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Isaiah 50 has a transitional importance that belies its brevity. In Isaiah 50:1–3 God addresses the children of Israel in exile, especially those who think he has utterly abandoned them. He hasn’t. He has neither divorced their mother, i.e., Zion, nor sold them into slavery to pay off some creditor—so the way back to him is still open. In this light, the last two lines of Isaiah 50:1 should be read as irony: if the children were “sold” or the mother “sent away” in any sense, it was because of their sin, not because of some final legal action on God’s part. Moreover, the sovereign Creator is certainly capable of bringing them back (Isa. 50:2b–3). The real question is, why did none of them come to him when he called? (Isa. 50:2a).
Then the Servant speaks (Isa. 50:4–9), more to himself than to others, but so as to be overheard (Isa. 50:10–11). Who is he? There have been many suggestions: Isaiah, or a sixth-century disciple of Isaiah; Jeremiah; Israel, personified as an abused and suffering person (cf. Ps. 129:1–3). As the book unfolds, Isaiah will make the Servant’s identity clear. Even now, observe his characteristics: This Servant is a gifted counselor. His words sustain the weary, for he himself has an ear for all the Sovereign Lord says, and he has not been rebellious (Isa. 50:4–5—unlike Israel). Thus he is a perfect disciple, but of the Lord, not of Isaiah (compare John 5:18ff.). He does not draw back from obedience (Isa. 50:5), even in the face of implacable abuse (Isa. 50:6; cf. Matt. 27:30; Mark 14:65; 15:19). The Sovereign Lord sustains him in his mission, so he sets his face like a flint to complete the task assigned him (Isa. 50:7; cf. Luke 9:51), confident that God will finally vindicate him (Isa. 50:7–9; cf. Phil. 2:9–11).
How, then, does the second part of this chapter relate to the first? Surely in this way: those who are addressed in Isaiah 50:1–3 still seem alienated, distant, unresponsive, cynical, while here in Isaiah 50:10–11 a line is drawn in the sand, and this line concerns the Servant. On the one side is the person who “fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant,” who despite the terrible darkness that now engulfs him “trust[s] in the name of the LORD” (Isa. 50:10, italics added). On the other side is the person who tries to provide his or her own light, who lights fires of rebellion; God says to such a person, “This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment” (Isa. 50:11). Thus the identity of “the people of God” is undergoing subtle redefinition. In Isaiah 49:8–12 they embrace both Israelites and Gentiles; here one element that defines them is that they obey the word of the Lord’s Servant.
Every so often in the Pentateuch there is a chapter of miscellaneous laws and statutes. One such is Deuteronomy 23. It goes beyond these brief meditations to reflect on each topic for which a statute is laid down, or even on the ordering principle of some of these lists. Transparently some of the legislation is based on the historical experience of the Israelites (e.g., Deut. 23:3-8). Other parts turn on symbol-laden cleanliness (e.g., Deut. 23:9-14). Still others focus on the urgency to keep the covenant people separate from the abominable practices of ancient Canaanite paganism (Deut. 23:17-18), on progressive steps of social justice (Deut. 23:15-16), on fiscal principles to enhance both the identity and the well-being of the covenant community (Deut. 23:19-20), and on keeping one’s word, especially in a vow offered to the living God (Deut. 23:21-23). But today I shall reflect on Deut. 23:24-25: “If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor’s grain field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain.”
There is profound wisdom to these simple statutes. A merely communitarian stance would either let people take what they want, whenever they want, as much as they want; or, alternatively, it would say that since all the produce belongs to the community (or the state), no individual is allowed to take any of it without explicit sanction from the leaders of the community. A merely capitalistic stance (or, more precisely, a stance that put all the emphasis on private property) would view every instance of taking a grape from a neighbor’s field as a matter of theft, every instance of chewing on a few kernels of grain as you follow the footpath through your neighbor’s field as a punishable offense. But by allowing people to eat what they want while actually in the field of a neighbor, this statute fosters a kind of community-wide interdependence, a vision of a shared heritage. The walls and fences erected by zealous private ownership are softened. Moreover, the really poor could at least find something to eat. This would not be a terrible burden on any one landowner if the statute were observed by all the landowners. On the other hand, the stipulation that no one is allowed to carry any produce away, if observed, serves not only to combat theft and laziness, but preserves private property and the incentives to industry and disciplined labor associated with it.
Many, many statutes from the Mosaic Law, rightly probed, reflect a godly balance of complementary interests.
23:1 “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD.
2 “No one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD.
3 “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever, 4 because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. 5 But the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loved you. 6 You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.
7 “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land. 8 Children born to them in the third generation may enter the assembly of the LORD.
9 “When you are encamped against your enemies, then you shall keep yourself from every evil thing.
10 “If any man among you becomes unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he shall go outside the camp. He shall not come inside the camp, 11 but when evening comes, he shall bathe himself in water, and as the sun sets, he may come inside the camp.
12 “You shall have a place outside the camp, and you shall go out to it. 13 And you shall have a trowel with your tools, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it and turn back and cover up your excrement. 14 Because the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.
15 “You shall not give up to his master a slave1 who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.
17 “None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, and none of the sons of Israel shall be a cult prostitute. 18 You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a dog2 into the house of the LORD your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God.
19 “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the LORD your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
21 “If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. 22 But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. 23 You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.
24 “If you go into your neighbor's vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag. 25 If you go into your neighbor's standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor's standing grain.
112:1 1 Praise the LORD!
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
who greatly delights in his commandments!
2 His offspring will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in his house,
and his righteousness endures forever.
4 Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
5 It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
who conducts his affairs with justice.
6 For the righteous will never be moved;
he will be remembered forever.
7 He is not afraid of bad news;
his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
8 His heart is steady;2 he will not be afraid,
until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
9 He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn is exalted in honor.
10 The wicked man sees it and is angry;
he gnashes his teeth and melts away;
the desire of the wicked will perish!
113:1 Praise the LORD!
Praise, O servants of the LORD,
praise the name of the LORD!
2 Blessed be the name of the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore!
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the LORD is to be praised!
4 The LORD is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens!
5 Who is like the LORD our God,
who is seated on high,
6 who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
9 He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the LORD!
50:1 Thus says the LORD:
“Where is your mother's certificate of divorce,
with which I sent her away?
Or which of my creditors is it
to whom I have sold you?
Behold, for your iniquities you were sold,
and for your transgressions your mother was sent away.
2 Why, when I came, was there no man;
why, when I called, was there no one to answer?
Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?
Or have I no power to deliver?
Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea,
I make the rivers a desert;
their fish stink for lack of water
and die of thirst.
3 I clothe the heavens with blackness
and make sackcloth their covering.”
4 The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
6 I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
7 But the Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
8 He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
Let him come near to me.
9 Behold, the Lord GOD helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
10 Who among you fears the LORD
and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on his God.
11 Behold, all you who kindle a fire,
who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire,
and by the torches that you have kindled!
This you have from my hand:
you shall lie down in torment.
20:1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit1 and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven2 and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.