Spiritual Instruction for Those Called to Restore Israel
The Calling of the Gentiles to Restore Israel
Arye Powlison (1995)
The Restoration Has Only Just Begun
There is widespread agreement among believers that the time of Israel's restoration has begun, some dating it from the establishment of the State of Israel (1948), some from the reunification of Jerusalem (1967), and others from the birth of the modern Zionist movement (late 1800s). Each of these has supporting evidence from Scripture, hinting that perhaps the restoration is to take place in stages. In the sequence of events given to us in the Law and the Prophets, we have already witnessed several stages of the physical return of Israel to their land, miraculous preservation through more than seven wars, and the physical revival of the land itself wherever the Jewish people settle.
But G-d has promised much more than this: firstly, that He will bring back every single exile (Ezek. 39:28), and more importantly, that either before or after their physical return, He will bring about their spiritual renewal (Deut. 30:1-10; Jer. 31:7-40; Ezek. 11:17-20; 36:24-28; 37:11-14).
So far there has been little spiritual renewal in Israel. While a handful have returned to Torah observance, it is far more usual to find hostility among Israelis towards Orthodox Judaism. In terms of a revival led by the Holy Spirit, again only a handful are turning to the Messiah; this is not the mass repentance which the prophets foretold. The strongest spiritual movement in the nation at this time is toward the occult and Eastern mysticism.
Outside of the land of Israel there is a return to G-d and Messiah, but so far it involves only a small portion of Diaspora Jews, and of these only a fraction see themselves as part of a returning Israel (calling themselves Hebrew Christian, Messianic Jewish, or Jewish). For the most part, social pressure, cultural alienation and spiritual blindness continue to block the national spiritual rebirth of Israel, both here and abroad.
Even on the physical side of the return, the Zionist movement is sporadic. Jews from the West leave Israel almost as fast as they come; most Russian Jewish emigrants head west rather than south to Israel; native Israelis sometimes leave in greater numbers than the arriving immigrants.
When we add to this the fact that those who have returned to the Land account for only about one fourth of what can be identified as "world Jewry", and that this term includes, at the most, only three of the twelve tribes of Israel (leaving out those who disappeared in the Assyrian exile), we realize that the restoration of all Israel has barely begun - and worse, that we are not even in a position to know who "all Israel" is.
However, all these obstacles have no effect on the power of G-d. If they are enough in themselves to frustrate the complete return of Israel, it is clear that the Lord has simply not yet commanded the promised physical and spiritual restoration to begin in earnest; for once He does, nothing will be able to turn it back.
So we see that these prophecies, concerning physical return and spiritual restoration, have begun to materialize but are a long way off from complete fulfillment. Even the current ingathering, as remarkable as it is, does not match the scope of the return that G-d has promised.
We might well ask: Is there something that must take place for the restoration of Israel to go forward from here?The Plan According to Isaiah
G-d 's Assignment to the Gentiles
While G-d could obviously accomplish His purposes by His Spirit alone, in the case of Israel's restoration He has chosen human agents to carry it out. Isaiah tells us that the Gentile believers in Yeshua have a central role to play in this two-fold restoration of Israel. If you are a Gentile who loves Yeshua, Isaiah says that Yeshua lifted on the cross is a signal to you to bring all the Jewish exiles home.
The present Zionist movement sponsored by the Jewish community has been used by G-d to restore only a small fraction of the exiles. Perhaps the time has come for a far greater Zionist movement: one to be initiated, coordinated and funded by the Gentile believers. And Scripture (especially Isaiah) has more to say about the ingathering of Israel by the Gentiles than about that accomplished by the Jewish people on their own.
According to Isaiah, Gentile believers will not only bring Jewish people to their Messiah, and give them a strong spiritual foundation; they will also bring them to the Land of Israel personally! Then after the Gentiles get them here, they will take good care of them until they are independent: rebuilding their walls, caring for their flocks, and then contributing to their ongoing support. Why? Because of their Lord: the Jewish people gave Him to the nations, and now they are going to give Him back to Israel, along with a share of the fruit borne in their lives by Him. And in that giving, Zion as a nation will know that Yeshua is Lord.
Does Isaiah really say all that? Yes, and even more than that, as we shall now see.
