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Isaiah 56:1 Thus says Yahweh, Keep justice, and do righteousness; for My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed- The salvation of Yahweh’s Kingdom could have soon come, if Judah had ‘kept judgment’. But Malachi and Haggai, along with the record of the injustices of the Jewish nobles in Nehemiah, show the lack of judgment / justice amongst the returnees. Israel should have been just and not abusive of their brethren, precisely because "my salvation is near to come". We are to do righteousness, because God's righteousness is about to be revealed (RV). We seek to live the Kingdom life now, seeing we will so soon, by grace, be living it anyway.

The offer of the Messianic banquet in the preceding chapter (Is. 55:1-3) and new covenant (Is. 55:3) was not going to be on the table for ever. The exiles had to repent, leave exile and return to the land in order to reestablish and rebuild the things of God's Kingdom. There was no such repentance. And those who did return were motivated by personal gain and were not spiritual people, as the restoration prophets and the historical records in Ezra and Nehemiah make clear. So the window of opportunity closed, and the things of the new covenant, Messianic banquet and restored Kingdom became reapplied and deferred. The offered salvation was "near" to them, about to come (see on Is. 46:13; 51:5); but it swooped close to them, but they refused to catch it. The appeal is therefore urgent, because for the exiles, the amazing offer was time limited.

There is a parallel passage in Is. 50:8: "He is near who justifies me; who will bring charges against me? Let us stand up together: who is my adversary? Let him come near to me".  Those who feel the real justification of the Spirit, the real power of imputed righteousness, will not be unsettled by human criticism or "charges" brought. For the nearness of God's justification in Christ is more than sufficient. Is. 56:1 speaks of how Yahweh's righteousness (imputed to us by His justification of us in Christ) is "near to come", and His salvation soon to be revealed. As Paul develops in Rom. 1-8, we are saved by the imputation of righteousness, justification by faith. But that is yet to be revealed, although it could have been "near" even in time for the exiles. They refused these wonderful things, but they are true for us too, as we await the soon revelation of the Lord Jesus at judgment day. Keeping this hope in view means we shall ultimately have nobody and nothing charged against us, there will be no legal adversary in court with us at the last day. And this means that we handle accusation, both justified and false, in that perspective. And yet it is criticism and the shame which arises from it which can psychologically and spiritually destroy people in this life.

The tone in Isaiah appears to change now. The historical interlude in Is. 37-39 has demonstrated that the prophecies in Is. 1-36 of judgment at the hands of Assyria were ameliorated and deferred by the intense repentance and intercession of Isaiah's school of prophets. But the interlude concludes with the bad news that the reformation was not thorough, and that Judah would go into captivity in Babylon; and therefore the earlier prophecies of judgment by Assyria would be reapplied to judgment by Babylon. But out of that there was to come a wonderful restoration of God's Kingdom in Israel, explained in the so called 'second Isaiah' (Is. 40-55). But sadly, the Jews who returned failed to allow that amazing potential to come true; and that is the burden of the so called 'third Isaiah' (Is. 56-66). It seems that God therefore gave up trying to restore the Kingdom in a political, national sense; and looked instead to a purpose with individuals who had His word in their humbled hearts.

Isaiah 56:2 Blessed is the man who does this-
As noted on :1, God was now looking to build relationships with just some individuals who were spiritually minded, seeing that on a national level His wonderful project for the restoration of His Kingdom had been disallowed by them.

And the son of man- The appeal is to individuals within the community, but "the son of man" looks forward to the Lord Jesus, the representative servant Messiah called "Israel", who would alone be completely obedient. Because Is. 64:7 laments that there was apparently not a single one in the community who would 'hold fast' the offered covenant (s.w. "who holds it fast").

Who holds it fast- To "hold fast" means to keep covenant (Is. 56:4,6; 2 Chron. 7:22; Jer. 31:32). The "it" they were to hold fast to was God's righteousness and not their own (Is. 56:1). But they refused to do so because like Job, they held fast (s.w.) to their own righteousness (s.w. Job 27:6). The word means literally, 'to harden / strengthen'. Then individual who wanted to accept the new covenant offered to the exiles in Jer. 31:32 and Ez. 20 would in turn be strengthened / confirmed by God in that way, just as today (s.w. 2 Chron. 16:9; 19:11). Hezekiah had initially 'strengthened himself' in Yahweh, just as his name means; but didn't remain in that way (s.w. 2 Chron. 32:5,7). Isaiah is asking his audience to continue as Hezekiah could have been. The returning exiles were initially 'strengthened' (s.w. Ezra 1:6; 6:22; Neh. 2:18 etc.) but on a national level, they hadn't continued in this. So individuals are now bidden strengthen themselves, and to be strengthened, in the things of the new covenant.

