Friday, November 22, 2013

Implications of Isaiah 19 for the Kingdom of God

Michael VlachBy Dr. Michael J. Vlach
Theological Studies

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In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance" (Isa 19:24-25).

The Setting

Important truths concerning the kingdom and the people of God are found in Isa 19:24-25. This passage reveals that in a coming day believing Gentile nations will be included in the people of God alongside the nation Israel who is also the people of God. [1] Believing Gentiles are not morphed into a redefined Israel but exist as God's people alongside believing Israel. While there is a partial fulfillment of this truth today as the gospel message goes to all nations, the complete fulfillment of this passage awaits the coming kingdom of Jesus the Messiah.

These verses (24-25) are within the section of Isa 19:1-20:6 which gives predictions concerning Egypt. The immediate historical situation is the soon-coming Assyrian march through the region.

Isaiah 19:1-15 reveals that some wanted to reach out to Egypt for help against the Assyrian threat. But Isaiah says this hope is futile since Egypt will be consumed by God's judgment. Then there is an important transition starting in verse 16. On five occasions Isaiah refers to a period called "in that day" (vv. 16, 18, 19, 21, 23). This describes a coming time when Judah is the power in the region and Egypt acknowledges and benefits from these conditions (16-17). This will occur in the kingdom.

What is striking is that the nation Egypt will worship the God of Israel (19-20). Verse 21 declares, "Thus the Lord will make Himself known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day." Egypt "will return to the LORD," and God "will respond to them and heal them" (22). Then Egypt and its enemy Assyria will worship God together (23). This has not occurred yet but it will.

People of God to Include Gentile Nations

This context sets the scene for the amazing declaration concerning Egypt, Assyria, and Israel in 19:24-25:

In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance."

Alexander rightly notes that with this "we have one of the clearest and most striking predictions of the calling of the Gentiles that the word of God contains." [2] Observe the following from this section:

  • First, in a coming day ("in that day") three traditional enemies—Egypt, Assyria, and Israel—will all be the people of God and worship the God of Israel. This has never occurred in history, so the circumstances presented here must await the second coming of Jesus the Messiah. Zechariah 14 affirms this when it mentions Egypt and other nations going up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord who is then reigning over the earth (see Zech 14:16-19, 9).

  • Second, Egypt and Assyria are said to be "a blessing in the midst of the earth," which shows that what is taking place is occurring during an earthly kingdom.

  • Third, these events occur when Israel exists and is a dominant power in the region. Egypt has a healthy respect for Israel during this time (16-17).

  • Fourth, titles once used only of Israel in the Old Testament are expanded to include Gentiles. Egypt is called "my people," and Assyria is designated "the work of My hands." Thus, the concept of the people of God expands to include Gentiles.

Theological Implications for the People of God

Next, there are two theological implications that we can draw from Isaiah 19. First, nations as national entities will be part of the kingdom of God. What is described is more than the Gospel message spreading to various nations in this present age. This tells of a time when nations as national entities are serving the Lord. Isaiah states that "there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord near its border" (19:19). This is a national recognition of God.

Second, the people of God concept expands to include Gentiles alongside Israel who still exists as the people of God. This point must not be missed. Many think that passages which speak of Gentiles being blessed alongside Israel means that believing Gentiles are incorporated into Israel. But this is not the case. The text does not say that Egypt and Assyria become "Israel." It says these nations are the people of God alongside Israel. It is not true that "Israel" expands to include Gentiles; instead, the people of God expands to include Gentiles alongside Israel. Or put another way:

It is not:

  • Egypt and Assyria are morphed into a redefined Israel.

Instead, it is:

  • Egypt and Assyria become the people of God alongside believing national Israel.

Becoming the people of God does not mean loss of ethnicity or national affiliation. Nor does it mean that everyone becomes Israel. Jews and Gentiles participate together in the people of God but they don't morph into each other. Contrary to much popular thinking, the concept of "Israel" does not expand but the concept of the people of God does.

Isaiah 19—Today and the Future

Isaiah 19 relates both to our present age and the age to come. We live in an era where Israel's Messiah is now bringing blessings to people of all nations. This is taking place through Great Commission as the Gospel is offered to all people groups. We also live in a time where all peoples of all nationalities become the people of God if they have believed in Jesus the Messiah.

Yet there are no national entities that worship the Lord yet, not even Israel. According to Rom 11:11-12, Israel's present transgression has brought "salvation to the Gentiles," but Israel's "fulfillment" will bring even greater blessings to the world. A day is coming when "all Israel will be saved" (Rom 11:26) and full blessings to the world will occur. Jesus is coming again to rule literal nations (see Psalm 2; Rev 2:26-27) and when He does, exponential blessings to the world will take place. At that time the nations of the world will serve God along with saved Israel (see Amos 9:11-15).

Endnotes

[1] I affirm that one must believe in Jesus in order to be part of the people of God. Only believing Jews and Gentiles are rightly the people of God.

[2] Joseph Addison Alexander, Commentary on Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1992), 364.


 


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