The New Elect
A Remnant Foretold
“I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me.
I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by My name.”
The king gave us a look of incredulous disbelief regarding our interpretation, but we begged him to have patience and listen further.
“I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people,
Who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts;
A people who provoke Me to anger continually to My face;
Who sacrifice in gardens, and burn incense on altars of brick;
Who sit among the graves, and spend the night in the tombs;
Who eat swine's flesh, and the broth of abominable things is in their vessels;
Who say, ‘Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am holier than you!’”
These are smoke in My nostrils, a fire that burns all the day.
“Behold, it is written before Me: I will not keep silence, but will repay—
Even repay into their bosom - your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together,”
Says the Lord, “Who have burned incense on the mountains and blasphemed Me on the hills;
Therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom.”
I think the king actually yawned at this point, for he had heard Isaiah's rhetoric of the coming judgment time and time again. 'God will pour out His judgment upon you because of your terrible sins' was his oft-repeated message. "I thought you claimed Isaiah was trying to stir up rebellion," said the king, "This is nothing different from what he ever has said. I assume the next paragraph will be telling us that only a remnant will be saved, according to his usual methods."
"Very nearly," we confirmed, "But this is, O king, where his message begins to diverge from his regular custom. He now begins to write of a remnant which has a separate and distinct identity from the nation of Judah. Please, listen as we continue reading."
Thus says the Lord:
“As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one says, ‘Do not destroy it, for a blessing is in it,’
So will I do for My servants’ sake, that I may not destroy them all.
I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah an heir of My mountains;
My elect shall inherit it, and My servants shall dwell there.
Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the Valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down,
For My people who have sought Me.”
At first, the king didn't see our point, and I suppose at first glance it does appear that Isaiah was speaking of the usual remnant of Israel. "But," we said to the king, "If you carefully examine, you will see that Isaiah does not say 'I will bring forth Jacob, and Judah will be an heir of My mountains.' He speaks of descendants of Jacob, and an heir out of Judah. In other words, it will not be Jacob and Judah, but a new group that comes out from them. And you see, O king, that he calls this new group 'elect' and 'My servants'? As you know, these are terms which rightly belong to Israel and Judah, and Isaiah is ascribing them to a new group of people."
"Hmm. Perhaps." said the king, doubtful, "Who do you think these people are?"
"Excellent and perceptive question, our liege. Isaiah is careless and does not hide from us the answer. Listen to the last line again: 'For My people who have sought Me.' He claims that God is going to make a significant change. The nations of Israel and Judah will no longer be the elect and the servants of God. It will be only the people who follow Isaiah in his intolerance of the worship of gods from the surrounding nations." The king still looked doubtful, but we requested patience, assuring him that Isaiah's rebellious agenda would become increasingly apparent as we continued to read.
“But you are those who forsake the Lord, who forget My holy mountain,
Who prepare a table for Gad, and who furnish a drink offering for Meni.
Therefore I will number you for the sword, and you shall all bow down to the slaughter;
Because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not hear,
But did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight.”
"You see how Isaiah is threatening God's judgment on the enlightened Jews who have embraced the broad worship of all gods?" we asked.
"Of course," replied the king, "but he has always warned of God's judgment on the nation for the so-called idolatry."
"With all due respect, your majesty, we believe this is different," we insisted, "for he does not speak of judgment upon the nation as a whole, but of judgment upon a fragmented kingdom: he calls for God's judgment upon only those who worship the other gods. Please, listen to this next part; we believe his agenda becomes crystal clear."
Therefore thus says the Lord God:
“Behold, My servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry;
Behold, My servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty;
Behold, My servants shall rejoice, but you shall be ashamed;
Behold, My servants shall sing for joy of heart, but you shall cry for sorrow of heart,
And wail for grief of spirit.
You shall leave your name as a curse to My chosen;
For the Lord God will slay you, and call His servants by another name;
So that he who blesses himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth;
And he who swears in the earth shall swear by the God of truth;
Because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hidden from My eyes.”
"‘My servants shall eat and drink, but you shall be hungry,'" mused the king, "That does not sound like a united nation. And did I hear his claim correctly that God will remove the everlasting blessing of Judah, making us a curse?"
"Not that He would make the entire nation a curse, O wise one, but only those who give honor to the other gods. It is a division of the people of God."
"I see," said the king with a darkening brow, "To attempt to divide the kingdom is nigh unto treason against the throne!"
The king was beginning to respond the way we wanted. Isaiah had long been a thorn in our side, continually turning the people against our efforts to diversify and expand religious practices. "O king," we said, feigning sorrow, "His rhetoric worsens."
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
“For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people;
The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying.”
Again pausing in our reading, we briefly said, "Notice how he claimed that only these newly elect ones will inhabit this new earth." The king appeared to have no comment, so we continued.
