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The End From the Beginning

CONTENTS

PREFACE

INTRODUCTION

Current Views on Ancient Writings
Evidence for One Author of the Book of Isaiah
Overlooked Themes and Theologies
A Complex Message Made Simple

1. VISIONS OF THE END OF THE WORLD

A Pattern of Hebrew Prophecy
The Prophetic Pattern in Israel’s History
Core Ideas of Classical and Apocalyptic Prophecy
Ancient Names Act as Codenames
Types of a Future Worldwide Judgment
Assyria and Egypt—Types of Superpowers
The Dual Relevance of Classical Prophecy

2. MESSAGES ENCODED IN STRUCTURE

Structure and Content—Two Dimensions
Trouble at Home, Exile Abroad, Happy Homecoming
A Distinction between History and Prophecy
Apostasy, Judgment, Restoration, Salvation
Threat One, Threat Two, Threat Three
The Curses and Blessings of God’s Covenant
Destruction of the Wicked/Deliverance of the Righteous
Isaiah’s Literary Structures Reveal a Divine Plan

3. A CYCLICAL REPETITION OF HISTORY

The Past Foreshadows the Future
A Future Chronology of Past Events
Israel’s Ancient Apostasy as a Type
The End-Time—Doomsday for the Wicked
Millennial Peace for the Righteous
What Has Been Shall Be Again

4. GOD’S COVENANT WITH ISRAEL

Conditional and Unconditional Covenants
The Meaning of Covenant Making
Israel Is Responsible for Herself
The Role of the King in Israel
God’s Covenant with King David
Israel in Exile among the Gentiles
God Makes a New, Millennial Covenant

5. ZION AND BABYLON IDEOLOGIES

Isaiah’s Seven-Part Literary Structure
Both a Prophecy and a Theology
Ruin & Rebirth (Isaiah 1–5; 34–35)
Rebellion & Compliance (Isaiah 6–8; 36–40)
Punishment & Deliverance (Isaiah 9–12; 41–46)
Humiliation & Exaltation (Isaiah 13–23; 47)
Suffering & Salvation (Isaiah 24–27; 48–54)
Disloyalty & Loyalty (Isaiah 28–31; 55–59)
Disinheritance & Inheritance (Isaiah 32–33; 60–66)
Isaiah’s Structures Establish Two Timeframes
Zion and Babylon—Opposing Archetypes

6. THE TYRANT AND THE SERVANT

The Tyrant Conquers the World
Personifications in Metaphor
Isaiah’s Subliminal Messaging
The Servant Possesses Many Types
A Righteous Heir of King David
Jewish Messianic Expectations

7. ISAIAH’S LADDER TO HEAVEN

Isaiah—Prophet and Theologian
An Ascending and Descending Order
Passing God’s Tests
Symbolic Names of Three Sons
The Saving Role of God’s Servants and Sons
Unimpeded Progress Upward
Descent before Ascent

8. THE SAVIOR-GOD OF ISRAEL

God Is Bound by Covenant Relationships
Death—The Common Enemy
God’s Covenant Lays the Groundwork
Jehovah Becomes Israel’s Proxy Savior
Animal Sacrifice—A Type of Jehovah’s Sacrifice
Jehovah Assumes Multiple Saving Roles
Jehovah’s Earthly Mission as Humanity’s Savior
Israel’s Savior Fulfills the Law of Justice
A Reversal of Circumstances at the End of the World

9. THE END-TIME “DAY OF JEHOVAH”

Parallel New Testament Prophecies
A Polarization of All People
The Literal Fulfillment of Prophecy
Righteousness Precedes Salvation
The Past—A Pattern of the Future
Distinct Roles of Men and Women
A Brief Warning before the End

THE BOOK OF ISAIAH

SELECTED REFERENCE WORKS

Excerpts

The core ideas of apocalyptic prophecy—prophecy about the end of the world—in fact, form essentially the same pattern as those of classical prophecy: when God’s people and the nations of the world turn to wickedness and don’t repent, they suffer destruction and captivity at the hands of a world power from the North; those who repent of wrongdoing, on the other hand, God delivers from enemies and they live on into a millennial age of peace. The positive aspects of prophecy, in other words, never stand alone; there are always two sides to the story. (Chapter One, The End from the Beginning.)