The Restorers: Gentiles with Their Eyes on the Cross
Isaiah tells us clearly that it is the Gentiles who have believed in the Messiah who are to take part in Israel's restoration. In the first prophecy about it, he even tells us when this will happen:
Then it will come about in that day that the nations [Gentiles] will resort to the root of Jesse, who will be lifted up as a standard for the peoples; and his resting place will be glorious. Then it will happen on that day that the Lord will again recover the second time with His arm the remnant of His people who will remain, from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.
And He will lift up a standard for the nations [Gentiles], and will assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (Isa. 11:10-12)
The first thing that we see here is G-d raising up a standard for the Gentiles, which in turn is followed by a "second" restoration of Israel (the first took place through Ezra and Nehemiah).
But what is this signal G-d raises up to rally the nations, and what does it have to do with the recovery of the banished ones of Israel?
The Hebrew word nes, translated as "standard" here, is the same word used in the Law to describe the pole on which Moses placed the serpent, for Israel to look at to be saved from death:
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard [nes]; and it shall come about that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live." And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a standard. (Num. 21:8-9)
Yeshua explicitly referred to Himself as both the root of Jesse and the One lifted up on a standard:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. (John 3:14)
If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to Myself. (John 12:32)
I am the root and offspring of David. (Rev. 22:16)
Yeshua understood Isaiah 11 to be referring to Himself, the root of Jesse (identified here with his son David), lifted up on the cross as the serpent was lifted up on the nes. Therefore, the "standard" in Isaiah is depicting the cross bearing the Root of Jesse (a rabbinic name for the Messiah), which is shown to the Gentiles sometime between a first and a second ingathering of Israel.
Isaiah thus began by referring to the salvation of the Gentiles, accomplished through Yeshua lifted up on the cross; then he described the second return of Israel's exiles. But then we see him seemingly repeat himself: Again the standard is lifted up, and again the exiles are gathered in. Why say it twice?
The rabbis have taught that since no word of Scripture will remain unfulfilled, something which is repeated is not merely restating the previous truth (otherwise one will be fulfilled and the other spoken in vain); rather it is to be understood as a separate truth or event requiring a separate fulfillment. Yeshua taught the same thing (Matt. 5:18). Therefore, we understand that the standard will be raised a second time, followed by a second ingathering, this time described as more wide-ranging than before.
Does this mean that the Messiah will be crucified again, or that the Gentiles will have to be saved a second time? Of course not. But we can understand a second "raising of the standard" as an act of revelation from G-d among the Gentiles, a reminder directed to a church who has lost sight of her crucified Lord, and has abandoned her calling to follow Him in carrying her own cross.
At this time in church history, a new revelation of the cross is indeed sweeping through the Body of Messiah around the world. One of the results of this renewed vision, according to other Isaiah passages, is to be the mass enlistment of Gentile believers in G-d's program of recovery of his banished ones back to Israel.
In terms of timing, this means a second stage of a second return, to take place after the first stage has begun and after the teaching of the cross has been renewed among the Gentiles. In terms of scope, this second wave will be a wider-ranging return of both Israel and Judah "from the four corners of the earth."
In Isaiah's last reference to this subject, he again shows that it is the believing Gentiles who bring the Jewish remnant back:
"The time is coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see My glory. And I will set a sign among them, and will send survivors from them [all nations] to the [other] nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Rosh, Tubal, and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations.
Then they shall bring all your brethren [the Jews] from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules, and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem," says the Lord, "just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites," says the Lord. (Isa. 66:18-21)
Since this passage refers to some nations who neither heard His fame nor saw His glory, it must be speaking of a time before the Lord's return in glory, at which time "every eye shall see Him" (Rev. 1:7). Yet some of the Gentiles will have seen His glory, and will be sent to the others to tell of what they saw.
Yeshua is the glory of the Lord, as it says, "And He is the radiance of His glory," (Heb. 1:3) and, "We beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father." (John 1:14) G-d's messengers are here described taking the gospel (the news of His glory) to the Gentiles of every nation; these who have heard will then bring the scattered Jewish people to Jerusalem, to the mountain of the Lord. The Gentiles are thus to have a direct part in the restoration of Israel, as a response to their hearing the gospel.
