In Isaiah 53 we read the prophecy of the coming Servant, the Christ, who will come and be an offering for the sins of the people. The effect of his coming will be to make his children numerous through the covenant of peace he will establish (Isaiah 54). Thus, God offers a glorious invitation to come to the waters and receive life and satisfaction from the all-satisfying God (Isaiah 55). Now God is going to identify who are the people who will enjoy these blessings. Who will experience the salvation of our God?
Salvation’s Arrival Changes How We Live (56:1-2)
Notice that the call is for the people to keep to the covenant God made with them. Keep justice and do righteousness. Verse 2 sums up the idea with the description: “who keeps his hand from doing any evil.” This message was how the prophecy of Isaiah opened.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:16–17 ESV)
But Isaiah offers the reason why the people are to make these changes to their lives. “For soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed” (Isaiah 56:1 ESV). Salvation is coming so change the way you are living. Keep the covenant God has made with you because his righteousness is on the way. Consider how this message was repeated by John the Baptizer. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Salvation and righteousness were coming quickly and it was time for the people to change their ways and draw near to the Lord. God’s righteous purposes were coming and would be fulfilled. This salvation was to be life changing. We desire to live different because God’s salvation has come through Jesus and now we wait eagerly for its full consummation. To say this another way, obedience is to be lived out in response to this salvation that has been revealed.
The Glorious Offer (56:3-6)
But God wants to make it clear that this invitation and glorious offer is not extended only to Israel, but to all people. The foreigner is not to think that he will be kept separate from the family of God. No one will be distinguished or separated among God’s people. There are no second class citizens. There will not be Jews and Gentiles. There will only be God’s people. There are not clergy and laity or any other sort of distinction. Notice also that the eunuch was not to think that he is a dry tree. The eunuch would be rich with family, even though his reproductive organs were removed. According to Deuteronomy 23:1-6 these people were not allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord. But this would be completely changed with the coming of the Servant, Jesus. Now full admission would be granted to all people.
These outsiders who hold to covenant are going to be offered rich blessings. Notice that verse 4 emphasizes the keeping of the Sabbath again. Why does God keep going to this point? We must understand the purpose of the Sabbath and what the Sabbath was commemorating. Deuteronomy gives us clarity as to the purpose of the Sabbath rest and memorial.
Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12–15 ESV)
The purpose of the Sabbath was to remember that they were slaves in Egypt and that God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Now the eunuchs are told to keep the Sabbath (56:4) and the foreigners are commanded to keep the Sabbath (56:6). Why? What is the point of picking out this law from among so many found in the Law of Moses? The Sabbath observance represents well the covenant relationship of God with his people. The command for the outsiders to keep the Sabbath makes the point of how fully adopted these people will be in God’s covenant family. They were not physically slaves in Egypt when God brought the great exodus through Moses. But they will be counted like that family, fully belonging to the covenant of God, receiving equal blessings and equal portion in God’s kingdom. To say this another way, it is as if the foreigners and eunuch are full Israelites by birth and they are treated as such.
To these who keep God’s covenant and choose to do the things that please the Lord (56:4) God says he will give something far better than a physical family. Far better than sons and daughters, God will give all people in the house of God and within the walls of his kingdom a monument and name that is everlasting and will never be cut off. I want us to think about what is being offered and described here. We have a better family in Christ. This is the family that matters most! We know that Jesus taught this wonderful truth.
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46–50 ESV)
The person without a family now has a family in Jesus. Perhaps your parents have passed away. Perhaps you are estranged from your parents. Perhaps your parents have rejected you because you are following Jesus. You have a new family in Christ. Maybe you are unmarried, or you are divorced, or you cannot have children, or cannot be married, you have a glorious family. Let not the eunuch say he is a dry tree, that is without family or children (56:3). You have something better and greater than physical family. You belong to God’s family. This places an emphasis upon us to act like family and to commit ourselves to one another more than we would our physical family. We have been adopted as children in the family of God and now are each others brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and children in the Lord. We are given an eternal family and lineage that will never be cut off. The book of Revelation speaks this way of those Christians would persevere through persecution and remain faithful to the Lord.
The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. (Revelation 3:5 ESV)
The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. (Revelation 3:12 ESV)
Now, who are these people who are enjoying these privileges and blessings in the Lord? Notice verse 6. These are people who join themselves to the Lord, serve the Lord, love the name of the Lord, will be the Lord’s servants, hold fast to God’s covenant, and keep the Sabbath. Remember that keeping the Sabbath was the time when the people joined together to worship God and keep his laws. This is not a list of minimums to belong to the Lord. This is just what God’s people will do. They love the name of the Lord. They do not have to be told to love the name of the Lord. They just love it. They want to serve the Lord. They want to keep the covenant. They want to worship the Lord. This is what God’s people do. This is the picture of those who will experience the salvation of our God.
The Result (56:7-8)
“These I will bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer.” Notice that by coming into relationship with the Lord, belonging to his covenant of peace, and choosing to do the things that please the Lord his people will be joyful in the house of prayer. What a powerful picture! The people of God will enjoy coming to the house of prayer for worship. God would not tell his people that they have to worship him. They desire it. In fact, God says that his people will enjoy God’s house. Their sacrifices are accepted for they enjoy giving themselves to the Lord. Notice that this is what the rest of verse 7 offers as the explanation. “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
God’s house was to be the place where people wanted to come and enjoy God. They wanted to speak to the Lord. They desired to worship the Lord. Consider that God’s house was not to be called a house of pain. God’s house is not the house of suffering. God’s house is not the house of requirements or house of duty. God’s house would not be called the house of obligation. What a beautiful picture of what it means to worship the Lord: God’s house will be called a house of prayer for everyone! Every person can come into fellowship with God, reconciled by the blood of Jesus, and experience God. If worship is the house of duty, pain, obligation or suffering to you, then there is something wrong. We have not received God’s glorious invitation (Isaiah 55) if this is how we feel. God already described this change when Jesus came at the beginning of this book.
It shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:2–3)
They want to go so that they may be taught the ways of the Lord and walk in the Lord’s paths. The house of the Lord would be called the house of prayer because people will desire to seek the Lord, have fellowship with the Lord, worship the Lord, and converse with the Lord. Consider that Jesus quotes this sentence from Isaiah when he overturns the moneychangers’ table when he enters the temple courts (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46). What is Jesus’ saying? The Jewish leaders had turn the place of joy to come and worship the Lord into a burden. These leaders were hindering the people from coming to the Lord so that they could make money by exchanging money and selling animals. God is opening the door for everyone to come to him and we are not to hinder them from coming. We will not hinder them simply because they wear clothes we do not like, act strange, look funny, smell bad, have different ideas, vote differently, have different values, come from different cultures, or anything else. God is still calling for more outcasts to come to him (56:8). Woe to us if we do not present to every person the opportunity to hear the gospel and come into a joyful relationship with our God. God has made a new family in Christ and those who choose to do the things that please the Lord enjoy being in this family. And God is calling more people to come into his family. Let us be the family of God that represents the house of prayer joyfully communing with God, not the house of pain desiring anything and everything else but our Lord.