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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 56

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-12

Shall we turn now in our Bibles to Isaiah 56:1-12 .

In Isaiah 55:1-13 the Lord speaks of this glorious everlasting salvation and the glories of His greatness, His power. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than yours, My thoughts than your thoughts" ( Isaiah 55:9 ). The blessing and the power of the Word of God. "As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, returns not thither, waters the earth that makes it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so is my word," the Lord declares, "that goes out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but shall accomplish that which I please. It shall prosper in the thing in which I sent it" ( Isaiah 55:10-11 ).

Now as we get into chapter 56, the Lord is giving to us, more or less, some of the conditions of our being a part of that everlasting kingdom and salvation.

Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed ( Isaiah 56:1 ).

Now even at the time of Isaiah, there were those encouragements to doing the right thing in light of the fact that the Lord's salvation was near. All through succeeding generations, God has wanted, I believe, each generation to live with that consciousness of the nearness of the coming of the Lord's kingdom. Now Peter tells us that there would come a day when men would begin to scoff at the nearness of the coming kingdom of God, declaring that "all things have just continued as they were from the beginning" ( 2 Peter 3:4 ). But Peter says, "Of this they are willfully ignorant." That God did upset the world at one time in judgment by sending the flood, they are willfully ignorant of God's intervention by catastrophe. And then Peter goes on to explain that "God is not slack concerning His promises" ( 2 Peter 3:9 ). That is the promise of the coming kingdom and the establishment of the kingdom of righteousness. He's not going to fail in that promise, but that He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. So the reason for the delay, God's waiting for man's turning to Him.

Now when we were living in Prescott in the first church that we had, we had a very fascinating lady who, as far as I can recall, never did attend our church, but professed to have a great love and interest in my wife and I. And she was a very interesting character. She had spent many years in China as a missionary and was a nurse at the Whipple Veterans Hospital. And I would start to talk to her about the nearness of the coming of the Lord and she'd say, "Well, yes, I believe the Lord is coming very soon for me." She said, "I'm getting up into the years and I won't be around much longer, so the coming of the Lord is very soon for me." And she had that kind of a concept of the nearness of the coming of the Lord. Well, in a sense that is very true. God's coming for each of us is soon. None of us is going to be around here too long. And if He does not come collectively for His body, the church, even so our time on earth is so short. "What is life? It is as a vapor that appears for a season or a moment and then vanishes" ( James 4:14 ). It's like the grass out there in the field which today grows up and flourishes and tomorrow is dead. And so is the short span of our life, especially when you compare the time that we are here with eternity. So the span of man upon this earth is so short. And yet in this short span of time my eternity is being established. My destiny is being determined in this short time that I am here. That's rather awesome to consider. So it behooves me to spend whatever time I have walking with the Lord, serving the Lord, and in a total commitment of myself, my energies, my life to Him because time is short.

So for Isaiah to be saying, "Hey, the time of the Lord is close," it is for each one of us. The time of the Lord is always very close. And thus, we should live with that consciousness knowing that I have only one life and it will soon be past and only what I do for Jesus Christ is going to last. Everything else is wood, hay and stubble. Everything else is going to burn. Everything else is not going to have any value at all in the eternal realm. That which I've done for myself, that which I've done for the community, that which I've done for the Muscular Dystrophy or whatever, not going to last. The only lasting things are that which I have done for Jesus Christ for His glory and in His name. So time is short. This is a perpetual message to each generation. Your time is short.

Now how does God want us to live? He wants us to keep judgment and do justice. God wants us to live a fair and honest life. God doesn't want us cheating. God doesn't want us conniving and taking advantage of someone else. God wants us to do the right thing. Do justice. Keep judgment. Do the right thing. That's what God is asking and requiring of us. And surely that is not too much to require and that is a reasonable requirement from man. What a glorious world this would be if everyone treated each other fairly, honestly, justly. "But that is not the condition of the world," you say, and you are so right. We find that there are always men who are willing to take an advantage of their position and gouge someone else because they find that they have them at an advantage. It is always a fearsome thing to be at a disadvantage to another person because you can be sure that they're going to take every advantage that they can over you.