Who keeps the Sabbath from profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil- There was a problem with Sabbath abuse during the restoration. And so these potential prophecies of what could have happened at the restoration were precluded from fulfilment. The Sabbath was intended to teach self-control, restraining the hand from doing evil.

Isaiah 56:3 Neither let the foreigner who has joined himself to Yahweh speak, saying, Yahweh will surely separate me from His people-
There may be reference to how the returned exiles married Gentiles and then separated from them at the times of Ezra and Nehemiah. Perhaps this is saying that this was unnecessary if those foreigners had joined themselves to Yahweh.

Neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree-

Isaiah 56:4 For thus says Yahweh, To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose the things that please Me, and hold fast My covenant-
This was the new covenant offered now to just individuals within the community of exiles, who were urged to "hold fast" the righteousness imputed from God which was part of the new covenant offered to the exiles in Jer. 31:32 and Ez. 20 (see on :2).

It seems a reasonable assumption that Hezekiah chose to be a eunuch for the Kingdom's sake. There is the implication in Is. 56:3-8 that his example inspired others in Israel to make the same commitment. They are comforted by Isaiah: "Neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold (the same Hebrew word is used five times about Hezekiah, 2 Chron. 29:3,34; 31:4; 32:5,7) of my covenant; even unto them will I give in mine house, and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off”. Hezekiah had lamented that he would die without a seed (Is. 38:12; Is. 53), and so did those who had also become (in their minds?) eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom. There was that human desire for a seed, a "house" to perpetuate their name. But they are promised a name in God's house (family) in the Kingdom, better than of sons and daughters in this life. This alludes to Ruth 4:15, where Ruth is described as being better than sons to Naomi. In other words, the Ruth: Naomi relationship, featuring as it did a willingness to deny marriage for the sake of the God of Israel, was a type of our relationship with God. In its restoration context, it has been suggested that this passage was a comfort to Nehemiah, who appears to have been a (physical) eunuch, and hence barred from entry to the temple which he was devoted to. Hence his words: "Who is there, that being as I am would go into the temple...?" (Neh. 6:11). Isaiah is comforting him and those like him that they would eternally live in the temple.

Isaiah 56:5 to them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial and a name better than of sons and of daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off-
The Gentiles who truly joined themselves to Yahweh would be "better than" the ethnic Jews, God's previous "sons and daughters".

All the faithful will be given a name and place in the temple; so what especial consolation was this to those eunuchs? Surely the point is that the name (personality) they will then have will gloriously reflect the self-sacrifice and personal Biblical understanding which they went through in this life. This alone proves that the reward will be individual. The Lord's picture of men entering the Kingdom without limbs is surely making the same point (Mk. 9:47); the result of our self-sacrifice in this life will be reflected by the personality we have in the Kingdom. And there is evidence that the Man we follow will still bear in His body, throughout eternity, the marks of the crucifixion (Zech. 13:6; Rev. 5:6).  

Isaiah 56:6 Also the foreigners who join themselves to Yahweh-
This was the new covenant offered now to just individuals within the community of exiles, who were urged to "hold fast" the righteousness imputed from God which was part of the new covenant offered to the exiles in Jer. 31:32 and Ez. 20 (see on :2). But this new covenant wasn't only open to Jews or Israelites; it was also open to the repentant minority of Gentiles which the prophets often foresee. On the basis of this new covenant, a new, multiethnic people of God could be formed; and that is what is happening today. But it could have happened then too, and the story of Jonah is surely to underline the possibility. As noted throughout Is. 13 onwards, the judgments upon the Gentiles in the land are only because they have refused to repent. God's desire was that the Gentile "briers and thorns" upon whom He would march (Is. 27:4) would "take hold" of Him and make peace, entering into covenant with Him as He offered. Is. 27:5 likewise speaks of this latter day 'taking hold' (s.w.) of Yahweh by the remnant of the judged Gentiles.