But the Lord will rise upon you [Israel], and His glory will appear upon you. And nations will go to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Lift up your eyes around you and see, they have all been gathered, they come to you; your sons will come from afar, and your daughters will be nursed upon the side. Then you will see and be radiant, and your heart will thrill and rejoice....
All those from Sheba will come; they will bring gold and frankincense, and will proclaim the gospel of the Lord's praises.... And the ships of Tarshish will come first, to bring your sons from afar, their silver and their gold with them, for the name of the Lord your G-d, and for the Holy One of Israel because He has glorified you.
And foreigners will build up your walls, and their kings will minister to you. (Isa. 60:2-10)
These Gentiles who hire boats from Tarshish (Italy or Spain) are believers, for it says they are doing it for the name of the Lord. The gospel is proclaimed in Zion by believers from the land of Sheba (Yemen), who also bring rich gifts. Others, who are reigning with the Lord (Rev. 1:6, 5:9-10), come to serve. Again it is the Messiah, the glory of the Lord (Heb. 1:3; Is. 42:6, 60:19; Rev. 21:23), lifted up over Israel as a light to the Gentiles, who draws them to Himself - and draws them to Israel, whom the Lord causes to rise with Him.
As a result, Zion's sons and daughters are gathered by people other than Zion and brought to her, even being nursed along the way. This service performed by the Gentiles will be a cause of rejoicing for Israel.What Must be Done to Restore Israel
Rebuild and Clear the Way
The role of restoration which is assigned to the Gentiles is not just to help in the physical return of the people to the land, or to support and defend Israel as she rebuilds the ancient ruins, although it obviously includes both of these. It also involves proclaiming the gospel of the Messiah to them:
Go through, go through the gates; clear the way of the people; build up, build up the highway; remove the stones, lift up a standard over the peoples. Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth, "Say to the daughter of Zion, 'Lo, your Salvation comes; behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.'" (Isa. 62:10-11)
Here the Lord commands the Gentiles to proclaim to the daughter of Zion the arrival of her Salvation; and it is clear that a Divine Person is being referred to (compare Isa. 40:10).
But before this can be done with any effectiveness, the highway must be built up, and the stumbling blocks removed from the way of G-d's people. If this is being done for Israel, then it must be someone else who is doing it for them: Gentiles who are obeying the voice of the Lord. "Lift up a standard [nes] over the peoples" is again a reference to the drawing of the Gentiles to the cross, and only then follows the command to preach the gospel to Israel.
Clearing the way appears to be a necessary preparation for Israel to receive the gospel; in proclaiming G-d's intention to heal His wayward people, Isaiah again calls us to first clear the way:
And it shall be said, "Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstacle out of the way of My people." (Isa. 57:14)
After the way is clear, G-d heals and restores comfort and peace to Israel whom He had stricken (v.15-19). We know that this healing is a result of the gospel, because Paul quotes this passage in explaining the work accomplished in the cross (Eph. 2:17).
The early Jewish believers were called "the Way" (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22), quite possibly referring to these and other Isaiah passages, as well as "the Way" which John the Baptist was called to prepare (Matt. 3:3; Jn. 1:23). Yeshua Himself is known as the Way (Jn. 14:6).
However, whichever way we choose to view it, the "Way" as it (or He) was originally presented to Israel included faithfulness to the covenant of the Law. This is an area in which the Way has since been broken down and blocked, and it is one area in which it must be built up and cleared again before Israel as a people will be able to walk in it.
Confront Israel with Her Condition
In the above passages about clearing the Way, Isaiah also says that there are "stones" and "obstacles" (sometimes translated as "objects of stumbling") which must be removed. If we are to remove them, it is essential to be able to recognize them. So, in order to identify these obstacles, we will look to the Scriptures.
Ezekiel says that Israel's iniquity causes them to stumble (Ezek. 7:19; 14:4). So does Hosea (Hos. 14:1), and Jeremiah says that in forgetting G-d they "caused [one another] to stumble" and eventually to leave the Way which G-d had built (Jer. 18:15, Hebrew). Malachi goes further: G-d condemns the priests and teachers who have "turned aside from the Way" for causing the people "to stumble in the Law", corrupting G-d's covenant with the Levites to preserve knowledge of the Law (Mal. 2:7-8, Hebrew).
