The Cry of the Penitent Remnant

Isaiah 63:10-19
10 But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them.
11 Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him?
12 That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name?
13 That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble?
14 As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD caused him to rest: so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name.
15 Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory: where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me? are they restrained?
16 Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting.
17 O LORD, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servants’ sake, the tribes of thine inheritance.
18 The people of thy holiness have possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary.
19 We are thine: thou never barest rule over them; they were not called by thy name.

I see this as particularly holy ground, which has the mystery of Israel at its center-most heart. I see this as the prayer of the penitent remnant at the end, or very near the end of Jacob’s trouble. Verse 18 shows this to be the time that the restored sanctuary and temple service has been suddenly swept away after being only a short time back in Jewish hands. This represents an especially powerful kind of pleading on the part of a people who have become sensible of their long hardening (verse 17).

There is such humility here. The penitent remnant feel themselves so removed from the character of the Patriarchs as to be unworthy to be owned or recognized by them. They have now taken to themselves the dread sentence announced in the Song of Moses of a people that have put themselves beyond family recognition (“They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of His children: they are a perverse and crooked generation” (Deut 32:5). Notwithstanding, they are nonetheless sure of an abiding corporate election that can never depart from the nation, but now, they have become keenly aware that any individual’s participation in that election depends on a new nature that can only be obtained through personal repentance and faith unto transformation into the family likeness. Though strangers to the fathers, their prayer is that through the long awaited national repentance, they will not be stangers to God.

The penitent cry shows a consciousness for the necessity of a new nature. They are not crying out only for deliverance from the enemy who has come in like a flood; they are crying out for a return to that from which they have fallen, as individuals and as a people, namely, the family likeness, which, as Christians, we know to be the image of Jesus through regeneration of the Spirit. The language further shows that the penitent remnant is no longer looking to themselves, but to God to accomplish the necessary change, apart from which there can be no hope of deliverance.

This is manifestly the final eschatological deliverance that is always compared in the prophets to the first deliverance out of Egypt, since the deliverance that is needed can be no less miraculous than the parting of the mighty waters of the Red Sea.

One further thought, not directly related, but worth notice. Notice the penitent remnant pleads their election, not to substitute for the necessary repentance and holy fear that must accompany salvation, but as hope in the covenant that has promised this change to a people who have been, till that time, a disobedient and covenant forsaking people. In this irrevocable promise, they base their hope that God will act in their behalf, not only to deliver from the power of the enemy, but to accomplish “in” them the miracle of the promised new heart that should accompany the eschatological deliverance of the day of the Lord.

Now notice; this is the cry of a people who know themselves to belong to a nation that is called, “the people of your holiness,” even before they are made fit for the final inheritance. Yet, in themselves, they feel unworthy to be known or recognized by the fathers. Still, they know they belong to the people of the special election, over whom God has ruled and will rule again. Not the usurping invader, but the heir of the theocratic kingdom is the penitent remnant of Israel.

This is the remnant of the final repentance. As yet, the “people of His holiness” have not attained to the promise of an ‘everlasting righteousness’ (Jer 32:40; Dan 9:24), by which alone the Land can be inherited in abiding peace and security. This is clear, because the text implies that the holy places of the covenant have only recently been recovered to Jewish possession. What has so recently come back in Jewish hands is now stripped suddenly away to their utter shock and astonishment, as the holy city is overwhelmed and trodden down by the gentiles (Lk 21:24; Rev 11:2). This is clearly the time of Jacob’s trouble, which is also called the final ‘great tribulation’ (Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1; Mt 24:21; Rev 11:2). According to the Hebrew prophets, this is the capstone of the exile, which runs concurrently with Israel’s long time of departure from the covenant.

In other words, the eschatological treading down of Jerusalem does not come as persecution for righteousness, but because of sin. The temporary restoration of the holy places is not regarded by God as the result of covenant favor and blessing. On the contrary, it is the calm before the storm. The proverbial ‘rug’ is about to be suddenly, and unexpectedly pulled out from under the Jewish nation, precisely when it would have “appeared” that covenant obedience is being most fully restored in accordance with the Mosaic institutions. This is what the orthodox insist has been waiting in order to obtain the full blessing of God.

For many, it has been regarded as the one thing needful, whether by the Messiah’s direct hand, or as the necessary preparation for His coming. But just when pious covenant obedience seems at its height of earnest aspiration and commitment, the enemy is permitted to desecrate and tread down every hope that had been so lately raised. This is tragedy of the first magnitude. It breaks the heart just to contemplate what this will affect in the Jewish people, particularly the orthodox. What will this mean for Israel? Moreover, what should it mean to the church? What is God saying in this? How this will be interpreted will be decisive for much.