To minister to Him and to love the name of Yahweh, to be His servants, each one who keeps the Sabbath from profaning it, and holds fast covenant- Ministering and being Yahweh's servants is the language of priesthood. The new covenant offered to the exiles was not a repeat of the Mosaic covenant. Now, Gentiles who took hold of the new covenant could serve on an equal footing. Is. 56:6 defines what is meant by “a house of prayer for all nations”- it was for those of all nations who “join themselves to the Lord, to serve him and to love the name of the Lord... every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant”. “The people of the land” were to have a part in the new system of things (Ez. 45:16,22; 46:3,9), and yet this very phrase is repeatedly used concerning the Samaritan people who lived in the land at the time of the restoration (Ezra 4:4; 10:2,11; Neh. 9:24; 10:30,31). God’s intention was that they should eventually be converted unto Him; it was His intention that Ezekiel’s temple be built at the time of the restoration under Ezra. And yet Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5  criticize the Jews who returned and built the temple for continuing to oppress the stranger / Gentile. Israel would not.

But these things have all been reapplied to we who accept the new covenant today. We have joined ourselves to the Lord (in baptism, in our case) in order to be His slaves. We love our Master, and are committed to Him and His cause 24 hours / day. And the future Kingdom will involve the same; for quite simply "His servants shall serve him" in that age, continually and eternally (Rev. 22:3).

Isaiah 56:7 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-
See on :6. Their sacrifices, those of the Gentiles, were not just those they offered for themselves, but for others; for they were also to be ministers / servants of the sanctuary (:6).

The Sabbath was polluted, as Nehemiah recorded, and the Gentiles were mixed with and affirmed in their idolatry, rather than converted and brought to worship in the temple. And so the revelation of Yahweh’s salvation and righteousness in the Kingdom was deferred. The way Jews and Gentiles ate together at Nehemiah’s table (Neh. 5:17) pointed forward to what was almost possible. But in the end, they mixed with and adopted the ways of the Gentiles, and their leadership arrogantly developed a theology that said that dirty Gentiles could never be saved; for salvation, they reasoned, was only for Jews. The idea that the temple was to be a place for Gentiles also to worship not only didn't come true; but the very opposite happened. The Jews became intolerant of the Gentiles, nationalistically proud, and rejected the Samaritans from worshipping in the rebuilt Jewish temple. And therefore the Samaritans had to build their own temple on Mount Gerazim. Historical records suggest that the Samaritans dearly wished to worship in the Jews' temple, and only built their own one because the Jews disallowed them. See M. Gaster, The Samaritans (Oxford: O.U.P., 1925) p. 28 ff. .

The Ezekiel prophecies of Ez. 40-48 had an intended and possible fulfilment at the time of the restoration under Ezra, but this was nullified by Israel’s lack of response; and therefore, at least in principle, the prophecies had their fulfilment delayed until the second coming. This enables the prophecies to fit in with others which speak of some kind of centralized worship system in the future restored Kingdom (e.g. Is. 2:2-4; 56:7). Or it could be that these prophecies of Isaiah are likewise talking about what was potentially possible for a restored, obedient Israel; particularly at the time of the restoration from Babylon. The lesson that comes out of all this is the extent to which God is willing to work with us, to tailor His purpose according to how far we are prepared to work with Him, and in that sense to allow Himself to be limited by us. There could be no greater inspiration to a maximal commitment to His purpose and His work. 

Some of the Bible’s ‘prophecies’ are command more than prediction. The Lord Jesus criticized the Jews for trading in the temple because “Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer” (Mk. 11:17). We can easily read this as meaning that one day, a ‘house of prayer for all nations’ was to be built in Jerusalem. But in that case, why should not the Jews trade in the temple there and then, well before this was to happen, say, 2000 years later? The Lord surely means that the prophecy that the temple “shall be called…” a house of prayer was a command more than a prediction. It “shall be” a place for prayer and not trading. The ‘fulfilment’ of this statement was dependent upon them praying there and encouraging all nations to pray there; yet they could limit the fulfilment of the ‘prophecy’ by stopping Gentiles praying there, and by discouraging prayer there because of their trading policies. Thus the Lord saw the prophecy as more of a command than mere prediction. ‘Prophecy’ really means the speaking forth of God’s word, rather than the foretelling of the future. The prophecies of Ezekiel about the temple can be understood more as command than as simple prediction. This is how Israel were to behave and how they were to rebuild the temple. The Lord several times quoted an Old Testament passage which if quoted further would have made a telling point. Thus He quoted Is. 56:7: “My house shall be called an house of prayer”, leaving His hearers to continue: “...for all people”. He recited Ps. 8:2: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise”, leaving them to complete: “...that thou mightest still [through their witness] the enemy and the avenger”. For the Bible minded, these things ought to have taught them. There is reason to think, in the subsequent response of a Jewish minority after Pentecost, that at least some did make these connections. They made use of the spiritual potential they had been given.