Look what they're doing now with the oil. Knowing that we need the oil so desperately, they're taking advantage and they're just hiking the prices. And becoming inordinately wealthy. So much money they really don't know how to spend it or what to do with it. And yet there is a world that is suffering and in need and the third world is actually being destroyed and starving because of these people who have taken advantage of the fact that they possess the oil in their nation. And that the world is short on oil and so taking advantage of that fact they are gouging the world, totally disregarding those unfortunate people who cannot afford the inflation that has resulted from the increased oil prices. But that's only one example, and not to just point at one group. That is so common with human nature.

If you get in a disadvantaged position, there are men who are willing to take advantage of you. Jesus said, "Woe unto you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites!" Because they were taking advantage of people. They were taking advantage of the little widows. "Woe unto you, lawyers!" They were taking advantage of people's ills, of people's problems, and becoming rich over other people's problems. Man is not fair. God wants us to be fair. And so God cries out for justice and for judgment because He said, "My salvation is near to come."

Blessed is the man that does this ( Isaiah 56:2 ),

Now God just sort of pronounces a man who will be fair, a man who will be just, a man who will be honest, he will be blessed of God.

and the son of man that lays hold on it ( Isaiah 56:2 );

The person that grabs this concept and says, "Yes, I will do unto others as I would have them to do unto me. I will be fair. I will not take advantage of a position that I may have of superiority whatever. But I will be fair." God is always for the underdog. God is always standing up for the oppressed and for the poor. And if we are guilty of oppressing people or impoverishing people, then we will find ourselves opposed to God.

Blessed is the man,

that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil ( Isaiah 56:2 ).

Now the blessing upon the man that keeps the sabbath, keepeth the sabbath. The sabbath is an ordinance that God established with the nation of Israel as a covenant with that race of people. When God gave the law of the sabbath back in the book of Exodus, God declared in the giving of the law that it was a covenant between Him and Israel forever. Verse Exodus 31:16 of Exodus 31:1-18 , "Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant." Now God established circumcision also as a perpetual covenant for these people.

But the sabbath covenant was not placed upon the Gentile world nor upon the Gentile church or Christians. And yet, a man needs a day of rest. And we would probably live to be much healthier people if we would take a day of the week off and just stay in bed. Really rest on the sabbath day. And that's what the requirement was, just really to rest. Give the body a chance to sort of recuperate. But these people, as we will find in a little bit, weren't always keeping the sabbath as they should. They began to make it a day of pleasure and recreation, which it seems that we are very guilty of doing also. Except that the sabbath is really Friday night sundown to Saturday night sundown, if you want to be technical. We worship the Lord on the first day of the week.

Now in the early church when they sought to determine what relationship the Gentile believers had to the law, they determined that they should not put upon the Gentiles the yoke of bondage, the law which they were not themselves able to keep. And so in writing to the Gentiles to tell them their relationship to the law, that is the church, the Gentile church, they said, "Just keep yourselves from idols and from things that have been strangled. And if you do this, you do well."

Now later on Paul even modified that a bit when he wrote to the Corinthians and he said, "When you go to the butcher shop to buy your meat, don't ask the butcher, 'Was this meat offered as a sacrifice to an idol?'" He said, "because if he says yes then you'll have a hard time eating it. So just don't ask any questions. Just go and buy the meat and don't ask any questions for your conscience's sake. And then you're not worried about it. Because," he said, "everything is sanctified through prayer and it really doesn't matter except if in your conscience it begins to trouble you, then it becomes a real problem for you. So for conscience's sake, just when you go out to dinner and someone lays a steak in front of you, don't say, 'Did you offer this steak as a sacrifice to an idol?' Just eat what is set before you, asking no questions," he said. "Just enjoy it." And so it isn't that which goes into the mouth that defiles a man. It's that which comes out, because the heart is revealed by the things that come out of a man's mouth.

