Isaiah didn’t seem to have any illusions about Israel’s merit or righteousness of. If he did have any illusions, God promptly dispelled them:
· “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. (Isaiah 1:2-4)
However, Isaiah had a different issue with God. He understood that God is omnipotent and could do anything He wanted to do:
- All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins. Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:6-8)
Yes, Israel was rebellious and deserved judgment. However, if God is the potter – and Isaiah was convinced that He is – the He should be able to mold Israel into anything He so wished, even into righteous children:
- Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people… After all this, O LORD, will you hold yourself back? Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure? (Isaiah 64:9,12)
Isaiah was perplexed why God was holding Himself back from changing His people.
However, God’s answer must have been less than satisfying:
- All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations-- a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick [to false gods]… I will destine you for the sword, and you will all bend down for the slaughter; for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen. You did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me." (Isaiah 65:2-3,12)
God didn’t directly answer Isaiah’s question. However, in many ways, God had answered. He had already given Israel everything that He could:
· Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? (Isaiah 5:1-4)
God insisted that there is nothing more that He could have done for Israel, and that He was not holding-back, as Isaiah had suggested.
If God is omnipotent, this is hard for us to understand. If He changed the heart of some, why could He not change the heart of all? But what is God’s omnipotence? Can He do anything? It doesn’t seem so. While He can accomplish anything He wants, there are things that He cannot do. He cannot sin – a violation of His character. Nor does it seem that He can violate His promises. Perhaps He also cannot violate His internal logic and create a stone that He cannot lift.
Jesus had petitioned the Father for something that pointed to the Father’s Self-limitation:
· Going a little farther, he [Jesus] fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup [the Cross] be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:39)
While God can do all things, He cannot do them in any manner. He was not able to grant Jesus His request. His righteous character prevented the payment of humanity’s in any other way. Jesus had to die! Animals certainly weren’t able to bring our forgiveness.
Let me apply this to the question of God saving all Israel. While God wants all to be saved (2 Peter 3:9), there might be a Self-limitation within His very Nature that does not permit this.
Nevertheless, God promised that He would show incredible grace to Israel, but only through his Messiah:
- "The Redeemer [the promised Messiah] will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins," declares the LORD. "As for me, this is my covenant with them," says the LORD. "My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever," says the LORD. (Isaiah 59:20-21)
- "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more… (Isaiah 65:17-19)
In the end, there will be a great salvation. All those left in the end will be rescued:
- From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me," says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:23)
This is an indication that, in the end, our Lord will open the floodgates of heaven:
- "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other… Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, 'In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.'" All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the LORD all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult. (Isaiah 45:22-25; 60:14; also Romans 11:12-27; James 2:13)
But God made us this way, right? Isn’t he also to blame? This is one charge that the Prophets never brought against God. Instead, they accepted what He had revealed – that the fault is all ours, and that God had done for Israel everything that He could do (Isaiah 5:2-5; Jeremiah 2:21)
Isaiah merely charged that God could correct Israel’s heart. However, he probably never received a complete and satisfactory answer, but perhaps what had been revealed to him was enough. Hopefully, it will be enough for us.