Isaiah 62:1-12 is one of the many prophetic passages in the Bible with many different layers of interpretation. In this instance, Isaiah is prophesying about the return of the Israelites from captivity approximately 60 years before they are taken into captivity and 130 years before their return. There are a few things about this prophecy that are indisputable. The Babylonian exile and God’s rescuing His people from their oppressors is clearly intended. Many believe that there was more, and that the prophecy extends to the gospel age. The triumphant march of previously exiled Jews back to Jerusalem from Babylon would represent the first level of interpretation of the prophecy. But the end-time march of Jews and Gentiles from all people and all tongues into the Kingdom of God would be the second level of interpretation.
Notwithstanding the level of interpretation, the powerful hand of God in delivering His people and His overarching Providence in their affairs is obvious. But even as we rejoice at, and celebrate the return of the exiled Jews, let us not forget the reason for their captivity in the first place. The Israelite’s favorite sin was idolatry, with all its ramifications and associated practices. Invariably, the tendency to fall into idolatry was rooted in the craving of the Israelites to be like the other nations, whereas God wanted them to be a peculiar people and a Holy Nation. It is no coincidence that the first of the Ten Commandments addresses the question of idolatry in Exodus 20:1-6.
Repeatedly, the Israelites broke God’s commands, especially regarding idolatry. Remember that even as God was writing the commandment on the tablets of stone with His own finger, Aaron and the Israelites were making a Golden Calf? God repeatedly gave them a “slap on the wrist”, but that was not enough. However, the Babylonian exile did the trick. When they returned, they were cured for good. There were no more recorded incident of national idolatry. It goes without saying that God can permanently cure us of any wrong ways, but it would be very painful. Instead He frequently uses incremental punishments in the hope that we would repent, return and be reconciled. “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” (Lamentations 3:22)
Another observation worth considering is that it breaks the heart of God to have to punish His people. There is a general air of excitement on God’s part to end the period of punishment and restore His people. There is celebration in the air for the big event. Preparations are extensive (Isaiah 62:10), reminiscent of the Father of the Prodigal Son killing the fatted calf and putting a robe on the back and a ring on the finger of his returning son (Luke 15:11-31). Every parent of sound mind who punishes a child feels the punishment, perhaps even more than the child. Much more God! He made us to have a good time with us… “Time out” is not just punishment for us, it is also time away from Him, and that is contrary to His plan for creating us in the first place.
Consistent with what we have already said is the fact that His disciplines are always redemptive and never purely punitive. Hebrews 12:6 tells us, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
Isaiah 62:6-7 provides an insight as to God’s desire for us to incessantly petition Him, even on matters that He has already predetermined. The exile was going to last for 70 years. That was prophesied. And yet God expected that he would be bombarded with petitions and given no rest until the desired breakthrough was received. In the New Testament we are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
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