The 61st chapter of Isaiah was the first lesson for our Saturday Morning Prayer as set by the American Prayer Book’s 1943 lectionary. Within this OT chapter was a number of verses describing the blessings of the coming Restoration. To help clarify these select passages. the NT reading was given as Luke 4. Here, the Lord reads the same chapter of Isaiah to the Nazarite synagogue, ending at the third verse (‘the accepted day of God’). Jesus then closes the scroll and declares, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled”. Consequently, I’d like to understand this prophecy in the context of Luke, meaning it speaking of the believing Jews around Christ rather than omitting such solely in favor of a latter-day revelation of Lost Israel. This was standard fare in the late 18th-century.
The 1611 King James Version sums this section as the ‘blessings of the faithful’. The verses from Isa. 61.4-9 therefore reads:
“4. And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. 5 And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the aliens shall be your plowmen and your vine-dressers. 6 But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, ,and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves. 7 For your shame ye shall have double; and for confusion they shall rejoice in their portion: therefore in their land they shall possess the double: everlasting joy shall be unto them. 8 For I the Lord love judgment, I hate robbery for burnt offering; and I will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed.”
Identity students would be quick to ask who are the strangers, Gentiles, and Priests mentioned? Looking back at our usual 18th-century commentators, the Rev. Thomas Scott evidently has the most to say about these verses. Scott is also fairly open to treating the double-portion as having dual significance for Israel. Let’s look at Scott’s expository.
“raise the former desolations”: Starting at the beginning of the fourth verse in the above chapter, Scott credits the building of old wastes to the ‘happy effect of the gospel’ whereupon the desolation of wicked teachers will be corrected by the preaching of the apostles and primitive evangelists. Scott is quick to point out Zion’s re-establishment is primarily spiritual, or ought to be counted for the rising of the Christian Church. However, the beginnings of the Church is in Galilee and Judea, among those Jews, were only the rudiment of what would become the catholic church:
“some think, that this passage predicts the return of the converted Jews to their own land, and settling again in it: but it seems rather, from the context, to be a figurative description of the happy effects of the gospel in primitive times. Spiritual worship and true holiness had been at a very low ebb for some ages, when our Lord entered on his ministry. Those ‘blind guides’, the Scribes and Pharisees, had made ‘void the commandments of God by their traditions’ and Interpretations. The Sadducees also, by their infidel principles, had increased these desolations. But the apostles and primitive evangelists, having been humbled, comforted, and sanctified by our Lord’s, and by the pouring out of his Spirit, where employed to build up what was decayed and gone to ruins. By the blessing of God on their labors, ‘many tens of thousands’, among the Jews, became humble disciples of Christ, and spiritual worshipers of God through him. And by the conversion of the Gentiles, the church was replenished with multitudes of believers, immensely greater than had ever been known, even before the ‘desolations of many generations’. Thus Zion was built up, and her desolated cities rose from their ruins”
For now, Scott situates this prophecy in the first years of the early Church. Meanwhile, Bishop Simon Patrick– a slightly older author and contributor to the ‘high church’ work Commentary and Paraphrase– likewise presses the same time frame and the imperative to read such as spiritual. But, he also reserves a literal, latter-day Restoration beyond the immediate Pentecostal rising of the Church, making something of a dual fulfillment:
‘”We interpret this in a spiritual sense, of repairing what is decayed by ignorance and corruption: we suppose the Jews, after their conversion, to return to their own land, an opinion countenanced by several prophecies in the Old Testament, we may fitly explain this text of their re-edify their ancient inhabitants“.
This is quite significant for a Bishop in the Church of England to hold such Restorationist views fifty-years before Scott. Perhaps the eschatology of some non-conforming Presbyterians rubbed off? But by the 1730’s it’s table talk. Our late 18th-century methodist scholar, Dr. Adam Clarke, agrees the passage belongs to the Gospel Age rather than the days of Ezra or Nehemiah. Clarke similarly leaves a restoration of Jews in the Land as an open possibility even long after the Apostles. Hence, Clarke observes,
“It seems that these words cannot refer to the Jews in the Babylonish captivity, for they were not there many generations; but it may refer to their dispersions and state of ruin since the advent of our Lord; and consequently this may be a promise of the restoration of the Jewish people.”