“No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days;
For the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat;
For as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people,
And My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth children for trouble;
For they shall be the descendants of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them.”
The king looked stunned. "Are you saying Isaiah has become a lying, false prophet? Surely he speaks of a refurbished earth!"
"We think not, O king, for he describes a whole new quality of life that is entirely unknown to this earth."
“It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer;
And while they are still speaking, I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
And dust shall be the serpent's food.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,” says the Lord.
"That sounds like an appealing new earth," said the king.
"Which is why it is so dangerous," we warned, "It appeals to the people, who are not as wise and enlightened as you, and persuades them to follow him. But it gets even worse."
Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool.
Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest?
For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,” says the Lord.
The king suddenly laughed, saying, "He claims that God will abandon His own temple, of which He has said He will dwell in forever? What utter nonsense!"
"Your majesty, great and wise, it is worse than nonsense. Isaiah is blaspheming the very temple of God with these words."
"Amnesty," said the king, "He promises them amnesty if they but turn from idols. Clever."
"He makes the people believe that by merely repenting they can become the new elect." we agreed. "Next, you will see Isaiah blasphemes the temple sacrifices and rituals by saying that God despises those who offer them."
“But on this one will I look:
On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.”
“He who kills a bull is as if he slays a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, as if he breaks a dog's neck;
He who offers a grain offering, as if he offers swine's blood; he who burns incense, as if he blesses an idol.
Just as they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations,
So will I choose their delusions, and bring their fears on them;
Because, when I called, no one answered, when I spoke they did not hear;
But they did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight.”
Grinding his teeth, the king exclaimed, "Does he never tire of condemning the enlightened ways of worship?"
"Apparently not," we replied, "Now hear how he strengthens his movement by deceiving his followers into believing themselves martyrs if any raise their hand against them."
“Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word:
“Your brethren who hated you, who cast you out for My name's sake, said,
‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy.’
But they shall be ashamed.”
By this time, the king was becoming visibly upset. “Confound the man!” he shouted. “He has covered every angle, thwarting me before I can even begin to quench the rebellion!”
We noticed, with some pleasure, his unconscious adoption of the idea of a popular revolution. Things were going very well indeed, better than we had expected. We read the remainder of what Isaiah had written without significant comment until the last paragraph.
“For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the Lord,
“So shall your descendants and your name remain.”
"Utter blasphemy!" interrupted the king, "God will never break His everlasting promise with His chosen people of Israel to choose some other mystical group of people."
We couldn't have said it better ourselves, and inwardly we exalted. However, the feeling of exaltation didn't last long. I can't answer for my companions, but I remember being sobered by Isaiah's last few words.
“And it shall come to pass
That from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another,
All flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the Lord.
“And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men
Who have transgressed against Me.
For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched.
They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
Although these words gave me pause, they only seemed to infuriate the king. "Guards!" he roared, his face contorted with rage, "Arrest Isaiah!"[dropcap class="article-dropcap"]A[/dropcap]s we left the council room, I congratulated my companions in our success of ridding ourselves of Isaiah's opposition, while trying to drown out the sound of the ominous last words of Isaiah which were still ringing in my ears.
“For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched.
They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
I remember that these were hard words for me to forget. They came back to me when the king had Isaiah brutally executed for his prophecies of judgment. Each time we killed one of Isaiah's followers, I would hear those words as clearly as the day when we first read them. Not until we had filled Jerusalem with the blood of those who hated our idols was I finally free from their ominous sound.[dropcap class="article-dropcap"]O[/dropcap]f course, time has shown what fools we were and how right Isaiah was. The nation was carried out of the land, just as he warned in his early prophecies. As he predicted, God did indeed set the nation of Judah aside, taking for Himself a new people who were elect based on their humility before God, and not on their lineage. The prophecy of a new heaven and new earth has also been fulfilled. And those last words, which have continued to ring in my ears over last few thousand years, they too have been... ...well, you know...
Anyhow... ...thanks for hearing my story...
By the way... ...you wouldn't happen to have a glass of water... ...would you?
Even if you dipped the tip of your finger in water... ...it would cool my tongue... ...for I am tormented in this flame...
This story is written from the perspective of one of those mentioned in the last verse of the book of Isaiah, who “go forth and look upon” the men who are in the place where “the worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched.” It imagines the individual is listening to a former royal advisor of Manasseh, the wicked king of Judah who reigned during the last years of Isaiah’s life. The imaginary advisor is recounting how they read the contents of Isaiah 65 and 66 to the king, giving their interpretation. Although the advisors twisted Isaiah’s words, they correctly interpreted that the prophecy told of a new elect; that is, a new people of God also called a remnant. The story illustrates the change from an election based on national identity to an election based on the individual’s heart attitude.