So we see that the obstacles in the way of Israel consist of their own sins, and chiefly the sin of being unfaithful to the Way G-d had given them to walk, the Way which was to lead them to the Messiah: the Law of Moses (Rom. 10:3-5). Note that forsaking the covenant of the Law causes stumbling to others besides the sinner.
In the context of both of Isaiah's commands to remove the obstacles (Isa. 57:14; 62:10), there are words given to the Gentiles to say:
Cry loudly, do not hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet, and declare to My people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins. (Isa. 58:1)
I shall make mention of the loving kindnesses of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has granted them.... For He said, "Surely, they are My people, sons who will not deal falsely." So He became their Savior.... But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit.... (Isa. 63:7-10)
We know that these are words for the Gentiles, because in both cases Israel is mentioned as "them", in contrast to the one spoken to, or the one speaking.
According to Isaiah, then, the Gentile's role in removing the causes for stumbling includes reminding Israel of her sins. But how will they, or we, know where they have sinned?
That is why the Law of Moses was given. Therefore, no reminder of sin can be proclaimed without reference to the Law and the Prophets.
Moreover, if the Gentiles try to restore Israel outside of the framework of the Law, they increase the occasions for stumbling rather than remove them, since they are teaching Israel to add to their sins by ignoring their obligations to the Law (for an example, see Rev. 2:14).
But the Gentiles are given another message for Israel:
"Comfort, 0 comfort My people," says your G-d. "Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins." (Isa. 40:1-2)
The G-d of Israel is speaking here to Gentiles who consider Him their G-d. They are not only to remind Israel of her sins, but also to comfort her with three announcements. In Hebrew they can be read: (1) "her compulsory military service/quota is completed," (2) "her iniquity has been paid in full by an acceptable sacrifice," and (3) "she has taken from the Lord's hand double in all her sins." In announcing these to Israel, the Gentiles are said to be "comforting and comforting again" - indicating that the comfort which Israel receives will be on two levels, earthly and spiritual.
Since these messages are so specific and involve such an unusual choice of words, it is worthwhile to examine each of them to see what they mean to the Jewish people.
Message 1: "...her compulsory military service/quota is completed...."
The Hebrew idea behind the first message brings to mind the hardship of a conscripted soldier in those times: forced (sometimes kidnapped) into a military unit and sent off, usually far from his home, to fight in a war under conditions little better than slavery. His date of release was determined by the king or commander who drafted him, and was not always known to him beforehand.
We can see here a reference to Israel's exile, during which they were uprooted and taken far from their land, forced to fight for physical and spiritual survival under oppression and unreasoning hatred, made all the worse by not knowing how long it would last. G-d conveys the extraordinary pain Israel suffered by using the imagery of a woman subjected to conditions which even men found hard to endure. The proclamation that Jerusalem's conscription is finished, among other welcome things, means that at last she is free to return home.
Message 2: "...her iniquity has been paid in full by an acceptable sacrifice...."
The second message is the equally welcome news that cleansing has been provided for Israel as a nation. Its wording in Hebrew (nirtza ahvona) is unique to ceremonial sacrifices. The word nirtza, when used in the Law, referred to an offering which is favorably received by G-d. The word ahvonot in Scripture refers to various sins, but when used in singular form as here (ahvona - "her iniquity"), it refers to the total history of all that person's guilt.
The penalty for collective national ahvon was separation from G-d, exile from the Land, and a curse. While certain "iniquities" could be forgiven by sacrifices, the only way mentioned in the Law for the nation to atone for their collective "iniquity" was by the yearly ritual of the scapegoat (Lev. 16:22), or eventually by accepting the exile as deserved punishment for their past ahvon and humbling their still-uncircumcised heart (Lev. 26:41-43). These were both temporary solutions that could not keep them from returning to their iniquity; a final and complete release was possible only through G-d Himself "bearing away" or "atoning for" the iniquity of the nation (Num. 14:18; Ps. 78:38; 85:2; Micah 7:18).
