Beyond Freedom

February 15, 2024

In that day, my Lord will apply His hand again to redeeming the other part of His people from Assyria—as also from Egypt, Pathros, Nubia, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the coastlands. (Isaiah 11:11)

In this verse, Isaiah prophesies regarding the redemption and the ingathering of the nation of Israel from exile, after being scattered among the nations of the world. There are Biblical scholars who misunderstand this prophecy as referring to the return to the land of Israel at the end of the Babylonian exile as recounted in the books of Ezrah and Nehemiah.

Not about the return from Babylon

This interpretation is demonstrably incorrect based on a number of textual indications, both in this verse, as well as in the verses that precede it.

For example, the earlier verses in this chapter describe the messianic age; a time when “the earth will be filled with knowledge of the Lord like water covers the sea” (Isaiah 11:8). This was certainly not the case at the time of the return from the Babylonian exile. At that time, it was only the Jewish people, a tiny nation, who had faith in the God of Israel. Christianity, which was responsible for the future spread of awareness of the God of Israel among the nations of the earth, would not begin until more than 500 years later. Anyone suggesting that these verses in Isaiah refer to the return from the Babylonian exile must ignore the description of worldwide knowledge of God included in this prophecy.

Furthermore, this verse itself includes further evidence that it cannot be describing the return to the land in the days of Ezra. Notice that the verse refers to “the remnant that will remain” from all these lands. These are the people that God will ingather at this time. The return to the land of Israel at the end of the Babylonian exile was not of a “remnant that remained” in those lands at all. As described in detail in the opening chapters of the book of Ezra, most Jews refused to return and chose to remain in exile. The phrase “the remnant that will remain” implies that those who are left over, the remnant, will be gathered into the land of Israel; not that the majority will remain after a small number return to the land.

Lastly, it was not until the 20th century that the lands listed in this verse saw their large Jewish communities almost completely empty out and come to Israel. Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Greece are described in this verse. All these lands and their surrounding areas had large Jewish communities up until the Second World War. After the war, the “remnant that remained” in these countries made their way, almost entirely, to the land of Israel.

Just in case what I have written is not convincing, let me sum it up this way. If we ask ourselves, which of the two historical periods is a better fit with the prophecy of Isaiah, the return from Babylon 2500 years ago or the return to Israel in the last century, the answer is clear.

We stand in awe as we witness the fulfillment of so many Biblical promises in our time.

“to acquire the remnant of His people…”

Our verse states that God will “acquire the remnant of His people…” “Acquire” is not a common word to describe the ingathering of Israel. The very next verse uses the more usual verbs “gather” and “assemble.”

This is a profound description of our relationship with God. It is reminiscent of a verse in Leviticus.

for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 25:55

We often think of our relationship with God as one of honor, praise, and gratitude. We love Him, worship Him, and fear Him. With all our devotion to God, do we really feel that we are His? That he owns us?

Beyond freedom

I would like to suggest that Isaiah chose to use this verb here precisely because of the context. When we think about the redemption of Israel from centuries of exile and persecution, instinctively we focus on the theme of freedom. After all, what is the Exodus from slavery in Egypt or the redemption and return of Israel from 2000 years of suffering in exile, if not a great emancipation – from bondage to freedom.

While this is true, we must always remember that the purpose of God’s redemption of His people is not for us to be free to live our lives according to our own desires. Rather, God redeems us from human masters and governments that are hostile to Godly values so that we will be able to serve Him and build His kingdom.

For this reason, as Isaiah describes the great ingathering of Israel, the redemption from the bondage of exile to the freedom of return to the promised land of Israel, Isaiah reminds us what freedom is really about. Yes, God will bring us out of exile. Yes, He will restore Israel to the Holy Land. But he is “acquiring” His people. They are redeemed so that they may serve Him.

When God saves us from our sufferings and bondage to human masters, He does so not so that we may live lives of our own choosing. God saves us to acquire us and make us His servants.

 

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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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