“strangers and aliens”: As the text continues into the 5th verse, there’s a sense of Jewry, or the seed of David, exercising rule and being exalted by the service of foreigners. However, this only applies to converted not unbelieving Jewry. Nor should we take the description of plowmen as entirely derogatory or meanly servile. Instead, most commentators see the plowmen and vine-dressers as the rising of the early Church within Gentilism, namely, the calling of the Apostles and early Evangelists who initially finally left the bounds of the Levant to go to the Gentiles. While we might narrow the meaning of this verse, even use it as a prescription for slavery, recall a figurative or spiritual ought be searched out since even Christ said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled”. .
At any rate, it’s plain the ‘strangers’ are mostly Gentiles,. Patrick says, quoting St. Paul, “By strangers and aliens be meant those gentiles who are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise” But, the labor of aliens (or Gentiles) isn’t necessarily onerous tribute. It also belongs to a spiritual fruit borne by ministry. In fact, later in the section we have a sense of both Jew and Gentile serving and feeding one another– reminiscent of Matt 20:16, “So the last shall be first, and the first last”. Anyway, here’s Patrick’s judgement how Jew and Gentile relate in the sense of mutual service, beginning in the Book of Acts yet concluding also in a latter-day conversion:
“But I must not conceal as ingenious exposition of these two verses, communicated to me by a learned friend, as this purpose. First of all (so he interprets), the gentiles shall ministers, and feed the flock, i.e., the church; whose office is likewise expressed here, by their having plowmen and vine-dressers; as the church is called God’s vineyard., and believers, his husbandry, or tillage. Afterward, you Jews shall be converted and become ministers of the church, and the gentiles shall make a plentiful provision for you, as priests under the law were maintained by the sacrifices and offerings which were brought to the temple: and yourselves [Godly Jews] having been made partakers of that grace and knowledge for which the gentiles so much value themselves, you [Godly Jews] shall become the glorious instruments for converting the remainder of them, who as yet continue in unbelief.
So, the gentiles share in the priesthood like Levites or Priests. They even provide the means that believing Jews might convert their unfaithful brethren. Indeed, Gentiles are joined with all the spiritual benefits as any branch of Israel. Scott expresses the same idea of ’tillage’ and ‘dressing’ belonging to ministers is told:
“The strangers and aliens, thus brought into the church, were not only useful to the apostles, evangelists, and Jewish converts, by ‘their temporal things’ and outward services, to which the language next used seems restricted: but they were ordained as elders over the churches planted by the apostles and evangelists; and thus, in a spiritual sense, fed their flocks, and became their plowmen and vine-dressers; that is, they were stated pastors over the sheep of Christ and laborers in his husbandry and vineyard.”
Regarding ‘temporal things’ and ‘outward services’, Mr. Joseph Benson, gives a sense how the Gentiles ultimately enriched the Temple of the Lord or ‘provided a plentiful provision’ to Judea or the Jewish Church. His insight is interesting because it stamps approval upon Establishment:
“This accordingly came to pass: Christianity, from being considered as the greatest infamy, and being loaded with the greatest shame, came into the highest repute when Constantine became emperor and received the highest honors that could possibly be paid, and was, as it were, loaded with glory, riches and honor.”