In the Prophets, G-d declares when He will do this for Israel: during the second Temple era (Dan. 9:24). How long will it take to accomplish? One day (Zech. 3:9). We are also told by whom He will do it: Tsemach or "the Branch" (Zech. 3:8) - a rabbinic name for the Messiah; He is also called "the Stone" (Ps. 118:22) having "the seven eyes [of the Lord]" (Zech. 3:9; 4:10; Rev. 5:6). Bearing the nation's iniquity was the reason the Suffering Servant was afflicted by G-d (Isa. 53:6, 11). These and other verses together paint a clear picture of G-d Himself, in Yeshua, as the ultimate sacrifice for the total iniquity of Israel, making it possible to remove the obstacles which make her stumble in the Way. This brings us back to the gospel, emphasizing the "good news" as a message of comfort to Jerusalem.
Why, then, do the Jewish people more often react to the gospel as though it were a source of insult rather than comfort? Here we need to digress a bit, because the answer to that question will influence the ability of the Gentiles to bring this second message to Israel.
It is not enough to blame their rejection on the offense caused by presenting Yeshua in an alien (non-Jewish) context, or even that caused by divorcing Jewish believers from observance of the Law - although both these offenses must be removed. The truest, most faithful rendering of the gospel still results in the Jewish community at large stumbling over the Rock of Offense (Isa. 8:14; Matt. 11:6; Rom. 9:33).
This problem has caused much awkwardness among Gentile believers, leading some to conclude that it is not for Gentiles to proclaim the gospel to the Jewish people at all; that either they will receive the witness only from their Jewish brethren who believe, or (using verses such as Zechariah 12:10 and Romans 11:26) Yeshua will save all Israel at His coming, without anyone's help.
So why should the Gentiles continue to strain relations with the Jewish people by bringing them a message which they don't want to hear? And if they do see sufficient reason to continue, how are Gentiles to proclaim forgiveness for the nation as a finished fact, when Israel hasn't yet repented of her rejection of Yeshua? To answer these important questions, we must look at the prophetic nature of the message to Jerusalem, and what this implies for those sent to proclaim it.
While G-d's provision for Israel's iniquity was accomplished long ago, the time for its application to the nation as a whole has not yet arrived. How do we know? Besides the obvious lack of evidence that Israel has stopped sinning, the removal of iniquity is tied to Israel's restoration to her ancient inheritance. It is in the day of her return to all her land - including Carmel (the coast near Haifa), Bashan (the Golan Heights), Ephraim (Samaria) and Gilead (the east bank of the Jordan River) - that all her iniquity will be removed (Jer. 50:19-20). At this time, only one of these four regions is securely included in Israel's recognized borders. Moreover, we know from Paul that Israel's hardness to the gospel will remain until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Rom. 11:25).
Therefore, to say that now is the time to announce that G-d has removed iniquity from Israel puts Gentile believers in the position of hailing an event prematurely, to a people not ready to listen. And yet, since Isaiah's day (before Jerusalem had even begun her exile), G-d has commanded the Gentiles to comfort Jerusalem as though her iniquity were already gone.
From where He sits, "today" is always the day of salvation (as in II Cor. 6:2). The Atonement was accomplished once in history on the cross (Heb. 9:25-28); yet it was a finished act from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34; Rev. 13:8), and is being continually applied (Heb. 7:24-25). Time as we know it does not regulate G-d's redemption, but only our ability to witness certain stages of its manifestation on earth. Therefore, for us to proclaim the end from the beginning is identical to what Isaiah and all the prophets were called to do. In fact, deliberately waiting until the visible fulfillment arrives indicates lack of faith (Heb. 11:1) and takes away glory from G-d as the Source of foreknowledge (Isa. 46:9-10). Whether the message itself is received as timely or welcome is not an issue; the prophets were also sent to people who generally reacted to G-d's word with hostility or coldness.
However, Israel's rejection of the atonement in Yeshua does not mean that she has no sense of needing atonement. A case in point is the seriousness with which Israelis relate to the fast of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, set aside by G-d to confess sins and receive forgiveness); a recent Israeli poll found that, although only around 20% of Israelis are religious, 71 % voluntarily observe this fast. It is the only day of the year on which all radio and TV broadcasting is suspended, the streets are virtually empty of traffic, and the synagogues cannot contain the worshipers. Why is so much attention given to a day devoted to personal introspection and breast beating? It is possible to attribute this to the nation's vague awareness of still carrying a burden of iniquity before her G-d.