Isaiah 56:8 The Lord Yahweh who gathers the outcasts of Israel says, Yet will I gather others to him, besides his own who are gathered-
This verse is connected with :7 and explains it, according to the LXX. The Gentile "others" are going to be accepted by God on an equal footing with the ethnic Jews, and even become "ministers" in the sanctuary on the same basis as the Levites (:6). They would be "gathered" to the "ensign", the standard pole, in Zion. This now refers to the cross of the Lord Jesus (Is. 11:12; 43:5 s.w.). The exiles "gathered" from the nations were to come to Zion along with the repentant Gentile remnant who were likewise "gathered". This is to become the multiethnic ecclesia- LXX "for I will gather to him [Israel] a congregation / ekklesia". That ecclesia is based around the hope of Israel, for they are gathered "to Israel". They would gather themselves (Is. 60:4) and yet be confirmed in this by being gathered. Likewise all who respond to the call of the new covenant are confirmed by the Spirit in that response. See on Is. 57:13.


Isaiah 56:9 All you animals of the field, come to devour, all you animals in the forest-
But despite all the wonderful spiritual potentials outlined in :1-8, the reality was that the people would not respond. Instead of the repentant Gentiles gathering themselves to Zion, they would like wild beasts gather together to yet again devour God's people for their impenitence.

Isaiah 56:10 His watchmen are blind, they are all without knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they can’t bark; dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber-
The watchmen of God's people would not see the gathering of the wild beasts of the nations in judgment against them (:6). The LXX suggests this blindness and lack of knowledge was given to them, as confirmation of how they didn't want to see: "See how they are all blinded: they have not known".

Isaiah 62:6,7 speaks of watchmen [= the prophets, Ezekiel 3:17; Jer. 6:17; Hab. 2:1] set upon Jerusalem’s walls as watchmen, keeping no silence [in their prophesying] until Jerusalem was established. For the link between the prophets and standing on a watchtower, see Hab. 2:1. But false prophets arose, as we see in Ezekiel's experience amongst the exiles. Watchmen upon the walls were supposed to be looking for something- for the approach of the Messianic messenger with good tidings of Judah’s full return from captivity, of which Isaiah had spoken in Is. 52:7,8. But most of Judah preferred to stay in Babylon, took up a collection for the few who did return… and no Messiah could appear with that news. God had promised this- but He asked to be put in remembrance of His promises (Is. 43:26), i.e. He asked for those watchmen to be His ‘rememberancers’, even though He cannot in that sense forget them (Ps. 119:49; Jer. 14:21). In all this we see an exquisite picture of how God works with men, how His promised faithfulness and omnipotence all the same has built into it a requirement for human prayerfulness and response. The reality was that the watchmen / prophets of Israel were blind, ignorant and sleepy.

Isaiah 56:11 Yes, the dogs are greedy, they can never have enough; and these are shepherds who can’t understand: they have each turned to their own way, each one to his gain, from every quarter-
"Can never have enough" are the same words as the lament in Is. 55:2: "And your labour for that which doesn’t satisfy?". They were as greedy dogs who could 'not be satisfied', obsessed with personal gain, and disregarding the free feast of fat things Yahweh had prepared for them in Judah. Again we detect that it was a love of the soft life of materialism in Persia which was the root cause for the exiles not responding to the invitation, and the book of Esther therefore has a sad ending, portraying the Jews as wealthy and popular. See on Is. 57:17.

Isaiah 56:12 Come, say they, I will get wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow shall be as this day, great beyond measure-
This is the way the flesh reasons; that life shall continue as it is today. Living for the moment is the temptation we continually battle with. Faith is all about looking to the future, and beyond the very narrow horizons of the immediate present. Drunken feasts are used as a metaphor of judgment; they were drinking their own condemnation, and what was so tragic was that they could have worked towards the reestablishment of God's Kingdom and their own place in eternity. The context in the next chapter is of their idolatry so we can assume these drunken feasts were part of idol worship rituals; like the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 11, they turned the worship of the true God into a form of idolatry. Again we see that the false prophets / teachers of :10 are condemned not to much for theological error arising from incorrect intellectual process in expounding God's word, but for moral false teaching. This is likewise the nature of false teaching in the New Testament.