Isaiah 48 – Obstinate Israel & The Political World in Jesus’ Time

Wow, after 2,000 years you would think people would catch on, but nothing’s different, they just changed the names.  In the United States we basically have two parties, the democrats and the republicans, but their all the same, they live for power due to greed and they get to the top through their lies.

I guess there might be one difference; I think people have become dumber.  Well at least half of the United States are complete idiots, I mean look at how our presidents had been between 1989-2016.

Why Idolatry Was (and Is) Attractive
Idolatry made a lot of sense in the ancient world. In his commentary on Exodus, Doug Stuart explains idolatry’s attraction with nine points.

1. Idolatry was guaranteed. The formula was simple. Carve a god out of wood or stone and the god would enter the icon. Now that you have a god in your midst, you can get his (or her) attention quickly. Your incantations, oaths, and offerings will always be noticed.

2. Idolatry was selfish. Scratch the gods backs and they’ll scratch yours. They need food and sacrifices; you need blessings. Do your stuff and they’ll be obliged to get you stuff.

3. Idolatry was easy. Ancient idolatry encouraged vain religious activity. Do what you like with your life. So long as you show up consistently with your sacrifices, you’ll be in good shape.

4. Idolatry was convenient. Gods in the ancient world were not hard to come by. Access was almost everywhere. Statues can be used in the home or on the go.

5. Idolatry was normal. Everyone did it. It’s how woman got pregnant, how crops grew, how armies conquered. Idolatry was like oil: nothing ran in the ancient world without it.

6. Idolatry was logical. Nations are different. People are different. Their needs and desires are different. Obviously, there must be different deities for different strokes. How could one god cover all of life? You don’t eat at one restaurant do you? The more options the better. They can all be right some of the time.

7. Idolatry was pleasing to the senses. If you are going to be especially religious, it helps to be able to see your god. It’s harder to impress people with an invisible deity.

8. Idolatry was indulgent. Sacrificing to the gods did not often require sacrifice for the worshiper. Leftover food could be eaten. Drink could be drunk. Generosity to the gods leads to feasting for you.

9. Idolatry was sensual. The whole system was marked by eroticism. Rituals could turn into orgies. Sex on earth often meant sex in heaven, and sex in heaven meant big rain, big harvests and multiplying herds.

But more important, according to statistics, in 2018 only 33% (2.4 million) of the world population were Christians.  Yet, half of them were Catholics and they don’t worship Jesus, they worship the Pope who is of the devil.  And you have to wonder, out of the 1.2 billion Christians how many of them are real Christians?  I mean, how many are born again?  If you aren’t born again then you’re not going to heaven.

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3).

Now I understand why Hell has been enlarged, it’s bigger than heaven.

“Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it” (Isa 5:14).

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1 Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.

“Called by the name” – they belong to Israel.

“Waters” – semen (indicating paternity), or perhaps the picture of a fountain indicating “source.”

“Judah” – the main tribe of the southern kingdom.

2 For they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel; The LORD of hosts is his name.

“Holy city” – Jerusalem, where the temple was located.

“Stay themselves upon…God” – they claim to trust the Lord, but their source of security was elsewhere.

3 I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass.

4 Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;

5 I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I shewed it thee: lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them.

“Mine idol hath done them” – see Isaiah’s harsh words about idolatry in 44:17-20.

6 Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them.

“New things” – for example, Israel’s restoration.  The Messianic age and the new heavens and new earth may also be in view (cf. 65:17).

7 They are created now, and not from the beginning; even before the day when thou heardest them not; lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them.

“Created now” – now given substance in the prophetic announcement of their coming.

8 Yea, thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not; yea, from that time that thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb.

For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off.

10 Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.

“Refined…chosen” – images of judgment (see Jer 9:7; Eze 22:18-22).  For “chosen,” read “tested.”  Purifying fire is also mentioned in 1:25; 4:4.

“Furnace of affliction” – for Israel, Egypt had been an “iron furnace” (Deut 4:20; 1 Kgs 8:51; Jer 11:4).  The fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile were a similar furnace.