There was nothing said to the Gentile church concerning the sabbath days. So Paul writing to the church in Rome speaks about those who were weak in the faith who were vegetarians because they could not eat meat; they were fearful it might have been offered as a sacrifice to an idol somewhere. And so they became vegetarians. But he that is strong in the faith he eats meat. Now let the one who doesn't eat meat, don't let him judge the one who does. And the one who does eat meat should not be condemning the man who doesn't.

It is so easy for us to fall in the trap of thinking that everybody should live as I live, do as I think. How I would love to run the world and tell people that which they can do and that which they can't do according to my own conscience. But Paul said I am not to judge a person who has greater liberty than I have. Because before his own master he either stands or falls and God is able to make him stand, much to my amazement.

So in writing to the Colossians, Paul said, "Don't let any man judge you in respect to meat, or unto sabbath days or holy days or new moons and so forth, which were all a shadow of the things to come. For the substance or the body is of Christ" ( Colossians 2:17 ). These things were all a shadow. Keeping the sabbath days, keeping the festivals and so forth-they were all a shadow of the things to come. The real substance is of Christ, so that the sabbath day was just a shadow of what Jesus is to us, for He is our rest. And the sabbath day was a day of rest where you just rested. So Christ has become our sabbath. We are resting in the work of Jesus Christ as regards to our salvation. I'm not trying to get out there and hassle and work to be saved. I am resting. Christ is my sabbath. He is my rest and the whole sabbath day celebration was looking forward to Jesus Christ, the substance who is the rest for the believer of God. And we all are resting our salvation in Him. And that's what the whole thing was about.

So as we read of the sabbath day, we realize that Isaiah's addressing himself to Israel. It has nothing to do really with the Gentile, the Gentile church, for in the Gentile church, as Paul said, "One man esteems one day above another and another man esteems every day alike" ( Romans 14:5 ). And we esteem every day alike. Every day is the Lord's day. I get up in the morning and I say, "Well, Lord, this is Your day. What would You have me to do today?" And every day is alike to me. I don't look at the calendar to see what day of the week it is. It's the Lord's day. My life is His. And no matter what the calendar may say as far as the day of the week, it's all the Lord's day as far as I'm concerned.

But, "Blessed is the man that will keep justice, do judgment, lays hold on these. Keeps the sabbath from polluting it and keeps his hand from doing any evil."

Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people ( Isaiah 56:3 ):

We shouldn't think that we have been separated from the people of God. But God is really... And Christ, Paul said, has broken down that middle wall of partition that used to exist between the Jew and us. And He has made us to all partake of the one body in Christ. So I'm not to say, "Well, I've been separated from God's people," and think of myself as separate from them, but really we have been grafted into the root that we might partake of the fatness and the fullness of God's blessing and promise to the nation of Israel.

neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off ( Isaiah 56:3-5 ).

Now Jesus speaks of there are some men that are born eunuchs. There are some who become eunuchs for the kingdom of God's sake. That is, men who refrain from marriage in order that they might better serve the Lord. Paul the apostle would probably fit in this category. Now we think of a eunuch in a very strict sense of the word. I do not think that the Bible really looks at it or is looking at it in a strict sense of the word. I think it is a man who just determines to live a celibate life for the sake of the kingdom of God. And Paul the apostle writing to the Corinthian church encouraged the men, if they were able to handle it, to live as he did for the sake of the kingdom. For he that is married seeks how to please his wife. But he that is unmarried can just seek how he can please the Lord. And thus because it is, in many times, easier to endure hardship just yourself and many times in the proclaiming of the gospel there requires a real hardship and sacrifice, it's easier for you to make those sacrifices upon yourself than to impose them also upon a wife. And so for the sake of expediency and all, you'd be better off to stay as I am. "Yet if you can't handle it," Paul says, "go ahead and get married. No sin to it, but I would just spare you a lot of problems." And so there are those who for the kingdom of God's sake have chosen a celibate type of a life. And that is fine. The Lord said, "I will give them children, sons and daughters in a spiritual sense." And so Paul speaks of his beloved son Timothy and all, and those relationships that he had with these younger men that he more or less tutored in their spiritual walks.

Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keeps the sabbath from polluting it, and takes hold of my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people ( Isaiah 56:6-7 ).

Now the Jews in establishing the temple did not really follow this. They had the court of the Gentiles and if you were a Gentile you had to stay in that court, and leading into the next court were the signs warning the Gentiles at the cost of their life to stay out. Warning any Gentile from trespassing within that next area of the temple. Now Paul the apostle really got into big trouble with the Jews because they thought that he had brought an uncircumcised man into the area of the temple, the Jewish quarter within the temple. And that's what created the whole hubbub there in Jerusalem that almost resulted in Paul's being killed. However, Paul was not guilty. They thought he was guilty. But Paul was not guilty of that charge. But yet the Lord had declared, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people." So He's talking about the stranger that is the person who is not a Jew who is there, who follows the Lord. God wanted him to feel an access unto God through the temple.

Now you remember that when Jesus came into the temple, He saw those moneychangers that were there and those that were selling doves. And He made a whip and He began to overturn the tables of the moneychangers and began to drive them out of the temple saying unto them that they have profaned the temple, that My Father has said, "My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves" ( Matthew 21:13 ). And the anger that He had for the profaning. In other words, they wouldn't let the Gentiles in, but they had all kinds of crooked kind of practices going on.

The moneychangers were men who would have their little booths there in the temple and you could only pay your offerings to God in the shekels. They would not receive Roman coinage, because they considered that unclean. You couldn't give your common Roman coinage to the Lord. So if you wanted to give an offering to God, you had to exchange your Roman coin for the temple shekel. You say, "What's so wrong with that?" Well, what was wrong with that is these guys were charging a horrible rate of exchange. In other words, they were making a markup, a percentage, and thus in essence they were skimming off money that really should have gone to the Lord. They were thieving from God in the exchanging of the shekel and in drawing a percentage for themselves they were really skimming off from God. And the same was true with the doves. You could buy a dove outside for a couple of pennies. But these guys were charging an exorbitant price, but they were in collusion with the priests. If you just brought a dove in, the priest would examine it carefully and he'd find some little flaw, and of course, you cannot offer any flawed offering unto God. So he'd say, "No, I can't offer this for you." But here this fellow had doves for sale and they had the stamp on them. They were koshers. And so, but they were charging a bigger price.

So again the idea of robbery, of thievery that was going on, and it upset Jesus. And so He quotes actually from this verse in Isaiah where God's intention that His house would be called a house of prayer for all people. That it will be open to anyone, anybody who wanted to pray unto God would be free to come in and pray unto God within the house.

So he declares,

The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him ( Isaiah 56:8 ).

The gospel that will go out into the Gentiles.

All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest. His watchmen are blind ( Isaiah 56:9-10 ):

That's a tragic situation that you have a watchman that's blind.

they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter ( Isaiah 56:10-11 ).

And so God speaking, and of course, it is interesting that God would speak of those, they were all looking for their own gain. All looking for their own welfare and their own gain. And it is interesting that the Lord would mention that in the very passage that Jesus quoted when He said, "You've made my Father's house a den of thieves, for My Father's house was to be called a house of prayer for all people." And here they are, they're greedy. Dogs that never have enough. They're all looking for their own gain.

Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to morrow shall be as today, and much more abundant ( Isaiah 56:12 ). "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Isaiah 56". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/isaiah-56.html. 2014.
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