Causing Israel to know that "her iniquity has been paid for" enables her to return to G-d free of that burden, and plants within her the desire to discover how it was paid for. This "grace and supplication" will open her eyes to the Pierced One (Zech. 12:10).
Message 3: "...she has taken from the Lord's hand double in all her sins."
The most curious of all is the third message, usually translated as: "she has received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins." A surface reading of this rendering would imply that the Lord punished her far beyond what she deserved for her sins... the kind of "comfort" offered to someone treated so unfairly they ought to sue for damages! Yet elsewhere we read that G-d gave Israel only what she deserved, or even less than she deserved, for her sins (Ezra 9:13; Ezek. 20:43-44; Jer. 30:11; 46:28).
But the Hebrew wording, "she has taken from the Lord's hand... in/with all her sin," implies that the amount of punishment Israel actually got was not meted out by the Lord, but by Israel in her sinful state. This can be understood as either self-inflicted punishment due to her unrelieved burden of guilt, or as extended punishment due to her unwillingness to forsake her sin (Lev. 26). Although there is reason for regret and horror over the fact that so much was avoidable, there is also comfort in the realization that a great deal of Israel's suffering was merely due to stubbornness.
There could also be another, deeper meaning here. The Hebrew uses a special word for the "double" which Israel has taken here (kiflaim), found nowhere else in the Bible. Its literal meaning is "double-double", and it does not necessarily have to refer to punishment. The rabbis took note of this; the shortened Birkat Hamazon (traditional Jewish grace after meals) includes a prayer that G-d will comfort Israel with kiflaim, an obvious reference to this passage in Isaiah.
In this prayer, specific comforts are mentioned: showing mercy to the people of Israel; reviving the Kingdom of the house of David, the Messiah; magnifying the glory of G-d's Temple; and building Jerusalem. Interestingly, in Scripture all of these acts of G-d are mentioned in connection with Gentile participation (Rom. 11:30-31; Acts 15:16-17; Isa. 60:6-7, 10).
Assuming that this is a valid understanding of the third message, the comfort is in the fact that Israel is free to take, and has already begun to take, these "double double" mercies from the Lord's open hand, directly or through His Gentile agents, even while still in her sin. This hints at the enormity of G-d's lovingkindness toward Israel in the last days.
It is clear that these three messages of grace will not make much of an impression on a people who do not understand the extent of their sin. On the other hand, confronting them with the magnitude of their sin without bringing the news of G-d's comfort can only lead to overwhelming hopelessness. Therefore, the restoration of Israel requires the Gentiles to both confront and comfort Israel, clearly and without compromise, in the name of the Lord their G-d.
Raise Zion's Children, and Then Return Them to Her
One of the strongest passages in Isaiah concerning the role of the Gentiles is this one:
Surely now you [Zion] will be too cramped for the inhabitants, and those who swallowed you will be far away. The children of whom you were bereaved will yet say in your ears, "The place is too cramped for me; make room for me that I may live here."
Then you will say in your heart, "Who has begotten these for me, since I have been bereaved of my children, and am barren, an exile and a wanderer? And who has reared these? Behold, I was left alone; from where did these come?"
Thus says the Lord G-d, "Behold, I will lift up My arm to the nations [Gentiles], and set up My standard [nes] to the peoples; and they will bring your sons in their bosom, and your daughters will be carried on their shoulders; and kings will be your guardians, and their princesses your nurses." (Isa. 49:19-23)
Isaiah 53 begins, "...to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Here we see that He was revealed to the Gentiles; and again the Gentiles respond to the cross (the nes, or "standard") by bringing back Zion's children to her.
But this time, these are children of whom Zion has been bereaved! Were they raised from the dead? No, they were "begotten." How can it be that children whom Zion once had, but lost, are begotten by someone else, and also raised by them? How can it be that Jewish children are begotten by Gentiles? Since these are physical impossibilities, we are to understand it in spiritual terms.
Zion had been bereaved of her children on two levels: when they were cut off through assimilation, they had ceased to live as Jews; and when they became disobedient to the Law of Moses, they were cut off from their people by its curse (Num 15:30-31). They were then reborn spiritually through the gospel, which redeemed them from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13); in this way they were "begotten" by the Gentiles who preached the gospel to them.