11 For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.

12  Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.

13 Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.

14 All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them hath declared these things? The LORD hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans.

15 I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous.

16  Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me.

“His Spirit, hath sent me” – a reference to either Isaiah or the servant of the Lord.  The Spirit of the Lord comes upon the servant in 42:1 and upon the Messianic prophet of 61:1.

Chaldea
Chaldea or Chaldaea was a Semitic-speaking nation that existed between the late 10th or early 9th and mid-6th centuries BC, after which it and its people were absorbed and assimilated into Babylonia. It was located in the marshy land of the far southeastern corner of Mesopotamia and briefly came to rule Babylon.

17 Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.

18 O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:

19 Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me.

20  Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob.

“Go ye forth of Babylon, flee” – although the Jews did not have to flee, they were encouraged to depart quickly because of the judgment coming on Babylon (cf Rev 18:4).  This is the last mention of Babylon by name in Isaiah.

21 And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out.

22 There is no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked.

I know You made men and women to get married and have kids (Gen 1:28, 9:7-17).  What do You think about homosexuals and lesbians?

The Political World in Jesus’ Time

Statue of Simon the Zealot by Hermann Schievelbein at the roof of the Helsinki Cathedral.
Zealot – Judaism – member of a Jewish sect noted for its uncompromising opposition to pagan Rome and the polytheism it professed.

The Zealots were an aggressive political party whose concern for the national and religious life of the Jewish people led them to despise even Jews who sought peace and conciliation with the Roman authorities. A census of Galilee ordered by Rome in ad 6 spurred the Zealots to rally the populace to noncompliance on the grounds that agreement was an implicit acknowledgment by Jews of the right of pagans to rule their nation.

Extremists among the Zealots turned to terrorism and assassination and became known as Sicarii (Greek sikarioi, “dagger men”). They frequented public places with hidden daggers to strike down persons friendly to Rome. In the first revolt against Rome (ad 66–70) the Zealots played a leading role, and at Masada in 73 they committed suicide rather than surrender the fortress, but they were still a force to be reckoned with in the first part of the following century.

A few scholars see a possible relationship between the Zealots and the Jewish religious community mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. See also Masada.

Judaism at the time of Jesus was a complex mixture of divergent social, political and religious ideologies.  In general terms, we can speak of four distinct movements, ideologies or life-options.  It is helpful to situate Jesus in terms of these social groups of his day in order that we can come to appreciate the distinctiveness of his own life and mission.

The Zealot movement took the revolutionary option.  It advocated outward violence, even armed rebellion, to rid Israel of Roman oppression.  Nothing else, they figured, would bring final liberation to the Jewish people.

Depending on the point of view, Zealots were looked upon as freedom-fighters or terrorists.  One thinks of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka or activities of the Irish Republican Army during the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland.

Certainly Jesus had zealots among his followers, for example Simon the Zealot.  Moreover, Jesus came into conflict with both the Jewish temple and the Roman state. Finally, he was executed as a zealot revolutionary.

However, few would argue that Jesus was a violent revolutionary.  Like other non-violent figures in history, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus posed a more radical threat to the established order than any armed person might do.

The Sadducees were the great pragmatists of the day.  As wealthy lay-nobles, priests and aristocrats, they sought to conserve their wealth and power through compromise with Rome.

Politically speaking, this was the most realistic option.  Most of the members of the Sanhedrin were from the Sadducee group.  In many ways, the Sadducees could be described as the least religious group as is evidenced by their non-belief in the resurrection from the dead.

However, it would be wrong to see them as agnostics or atheists as some have argued.  They were committed to the Jewish faith on the basis of the earlier books of the bible. 

Moreover, as the people at the top of the pecking order in the Jewish society of their time, they were much more concerned with present-day affairs than speculation on the life-to-come.

In the Gospels, it is evidently the Sadducees who are the main opponents of Jesus at the time of his trial and death.  They rightly saw that Jesus’ teachings of God threatened their power and status.

