Friday, April 24, 2020

A Christ-Centered, Cross-Shaped Interpretation of Isaiah 10:5-20


In a previous post, Luke 24 and Reading the Scriptures, I made the point that we ought always interpret the Scriptures in a Christ-centered, cross-shaped way. In this post, I seek to apply that to the interpretation of Isaiah 10.

In a literal reading of Isaiah 10:5-20, we see that God allows Assyria to come against God’s arrogant and oppressive people. Then he punishes Assyria for the willful pride and haughty eyes of Assyria and the king of Assyria. The “Light of Israel” will become a fire, the Holy One will be a flame that burns away proud Assyria. Then the remnant of Israel will return to God and rely on the “Holy One of Israel.”

Knowing Christ’s teaching, that the Scriptures are about him, and thus having the veil lifted from our heart, it is not difficult to identify Christ in this passage: He is the Light of Israel, the Holy One of Israel. And knowing that the Lord Jesus is the perfect expression of God’s being, in whom all the fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form, we must therefore reject any interpretation of Scripture that portrays God in any way that contradicts the revelation of God we have been given in Jesus Christ. God will not act in any way that contradicts how Christ acts and what Christ teaches, or else we should have to conclude that Christ is not really the full and perfect expression of God after all.

So if we read this passage as being about God taking retribution on his enemies, we are reading counter to Christ, who teaches us to love our enemies and do good to those spitefully use us. It is also counter to what Paul teaches us in Romans 12. Does God repay evil with evil? No! But God overcomes evil with good, which is precisely what Paul teaches us to do. So any idea of God doing harm to anyone runs counter to Christ and the gospel, and so, simply will not do. Otherwise, we end up worshiping a false god, a petty, Zeus-like deity. But the true God is like Christ.

But if we can only see in Isaiah 10 a god who does harm to anyone, then they are seeing a god who is not worth worshiping but a petty, jealous, self-centered, self-seeking deity who is quite different from Christ. For Christ loves his enemies, and love simply does not intend harm. Indeed, in the New Testament, we see, through Christ, that God is love. And harm is nowhere to be found in Christ’s example of love or in Paul’s description of it in 1 Corinthians 13. Christ does not overcome evil by hate or by harm but by the humility of the cross, and it is in the humility of the cross the we see the glory of God, grace of God, and love of God most fully revealed.

There may be several spiritual, Christ-centered interpretations about what is happening in Isaiah 10 and what Christ is doing there. But here is one that strongly impresses itself upon me: I see that there is a persistent theme of pride and arrogance, not only in the behavior of Israel but even moreso in the behavior of Assyria and the king of Assyria.

Willful pride and arrogance are spiritual enemies of the soul, and so enemies of the people of God. But God allows these spiritual enemies to test his people in order to break them of their own pride and arrogance so that they might return to God in reliance upon him. Then God deals with pride and arrogance itself through the one who is the Light, the Holy One of Israel. This is Christ, who is humble and lowly in heart, and who has conquered the pride and arrogance of the world through the humility of death on the cross.

I am reminded of Luke 22, where the disciples are arguing over which of them should be considered the greatest — they are behaving proudly and arrogantly. In verse 31-32, Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Satan wants to have at all the disciples, to “sift” and test them. Jesus does not prevent this, but he tells Simon Peter in particular that he has prayed for him that his faith will not be completely overthrown, so that when Simon recovers in his faith, he will be able to strengthen and stabilize the others in their faith.

This was on the night before the cross, and Jesus saw that pride and arrogance were testing his disciples. But, of course, through the humility of the cross, Christ destroyed the power of satan, the power of pride and arrogance.

In broad strokes, what I find in Isaiah 10 is God’s people are being sifted by pride and arrogance, but then pride and arrogance are destroyed by Christ, and the people of God return and trust in him. Spiritual enemies test them; the enemies are themselves destroyed; the people turn back to Christ; the people rely on Christ. The progression we see here is the progression we find in the Gospel.

This, then, is an interpretation that takes Isaiah 10 as being about Christ and is shaped by the contours of the gospel — it is Christ-shaped and cross-shaped, which is as it should be. And it does not portray God in a way that contradicts the way of Christ.

This way of interpreting is not a novel approach. The early Church Fathers approached texts like that in the same way I have done above. See, for example, how Origen interpreted the genocide texts in the book of Joshua (Reading With the Church Fathers (Part 3/3)). See also St. Gregory of Nyssa’s “Life of Moses” (it is not very long, and it can be found online).

Of course, no one is obliged to accept my interpretation of Isaiah 10, and I make no claim that it is the only legitimate one. In fact, I noted above that there may be many other legitimate interpretations. But any interpretation of Isaiah 10, or any other Old Testament Scripture, that portrays God in any way that contradicts the way and teaching of Christ ought to be rejected as unworthy of the Christian faith. That is because Jesus Christ is the perfect expression of God’s being (Hebrews 1:3). He is the one in whom all the fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form, so that whoever has seen Christ has seen the Father.

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