One of the more difficult tasks facing the interpreter is determining whether God has given the promise to the nation or to the individual. For example, in a passage discussed earlier in this series God says, “The LORD, the LORD, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.” It seems to me that this must apply to the nation in that the generation that sins does not experience God’s justice, but rather “the third and fourth generations.”
God speaking though the Psalmist says, “Who forgiveth all thine iniquity; who healeth all thy diseases.” If you apply this promise to the individual rather than the nation, you will conclude that God promises you will never contract a disease, and if you do, then God has failed in keeping His promise. When God promises, “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake; and thy sins I will not remember,” if we were Old Testament Jews, could we apply this individually? On what basis do you make the determination? Obviously, as a New Testament saint, you can claim a similar promise, for He said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” keeping in mind that you cannot assume that He will “not remember you sins.” In the New Testament, God speaks to the individual rather than the nation.
During the Monarchy, God made a promise to Hezekiah: “Go, and say to Hezekiah: Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father: I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears; behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.” Obviously, you cannot appropriate this promise, gaining assurance that you will live an additional fifteen years. Note, however, that God made this promise to an individual rather that the nation as a whole.
Look at another promise God made: “Bring ye the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall be more than sufficiency.” Here, you can easily run into trouble. Promises such as this were given to the nation, not to the individual. God did not guarantee that every individual who tithed would prosper temporally, and yet pastors frequently preach on this verse when emphasizing the importance of generosity.
Note a national promise frequently applied to the United States: “If My people, upon whom My name is called, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” God did not commit Himself to any nation other than Israel. Just as Old Testament Egypt had no right to claim this for herself, so also no country in existence today can make this claim, with the exception of Israel; only the nation of Israel can claim to be “My people, upon whom My name is called.”
During the days of the Old Testament, the individual follower of God could not claim for himself national promises, nor can His followers today. You must determine the promises God gave the nation of Israel vis-à-vis the individual, and then determine if you can legitimately claim the individual promise for yourself.
Continued reflections on Isaiah
In part 5 of this series I noted that if Hezekiah had an eternal hope he did not act like it when Isaiah came informing him that God was planning on taking his life. The book of Isaiah covers the same material. In Hezekiah’s poem of praise for the added fifteen years, he says: “In the noontide of my days I shall go, even to the gates of the nether-world (Sheol); I am deprived of the residue of my years. I said: I shall not see the LORD, even the LORD in the land of the living; I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world. My habitation is plucked up and carried away from me as a shepherd’s tent; I have rolled up like a weaver my life; He will cut me off from the thrum (loom); from day even to night wilt Thou make an end of me… For the nether-world (Sheol) cannot praise Thee, death cannot celebrate Thee; they that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy truth (grace).” If he is going to praise and worship God, it must be in the temporal life God gives. These do not sound like the words of a man who has an eternal hope – and Hezekiah was considered a good king.
I have no idea how the Old Testament Jews understood Isaiah 53, or how they saw it fit into the mosaic of God’s program for Israel. Some argue that the Jews saw this passage as part of the Suffering Servant motif in the latter part of Isaiah. To interpret verses such as, “But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed. All we like sheep did go astray, we turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath made to light on him the iniquity of us all… Therefore will I divide him a portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty; because he bared his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors,” as referencing Messiah paying the penalty for the individual’s sin, implies a promise of eternal life to the individual. As already noted, an eternal commitment to a sinful nation does not require the substitutionary death of Christ. Since the New Testament applies this to Christ, we conclude that either those in the Old Testament simply did not understand this passage, or God gave to the Old Testament people, but never recorded in Scripture, the promise of eternal life.
Beginning with Isaiah God offers to the individual the promise of a personal relationship as evidenced by passages such as: “For thus saith the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity (ad), whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit that enwrappeth itself is from Me, and the souls which I have made.” Earlier, King David said that God would not reject the contrite and humble spirit, but now God Himself says it. The passage comes short of offering eternal hope, but at least God takes note of the individual, offering him temporal hope.
Isaiah 61-62 gives Israel a beautiful hope, but it is temporal rather than eternal in nature. “And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall renew the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and aliens shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But ye shall be named the priests of the LORD, men shall call you the ministers of our God; ye shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their splendour shall ye revel… For as the earth bringeth forth her growth, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause victory and glory to spring forth before all the nations. Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken, neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate; but thou shalt be called, My delight is in her, and thy land, Espoused; for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be espoused. For as a young man espouseth a virgin, so shall thy sons espouse thee; and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee… Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed unto the end of the earth: say ye to the daughter of Zion: ‘Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.’” In the last issue we noted how Isaiah blends the temporal and eternal, but in these chapters, God makes no reference to the eternal. In chapter 65 He says, “I am creating a new heaven and a new earth,” but He does not blend the temporal and eternal in a material recreation. “The time cometh, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and shall see My glory… And they shall bring all your brethren out of all the nations for an offering unto the LORD… to My holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the LORD, as the children of Israel bring their offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD. And of them also will I take for the priests and for the Levites, saith the LORD. For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before Me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain.”
In part 2 of this series we briefly looked at repentance in the Old Testament, noting that in the Pentateuch God never calls upon people to repent, nor does He say that the nation must repent of her sin in order to maintain His covenant with her. Abraham may intercede on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, Moses on behalf of the nation, and Job on behalf of his friends, but God’s representatives never turn to man urging repentance.
Repentance, however, is a sine qua non for securing individual forgiveness as we move through the post-Pentateuch literature. Inner brokenness and contrition must be followed by the outward acts of turning away from evil and turning toward righteousness. Ritual acts, such as washings and sacrifices, have never, by themselves, found acceptance with God. “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? saith the LORD; I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before Me, who hath required this at your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more vain oblations; it is an offering of abomination unto Me; new moon and sabbath, the holding of convocations – I cannot endure iniquity along with the solemn assembly.”
So also today; baptism, church attendance, seeking His forgiveness, admitting that you are wrong – none of these can function as a substitute for inner brokenness and contrition followed by outward acts of turning away from evil and turning toward righteousness.
His servant… your friend,
 Exodus 34:6-7, JPS
 Psalm 103:3, JPS
 Isaiah 43:25, JPS
 1 John 1:9, KJV
 Isaiah 38:5, JPS
 Malachi 3:10, JPS
 2 Chronicles 7:14, JPS
 Isaiah 38:10-12, 18, JPS
 Isaiah 53:5-6, 12, JPS
 Isaiah 57:15-16, JPS
 Cf. Psalm 51:17
 Isaiah 61:4-6, 11, JPS
 Isaiah 62:4-5, 11, JPS
 Isaiah 65:17, JPS
 Isaiah 66:18, 20-22, JPS
 Genesis 18:23-33
 Exodus 32:11-13
 Job 42:7-9
 E.g., Isaiah 33:15
 E.g., Isaiah 1:17
 Isaiah 1:11-13, JPS