The Pharisees were in many ways the idealists of Jewish society.  Most of the Scribes (the theologians of the day) were Pharisees.  In general, despite their “bad press” in the Gospels, the Pharisees sought to live a life of spiritual purity by a meticulous following of the torah (Jewish law).

They did not believe in compromise with the Romans (as did the Sadducees) or in revolutionary activity (as did the Zealots).  No doubt their emphasis on the law could result in legalism which may, in turn, become a pretext for hypocrisy.

Nonetheless, many Pharisees were highly committed and deeply spiritual people.  They believed in the resurrection of the dead.  From their perspective, Jesus seemed to relativize the law which explains their anger towards him.

The Apostle Paul had been a Pharisee and imprisoned Christians, until one day Jesus spoke to him from heaven:

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,

A Sadducee, illustrated in the 15th-century Nuremberg Chronicle
The Sadducees were a sect or group of Jews that was active in Judea during the Second Temple period, starting from the second century BCE through the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The sect was identified by Josephus with the upper social and economic echelon of Judean society.

As a whole, the sect fulfilled various political, social, and religious roles, including maintaining the Temple. The Sadducees are often compared to other contemporaneous sects, including the Pharisees and the Essenes.

Their sect is believed to have become extinct some time after the destruction of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, but it has been speculated that the later Karaites may have had some roots in—or connections with—Sadducaic views.

And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven.

And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

And he said, Who art thou, Lord?  And he the Lord said: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?  And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do (Acts 9:1-6).

Finally, there were the Essenes who solved the problem of Jewish identity in a Roman-occupied Israel by withdrawing to a monastic-like setting.  They were, if you like, the hippies of the day insofar as they completely opted out of mainstream Jewish society.

The most notable group in Jesus’ time was the Qumran community who lived an ascetic life and was waiting for God’s apocalyptic intervention in human history. It is unlikely that Jesus had any contact with this particular group.

Still, he was introduced to the ascetical option through his contact with the disciples of John the Baptist who represented a quasi-Essenic withdrawal from mainstream society. Jesus’ public ministry demonstrates his decision to engage directly with the wider members of his society.

Consequently, while Jesus had dealings with the various socio-political groups and religious ideologies of his time, he took his own unique life-option, which was to obey His Father.  

Some scholars compare Jesus to a near-contemporary of his, a teacher named Hillel. Both Jesus and Hillel had profound respect for the Jewish torah, but they were also renowned for preaching compassion, forgiveness and love.

Their ministries were profoundly people-oriented.  However, Jesus was more than a teacher.  He was also an experienced prophet, miracle-worker, healer, defender of the poor and oppressed, the Son of God:

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God (Lk 1:35).

Pharisees
The Pharisees were at various times a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought in the Holy Land during the time of Second Temple Judaism. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Pharisaic beliefs became the foundational, liturgical and ritualistic basis for Rabbinic Judaism.

Conflicts between Pharisees and Sadducees took place in the context of much broader and longstanding social and religious conflicts among Jews, made worse by the Roman conquest. Another conflict was cultural, between those who favored Hellenization (the Sadducees) and those who resisted it (the Pharisees).

A third was juridico-religious, between those who emphasized the importance of the Second Temple with its rites and services, and those who emphasized the importance of other Mosaic Laws. A fourth point of conflict, specifically religious, involved different interpretations of the Torah and how to apply it to current Jewish life, with Sadducees recognizing only the Written Torah (with Greek philosophy) and rejecting doctrines such as the Oral Torah, the Prophets, the Writings, and the resurrection of the dead.

Outside Jewish history and literature, Pharisees have been made notable by references in the New Testament to conflicts with John the Baptist and with Jesus. There are also several references in the New Testament to the Apostle Paul being a Pharisee. The relationship between Early Christianity and Pharisees was not always hostile however: e.g. Gamaliel is often cited as a Pharisaic leader who was sympathetic to Christians.

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased (Matt 3:16-17).

As well as God Himself:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (Jn 1:1, 14).

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, receive d up into glory (1 Tim 3:16).