The pattern of prophecy—the core ideas all Hebrew prophecies have in common—tells us there is but one “Day of Jehovah” or “Day of the Lord” that fulfills all prophecy. That “Day of Jehovah,” a day still future, has precedents in ancient times that foreshadowed what would happen again. The great future “Day of Jehovah” will be like the times of destruction and deliverance in the days of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others. That one “Day of Jehovah” alone, however, will fulfill all prophetic expectations, negative and positive. This is what John saw and encoded in his book. (Chapter One, The End from the Beginning.)

When we apply classical prophecy in general to the end of the world just as we do apocalyptic prophecy, certain paradoxical problems disappear. So-called “failed prophecies,” or those that were fulfilled only partially in the past, are prophecies actually awaiting an end-time fulfillment. Prophecies of a millennial peace don’t exist in isolation but are inseparable from prophecies of God’s worldwide judgment. World powers called by ancient names are types of modern world powers who fulfill similar roles as those in the past. (Chapter One, The End from the Beginning.)

Names of particular nations may not help much in understanding a prophet’s vision, especially a vision of the end of the world. The prophets can’t tell us the literal names of end-time world powers—America, Russia, China, and so forth. That would be too easy, leaving no room for people to exercise faith. In fact, in our day the world powers the prophets mention no longer exist. While there may be a modern Persia, Greece, or Egypt, such nations resemble the old only in name, location, and possibly some ethnic identity. Today, they are relatively insignificant political powers on the world stage compared to the ones the prophets saw. The prophets’ visions of the future reflect those nations’ ancient roles as major world powers, not the roles, if any, of their modern namesakes. So if we try to identify modern Egypt with ancient Egypt or modern Iraq with ancient Babylon, for example, we are bound to get confused. We need to find another way to interpret these names of nations. (Chapter One, The End from the Beginning.)

Like all good literature, Hebrew prophecy isn’t one-dimensional. It uses multiple means to communicate the word of God, and it consists of more than just predictions about the future. The writings of many Hebrew prophets are carefully structured. In no instance is this more apparent than in the Book of Isaiah. In his writings, Isaiah has captured the past and the future, the earthly and the heavenly, prophecy and theology all in one. (Chapter Two, The End from the Beginning.)

Central to helping you understand Isaiah is that a literary structure of the book conveys its own message, over and above what you read on the surface. Just as we use a different form for a letter than for a poem, a short story, or a contract, so the different ways in which the prophet organizes his material tells us something about his intent. A structure that progressively develops one idea upon another is different from a simple sequence or chain of ideas. A structure that consecutively alternates themes, like chaos and creation, differs from a series of themes that are linked together domino fashion. Another kind of structure, called a chiasm, may have a central idea to which the surrounding ideas relate in some way. (Chapter Two, The End from the Beginning.)

Parallels between God’s covenant with Israel and ancient Near Eastern emperor–vassal covenants provide added insights into the nature of God’s covenant. Ancient Near Eastern covenant documents spell out many things that are taken for granted in the cultural background of the Bible. In covenants made between Near Eastern emperors and their vassal kings, for example, an emperor served as his vassal kings’ “lord” and “father,” while a vassal served as the emperor’s “servant” and “son.” Under this feudal system, the emperor granted the vassal king a land—a promised land—over which to rule. When the vassal kept the emperor’s law or terms of the covenant, good fortune or covenant blessings would result. (Chapter Four, The End from the Beginning.)

Covenants that God makes define his relationship with his people and with individuals. As God expects of Israel, he himself acts at all times within the framework of the covenants he has made. In fact, God does nothing, either anciently or in the end-time, unless it conforms with the covenant relationships within which he operates. Even when God intervenes in human history, his actions stem from covenant relationships that create the occasion for such intervention. (Chapter Four, The End from the Beginning.)

Isaiah’s seven-part and other holistic structures add an entirely new dimension for interpreting the prophecy of Isaiah. Linear and synchronous structures establish two different timeframes for things once thought to relate only to the past. While linear structures, such as Trouble at Home, Exile Abroad, and Happy Homecoming, deal with events that take place over long periods of time, synchronous structures, such as Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure, deal with a single timeframe—the “Day of Jehovah” or “Day of the Lord” at the end of the world. (Chapter Five, The End from the Beginning.)

Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure depicts the two main human actors in Israel’s end-time drama as God’s servant or vassal, on the one hand, and the king of Assyria—also called the king of Babylon—on the other. (Assyrian conquerors of Babylon anciently titled themselves “king of Babylon.”) One establishes Zion, preparing a people for the coming of their God and King. The other destroys Babylon, the very world he epitomizes and represents. Isaiah’s structure depicts these two human actors as powers of creation and chaos, respectively—one acts as a force for good in the world, the other of evil. They resemble two arch-opponents pitted against each other, like Horus and Seth of Egyptian mythology, or like a latter-day David and Goliath. (Chapter Six, The End from the Beginning.)

Chaos and creation patterns in Isaiah’s structure show that chaos will prevail briefly in the earth. Chaos will overwhelm the world as a consequence of wickedness. The king of Assyria/Babylon may burn up cities and destroy the nations of the wicked. He may plunder peoples’ wealth and confiscate their riches. In reality, however, he acts as God’s instrument to pay the wicked their due. He has one purpose—to rule the world. But God has another. This tyrant of tyrants will serve God’s purpose and then he and his chaotic works will come to an end. (Chapter Six, The End from the Beginning.)

Adding to this use of pseudonyms, Isaiah selects an entire array of metaphors to reveal, subliminally, more details of the archtyrant’s end-time activities. Thus, God chooses the king of Assyria as his rod and staff to punish the wicked of the world. The archtyrant is God’s axe and saw that hews down evildoers who oppress God’s people. Isaiah likens the proud and arrogant peoples of the earth to lofty cedars and mighty oaks, which the archtyrant lays low. Cities resemble dense forests, and proud nations resemble high mountains, which the archtyrant levels to the ground. (Chapter Six, The End from the Beginning.)

Isaiah develops his theology of spiritual ascent by means of literal persons and events of his day, thus providing us with role models of a spiritual hierarchy. Just as Isaiah uses literary devices to prophesy the end of the world, so he uses them to develop important theological concepts, demonstrating these concepts with actual characters out of history. Living persons, in effect, illustrate different spiritual levels, and different spiritual levels reveal Isaiah’s theology of ascent. It is a pity and not a little surprising, therefore, that scholars have not discerned Isaiah’s prophecy for what it is. Nor have they discerned his theology. What they have seen has been the exterior, the persons and events themselves. On that basis, they have attempted to interpret Isaiah’s writings and have missed the essence of what the persons and events represent. (Chapter Seven, The End from the Beginning.)

All covenant contracts entered into are binding upon the parties to the covenant, whether those parties are individuals or God’s people as a whole. But they also bind God himself. When God makes a covenant to deliver his people from a mortal threat, he must do so when his people keep the covenant’s terms. Examples include God’s intervention in the days of Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, and Hezekiah—when they and their peoples proved faithful to God. In each case, God delivered his people, even in the face of overwhelming odds. (Chapter Eight, The End from the Beginning.)

A great polarization of the righteous and the wicked will occur in that day. As in the vision of John, Isaiah’s Seven-Part Structure identifies Babylon as all that is not Zion, or that is not affiliated with Zion. People in each camp will be compelled to choose for or against God as all middle ground vanishes. Their own choices will seal upon them their deliverance or destruction. As God took Lot out of Sodom and the Israelites out of Egypt, as he delivered King Hezekiah’s people from the Assyrians, so he will prepare a way of escape for his covenant people from the calamities that will come. (Chapter Nine, The End from the Beginning.)

Outside of these covenant agreements, wherever life exists, there is no salvation. In other words, “deliverance” and “salvation” don’t just happen when we try to be good. Just as there are different kinds of salvation—from the many predicaments we find ourselves in—so there are different requirements for salvation, depending on what spiritual level we live. Covenant blessings increase dramatically as we ascend the ladder, and divine protection is one of them. As those on higher levels meet with escalating challenges, so the need for deliverance grows greater. To deliver or save others, however, itself aids a person’s ascent. Thus, those already delivered deliver others, who deliver others; and so forth. (Chapter Nine, The End from the Beginning.)

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