Then these Gentiles discipled them - spiritually raised, nurtured and trained them. After this training period they are returned to Zion, who recognizes them as her own. She cannot understand who has managed to return them to her intact after they had been "cut off"; she only knows that she was not involved. She accepts them in such great numbers that there is not enough room for them to live comfortably in the land.
If Zion accepts them as her own, it must be because they are recognizably Jewish. And if their being cut off from Zion has been reversed, it must be that they are now obedient to the covenant whose curse had cut them off, the Law of Moses (Deut 30:1-8). But if this is so, it is because they have been trained by the Gentiles to do so.
This would require a fundamental doctrinal change among the Gentile churches.
If you as a Gentile are to have a part in the restoration of Israel, you must teach the Jewish believers their obligation to the Law of Moses:
Bind up the Testimony, seal the Law among my disciples; and I will wait for the Lord who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob. Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of Hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.
...To the Law and to the Testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, what they say is without foundation [Heb: it is without dawn]. (Isa. 8:16-18, 20)
The middle of this passage ("Behold, I and the children...") is quoted in Heb. 2:13 as referring to Yeshua and His disciples, who are the children whom the Father has given Him (John 21:5). The rabbis also agree that the children referred to here in Isaiah are really disciples, but were called children because they were dear to their teacher (Gen. Rabba XLII.3.ii).
Both Yeshua and His disciples performed signs and wonders in Israel, as this passage says. They were also faithful to the Law through the Holy Spirit.
This gives us reason to believe that if we have not seen this same manifestation of G-d's power in Israel since the apostles' time, it is because we have not seen the same faithfulness to the Law among Israel's disciples of Yeshua.
"The Law and the Testimony" is a phrase referring to the Law of Moses (Deut. 4:44-45; 6:17, 20). We have here both a command to make sure that Yeshua's disciples are bound to the Law, and also a warning that we are not to listen to anyone who would turn them away from it. The disciples mentioned here are for "signs and wonders in Israel", meaning they are part of Israel; so this does not imply that the Gentile disciples are also supposed to keep the Law. However, it does imply that the Gentile believers must be supporting Jewish believers in its observance.
The result will be that Zion herself will come to know that Yeshua is Lord (Isa. 49:23, 28:22-24).
When is this to be? While we are still waiting for the Lord, and He is still hiding His face from the Jewish people. The Lord will continue to hide His face until He pours out His Spirit on Israel as a nation (Ezek. 39:23,-29). Who is the Lord telling to bind and seal the Law in His disciples? Whoever is training them. Therefore, if you are training Jewish disciples, you are commanded here to train them to keep the Law of Moses.
Meet Their Material and Spiritual Needs
Gentiles will supply Israel from their physical and spiritual abundance:
You [Zion] will also suck the milk of nations, and will suck the breast of kings; then you will know that I the Lord am your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.
Instead of bronze I will bring gold, and instead of iron I will bring silver, and instead of wood, bronze, and instead of stones, iron. And I will make peace your administrators, and righteousness your overseers. (Isa. 60:16-18)
Since physical kings cannot nurse, we can understand this to refer to spiritual kings (those reigning with Messiah) providing spiritual nourishment: the milk of the gospel (I Pet. 2:2), by which Israel will come to know her Savior and Redeemer.
Sucking "milk" from the nations can have a double meaning; this word is also translated as "the fat", a Hebrew idiom meaning "the best they have to offer". This expression in Scripture has been used to describe either material or spiritual blessing. It is likely both, since we read here that it will bring about a rise in Israel's living standard, and also nationwide righteousness and peace.
The same can be seen in another passage which speaks of Gentile contributions:
"And I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory," says the Lord of Hosts. "The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine," declares the Lord of Hosts. "The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former," says the Lord of Hosts, "and in this place I shall give peace," declares the Lord of Hosts. (Hag. 2:7-9)
While these passages imply that entire nations will someday support Israel, the New Testament teaches that Gentile believers are to sustain the Jewish people with contributions on an individual and congregational level. Paul taught the Gentile disciples, as an outcome of their faith, to organize collections for the material needs of Israel (Acts 24:17), and particularly of the believers there (Acts 11:29; Rom. 15:25-28; I Cor. 16:1-3). This practice was considered proof of their obedience to the gospel, and would result in glory to G-d (II Cor. 9:13).