“shall possess a double” & “their seed shall be known nations”: While the aforesaid office of Priest belongs to all Christians, there is a ‘restricted’ or ‘peculiar’ sense it applies to natural Israelites. Not only are the first ministers and superintendents for the early church Galilean and Judahite, but they have the honor of being ancient & continuous keepers of writ, the law, and the prophets. Thus, there is the honor of both past and future– the Mosaic title as well as the Gospel one. Scott says,
“Yet some peculiar distinctions were reserved to the Jewish converts. All the apostles, and all the writers of the New Testament, were of that nation, unless Luke be an exception, as it probably he was. The first pastors and ministers from among the Gentiles, were ordained to that office, by the apostles and Jewish evangelists, and were under their immediate superintendency. This distinction might be figuratively alluded to, when it was said, ‘Ye shall be named the priests of the Lord; men shall call you ministers of our God‘… Thus the riches of the Gentiles were brought into the church and the poor converts of the Jews possessed the substance of all, in which these had gloried: while the Gentiles were admitted to share the spiritual things:”
The ‘double portion’ according to Scott is the Jews ancient peculiarity:
“These verses may predict in general the extensive and permanent success of the Gospel in the world. Instead of that contempt which the worshipers of Jehovah had experienced from their neighbors they would receive a double portion of honor and respect from the Gentile converts to Christianity. Believers and preachers of the Jewish nation would be peculiarly regarded even in those lands, where they had formerly met with injury and ignominy; and this joyful change would endure to the end, and for ever. “
Bp. Patricks, and others, also refer to this double portion with the motif of being ‘firstborn’. Converted Jewry are not only elder brothers in the Christian church, but they likewise possess the land given to Abraham. Says Patrick:
“As the firstborn had a double share in his father’s estate; so the Jews, when converted to the Christian faith, will recover their birthright, which they had forfeited by their infidelity, as Esau did, and be esteemed as the first born, or elder brethren in the church of God. The apostate and Jewish converts had this birthright or precedency, in primitive times: and indeed the scriptures, almost all written by Israelites, and in every age received by Christians of all nations as ‘the oracles of God’, give this double honor to them. The restoration also of the converted Jews to their own land, where they shall permanently enjoy their double, seems to be predicted. “Ye shall inherit the land a second time”– Septuagint.
The idea of being peculiar or distinct implicates national identity in general. Here, Clarke excuses peculiarity of a people in a general way. This might be very true for certain Gentile people as well, like Anglo-Saxons:
“Both Jews and Gentiles are to make but one fold under the one shepherd, Christ Jesus. But still, notwithstanding this, they may retain their peculiarity and national distinction; so that though they are known to be Christians, yet they shall appear to be converted Jews. After their conversion to Christianity this will necessarily be the case for a long time. Strange nations are not so speedily amalgamated, as to lose their peculiar cast of features, and other national distinctions“.
Conclusion: While the authors cited weigh heavily in favor (or open to) of a latter-day Restoration, the immediate fulfillment surely belongs to the early Church and context of Christ’s declaration, “today this scripture is fulfilled”. We can be confident of such.l Rather than the land and literal cities being built, Christ is speaking himself as the highest truth and object of Abraham’s religion. This we cannot deny. Other propositions we should keep and remain fixed upon include–
- The early Church, its first ministers, was mostly composed of Galilean-Jewish converts. The was the second (and likely greater) part in the double blessing for the believing Jews. The other half was being historical children of Jacob.
- Lost Israel had been divorced and left to Gentilism. The bulk of the ten-tribes were not in Judea at the time of Christ declaration, and like Samaritans probably retained mixed traditions at best and over time. More of that below.
- the restoration of the Jewish Church is being chiefly spoken about in this Chapter of Isaiah, but an eye is given to latter-days, according to our writers.
- by the fullness of the Gentiles all Israel shall be saved. This is a double honor in many respects– yes, in historic dignity but also a possible return to land at a providential date.
- the recipients of the double-portion are believing not unconverted Jews. This is where many dispensationalist go astray, and a difference of opinion existed within the Victorian-era Prussian and English Episcopate at Jerusalem.
- there is a peculiarity among nations which serves providential ends. Christian Jews, as much as Anglo-Saxons, have been examples of such.
Regarding the relation of the Lost Tribes to these Promises, I am still deliberating. If the Samaritan is a type of “Lost Israel”, did they receive the same double honor as the titular tribe of Judah? Indeed, the Samaritan’s father was also Jacob. How far to Gentilism were the bulk of the 10-tribes given over? I think these relevant questions at this point. The unity of Israel in the land of the patriarchs came VERY close with the Joint-Episcopate during the 1870’s. But I believe it was derailed by historical Zionism resisting the British mandate in Palestine which was the backbone?