherence to God's word at a level that had never happened before! The Bible says that, following Huldah's teaching of what the Torah said on Passover observance,

No passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; none of the kings of Israel had kept such a passover as was kept by Josiah, by the priests and the Levites, by all Judah and Israel who were present, and by the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

How strange to think that Manasseh's repentance (which corresponds to him passionately pursuing restoration and making wrongs right at the same or greater intensity than how he had pursued evil) sets the stage for one of the greatest periods of restoration and renewal in Jewish history. A period of renewal which sets Jewish followers to truly be "people of the book."

And with that, I turn my gaze back to Isaiah 62. Although it is filled with promises, I can't help but think across history at the ebb and flow of tragedy and triumph that the Jewish people have experienced. True followers of Christ have also had periods of triumph and tragedy, sometimes suffering from death and destruction from the hands of other people who call themselves Christians. It's difficult to read Isaiah in the Now of not knowing when, if ever, Israel will be safe from destruction as well as not knowing when Christian believers worldwide will be safe from persecution. Beyond being safe, there's the wrong things being made right that need to happen and, too often, nonbelievers, Jews, and Christians alike sometimes set upon themselves to singlehandedly right wrongs without making sure we're connecting with God's plan of restoration. As Michael Heiser writes in the book The Unseen Realm, “We seem to have an inner sense of need to restore something that was lost, but Eden cannot return on purely human terms.“ We are co-participants in God's redemptive work, not the Originator.

Isaiah 62 needs to be read with the intent in which it is written. In its entirety, it is speaking of what God is doing and will do. The only verses that might possibly refer to human effort still have to do with a response to the action God has already done. That is, to gather the food and drink the wine that the Lord has provided while God is praised (v. 9) and to go through the gate on the highway of holiness (verse 10).

We've been told this before by Isaiah. Step forth on the highway of holiness. Reach out and grab what God has provided for our sustenance. And praise the Lord! These promises are there for us now, and--especially--for the future.

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