Seek a Humble Position of Service
The jobs which Gentiles will undertake in restoring Israel will be physical and/or spiritual, but Isaiah characterizes them as menial tasks, traditionally left to slaves: tending sheep, tilling the ground, tending vineyards (Isa. 61:5), rebuilding broken walls and cities (Isa. 60:10; 61:4). Their leaders will go even farther and present themselves as those "led in procession" (i.e., as war captives) to wait on them (Isa. 60:10-11). They will work as guardians and nursemaids, humiliating themselves in their serving; yet they will not be ashamed, because they will be revealing the Lord to Israel in the process (Isa. 49:23).
In fact, the Lord promises that these servants will receive the same blessing as those whom they serve:
Instead of your shame you [Israel] will have a double portion, and instead of humiliation they [the Gentiles] will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land; everlasting joy will be theirs. (Isa. 61:7)Proper Motivation for Restoring Israel
Why should the sight of Yeshua on the cross, or the declaration of G-d's glory in the Messiah, cause people from every nation to rally together in a sacrificial effort to bring back Jews to their G-d and establish them in their land? What is the connection between receiving salvation and helping to restore Israel? Paul also understood some connection, for he wrote:
So these [the Jews] also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you [Gentiles], they also may now be shown mercy. (Rom. 11:31)
Have you heard, Gentile believer, that G-d showed mercy to you at the expense of the Jewish people? Was the Jewish nation disobedient simply because they are by nature a "stiff-necked people"? Paul says here that they were disobedient for a purpose set by G-d ("in order that..."). What purpose? So that you could have the opportunity to repay the favor of G-d's mercy, which He showed to you when you were disobedient (v. 30) - so that you could show His mercy to disobedient Israel.
Did Israel choose to become hardened? Paul, Isaiah and Moses all say that, although they bear some of the responsibility for their unbelief, it was actually G-d Himself who hardened all of them but a remnant (Rom. 11:4, 5, 7, 25; Isa. 6:9-10; 63:17; Deut. 29:4). For what reason? One only: to make salvation available to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:11, 17, 19, 25, 28).
We can not comprehend why such a drastic measure was necessary; we can only assume that if there had been a better way to save both Israel and the nations, G-d would have chosen that way instead. Paul calls it "a mystery", but one we are to be informed about (Rom. 11:25).
Once the Gentile believers grasp the fact that Israel has suffered spiritual loss for their sakes, their response will be humble gratitude to G-d, tender compassion for Israel, and eagerness to show her mercy.
But will your effort to show them mercy have any results? Throughout Romans 11, Paul writes with complete confidence that it will; that just as surely as G-d has brought salvation to the Gentiles, He will save Israel. Just as G-d's mercy produced obedience in you, His mercy administered by you will eventually produce obedience in Israel.
Actually, it will produce more than this. The Gentiles will not be merely returning a favor by restoring Israel; the Body of Messiah stands to gain a great deal. When all Israel turns from transgression back to G-d and His Messiah, the believing Gentiles will receive so much richness and life that our present spiritual state will seem dead by comparison:
Now if their [Israel's] transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness be [riches for the Gentiles]! ...For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead [for the world]? (Rom. 11:12, 15)
We are not to see this as an appeal to our spiritual self-interest, but rather as a further glimpse into the richness of G-d's ways (v. 33-36). But the certainty of this promise, the fulfillment of which is actually beginning in our days, is an encouragement to the Gentiles to diligently seek their place in G-d's plan to show mercy to disobedient Israel.
However, the mercy shown to the Jewish people, if it is to lead to their restoration, cannot be expressed according to each person's own sentiment and perspective. Nor can it be limited to what the people of Israel themselves consider appropriate. It must include all of the principles which G-d has laid down in His Word, in the order in which He commanded them, presented in love and humility by those who are walking in the way of the cross.
An excerpt from the book My Law on Your Heart: Living Yeshua's Jewishness
by Arye Powlison © 1995 Jerusalem
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