God is about to permit the highest and most noble of intentions to become the scene and the setting of the greatest demonstration of His disapproval of the Jewish nation’s best effort to establish righteousness apart from Christ, since what happens now is divinely intended to shake that vain confidence to its foundations. The church needs to see this, and we need to see it in the right way, else we risk the same fatal error.

But while we speak this way of God’s outstanding covenant quarrel with “the people of His holiness” (Lev 26:25), we hasten to add that this covenant contention intends to test and uncover the pride and presumption of the nations, and no less the church in the nations, for their disregard of God’s special election of Israel. God is holding the nations responsible to understand that regardless their spiritual condition, that “as pertaining to the election” (Ro 11:28), the very people who are presently enemies of the gospel, and singled out for the great discipline of Jacob’s trouble, are nonetheless beloved in this unique sense.

Though personally and nationally ‘unholy’ in the sense of regeneration, they are nonetheless rightly and justly called, “the people of your holiness” (Isa 63:18) in the sense of set apart. The nations and most of the church, do not get this. That is why so many will stumble, when judgment begins at the house of God. It is the mystery of election that sees God as just in His sovereign ‘right to choose as He will choose’ (Art’s term). He holds the sovereign prerogative to give an irrevocable election, whether it be concerning a Land or a people, even before, and independently of the necessary fulfillment of the conditions. Not because the conditions don’t require fulfillment, but because God is jealous for the source and cause of that fulfillment, that it be nothing of man, so that no flesh can glory. Why and how God is able to do this is at the heart of the mystery of electing grace.

It is His sovereign right to give a Land to a people on the basis of a future grace that He has pledged Himself to accomplish at the set time (Ps 102:13). And because God has said this, not in a corner, but of old time in the hearing of all nations, all will be held ultimately accountable, and all who raise the question, “has God really said,” in their defiance of the holy covenant, will learn the price of that question. It is this Word concerning the calling and election of Israel that is so intimately bound to the question of the gospel, as it concerns a righteousness that is independent of anything good in man.

The ‘controversy of Zion’ will made the watershed issue of the end, precisely because it so perfectly embodies this central issue in God’s controversy with Israel, the nations, and even the professing church concerning the only kind of righteousness that can stand in the presence of infinite holiness. He is very jealous for this, and will not spare anything that will be required to expose this ancient root, which is the strength and fountainhead of all rebellion and and all false religion.

To refuse to bow to the election of God is to bow down to another god, the idol of human self-determination. It manifests a self sufficient refusal of the knowledge of God. That is why I see this issue as the principal stone of stumbling that will test many hearts in these treacherous days of ultimate strong delusion.

Israel will be made willing in the day of His power (Ps 110:3), in the same way we were made willing by the Spirit’s drawing power (Jn 6:44), in the same way that it pleased God to reveal His Son in Paul at the set time (Gal 1:15-16). But because God has spoken so clearly and unequivocally concerning Israel’s special calling and election, particularly as it concerns the Land, the nations will be held ultimately accountable for their presumption. When they come down to scatter the people and divide the Land (Dan 11:39; Joel 3:2), this is precisely when His fury comes up in His face (Eze 38:17). It is an ultimate provocation. The church needs to know why this should be made the point of no return for the final judgment of the nations.

Probably in no small part because the prophetic Word has been so widely published during the first half of Daniel’s seventieth week, the nations are made particularly accountable for their defiance of the covenant, as it concerns the Land. We need to see why it should be so that at this point, something very significant to God has been arrogantly transgressed that is more than the usual sin of man (Isa 24:5). It is something concerning which the church has had little consciousness or interest (Ro 11:25). It is in no small part why the church has always been able to put itself above the natural branches, as though we are different by something of ourselves (1Cor 4:7).

Why then has God chosen to make so much of this at the end of the age? Why should so much be made of the Jew, and the Land in particular? What hath land to do with gospel? By itself, nothing, but since the issue of the gospel is the issue of grace, the issue of the Land represents a divine decision that is not based on behavior (Ro 9:11, 16). That is why the church should be the first to understand God’s right to speak and declare concerning the calling and election of a people (the ‘natural branches’) that can be rightly called holy even before they are holy (Ro 11:16). This is the supreme offense and insult to works righteousness. It was meant to be.

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