Hope for the Heathen
Throughout his ministry Isaiah bore a plain testimony concerning
God's purpose for the heathen. Other prophets had made mention of the
divine plan, but their language was not always understood. To Isaiah it
was given to make very plain to Judah the truth that among the Israel of
God were to be numbered many who were not descendants of Abraham after
the flesh. This teaching was not in harmony with the theology of his
age, yet he fearlessly proclaimed the messages given him of God and
brought hope to many a longing heart reaching out after the spiritual
blessings promised to the seed of Abraham.
The apostle to the Gentiles, in his letter to the believers in Rome,
calls attention to this characteristic of Isaiah's teaching.
"Isaiah is very bold," Paul declares, "and saith, I was
found of them that sought Me not; I was made manifest unto them that
asked not after Me." Romans 10:20.
Often the Israelites seemed unable or unwilling to understand God's
purpose for the heathen. Yet it was this very purpose that had made them
a separate people and had established them as an independent nation
among the nations of the earth. Abraham, their father, to whom the
covenant promise was first given, had been called to go forth from his
kindred, to the regions beyond, that he might be a light bearer to the
heathen. Although the promise to him included a posterity as numerous as
the sand by the sea, yet it was for no selfish purpose that he was to
become the founder of a great nation in the land of Canaan. God's
covenant with him embraced all the nations of earth. "I will bless
thee," Jehovah declared, "and make thy name great; and thou
shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse
him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be
blessed." Genesis 12:2, 3.
In the renewal of the covenant shortly before the birth of Isaac,
God's purpose for mankind was gain made plain. "All the nations of
the earth shall be blessed in him," was the assurance of the Lord
concerning the child of promise. Genesis 18:18. And later the heavenly
visitant once more declared, "In thy seed shall all the nations of
the earth be blessed." Genesis 22:18.
The all-embracing terms of this covenant were familiar to Abraham's
children and to his children's children. It was in order that the
Israelites might be a blessing to the nations, and that God's name might
be made known "throughout all the earth" (Exodus 9:16), that
they were delivered from Egyptian bondage. If obedient to His
requirements, they were to be placed far in advance of other peoples in
wisdom and understanding; but this supremacy was to be reached and
maintained only in order that through them the purpose of God for
"all nations of the earth" might be fulfilled.
The marvelous providences connected with Israel's deliverance from
Egyptian bondage and with their occupancy of the Promised Land led many
of the heathen to recognize the God of Israel as the Supreme Ruler.
"The Egyptians shall know," had been the promise, "that I
am the Lord, when I stretch forth Mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out
the children of Israel from among them." Exodus 7:5. Even proud
Pharaoh was constrained to acknowledge Jehovah's power. "Go, serve
the Lord," he urged Moses and Aaron, "and bless me also."
Exodus 12:31, 32.
The advancing hosts of Israel found that knowledge of the mighty
workings of the God of the Hebrews had gone before them, and that some
among the heathen were learning that He alone was the true God. In
wicked Jericho the testimony of a heathen woman was, "The Lord your
God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath." Joshua 2:11.
The knowledge of Jehovah that had thus come to her, proved her
salvation. By faith "Rahab perished not with them that believed
not." Hebrews 11:31. And her conversion was not an isolated case of
God's mercy toward idolaters who acknowledged His divine authority. In
the midst of the land a numerous people--the Gibeonites --renounced
their heathenism and united with Israel, sharing in the blessings of the
No distinction on account of nationality, race, or caste, is
recognized by God. He is the Maker of all mankind. All men are of one
family by creation, and all are one through redemption. Christ came to
demolish every wall of partition, to throw open every compartment of the
temple courts, that every soul may have free access to God. His love is
so broad, so deep, so full, that it penetrates everywhere. It lifts out
of Satan's influence those who have been deluded by his deceptions, and
places them within reach of the throne of God, the throne encircled by
the rainbow of promise. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond
In the years that followed the occupation of the Promised Land, the
beneficent designs of Jehovah for the salvation of the heathen were
almost wholly lost sight of, and it became necessary for Him to set
forth His plan anew. "All the ends of the world," the psalmist
was inspired to sing, "shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and
all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee."
"Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out
her hands unto God." "The heathen shall fear the name of the
Lord, and all the kings of the earth Thy glory." "This shall
be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be
created shall praise the Lord. For He hath looked down from the height
of His sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth; to hear the
groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death; to
declare the name of the Lord in Zion, and His praise in Jerusalem; when
the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the
Lord." Psalms 22:27; 68:31; 102:15, 18-22.
Had Israel been true to her trust, all the nations of earth would
have shared in her blessings. But the hearts of those to whom had been
entrusted a knowledge of saving truth, were untouched by the needs of
those around them. As God's purpose was lost sight of, the heathen came
to be looked upon as beyond the pale of His mercy. The light of truth
was withheld, and darkness prevailed. The nations were overspread with a
veil of ignorance; the love of God was little known; error and
Such was the prospect that greeted Isaiah when he was called to the
prophetic mission; yet he was not discouraged, for ringing in his ears
was the triumphal chorus of the angels surrounding the throne of God,
"The whole earth is full of His glory." Isaiah 6:3. And his
faith was strengthened by visions of glorious conquests by the church of
God, when "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as
the waters cover the sea." Isaiah 11:9. "The face of the
covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all
nations," was finally to be destroyed. Isaiah 25:7. The Spirit of
God was to be poured out upon all flesh. Those who hunger and thirst
after righteousness were to be numbered among the Israel of God.
"They shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the
watercourses," said the prophet. "One shall say, I am the
Lord's; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another
shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the
name of Israel." Isaiah 44:4, 5.
To the prophet was given a revelation of the beneficent design of God
in scattering impenitent Judah among the nations of earth. "My
people shall know My name," the Lord declared; "they shall
know in that day that I am He that doth speak." Isaiah 52:6. And
not only were they themselves to learn the lesson of obedience and
trust; in their places of exile they were also to impart to others a
knowledge of the living God. Many from among the sons of the strangers
were to learn to love Him as their Creator and their Redeemer; they were
to begin the observance of His holy Sabbath day as a memorial of His
creative power; and when He should make "bare His holy arm in the
eyes of all the nations," to deliver His people from captivity,
"all the ends of the earth" should see of the salvation of
God. Verse 10. Many of these converts from heathenism would wish to
unite themselves fully with the Israelites and accompany them on the
return journey to Judea. None of these were to say, "The Lord hath
utterly separated me from His people" (Isaiah 56:3), for the word
of God through His prophet to those who should yield themselves to Him
and observe His law was that they should thenceforth be numbered among
spiritual Israel--His church on earth.
"The sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to
serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants,
everyone that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of
My covenant; even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them
joyful in My house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
shall be accepted upon Mine altar; for Mine house shall be called an
house of prayer for all people. The Lord God which gathereth the
outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to Him, beside those
that are gathered unto Him." Verses 6-8.
The prophet was permitted to look down the centuries to the time of
the advent of the promised Messiah. At first he beheld only
"trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish." Isaiah 8:22. Many
who were longing for the light of truth were being led astray by false
teachers into the bewildering mazes of philosophy and spiritism; others
were placing their trust in a form of godliness, but were not bringing
true holiness into the life practice. The outlook seemed hopeless; but
soon the scene changed, and before the eyes of the prophet was spread a
wondrous vision. He saw the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in
His wings; and, lost in admiration, he exclaimed: "The dimness
shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first He lightly
afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward
did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in
Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a
great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon
them hath the light shined." Isaiah 9:1,2.
This glorious Light of the world was to bring salvation to every
nation, kindred, tongue, and people. Of the work before Him, the prophet
heard the eternal Father declare: "It is a light thing that Thou
shouldest be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore
the preserved of Israel: I will also give Thee for a light to the
Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation unto the end of the
earth." "In an acceptable time have I heard Thee, and in a day
of salvation have I helped Thee: and I will preserve Thee, and give Thee
for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to
inherit the desolate heritages; that Thou mayest say to the prisoners,
Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves."
"Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north
and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim." Isaiah 49:6,
Looking on still farther through the ages, the prophet beheld the
literal fulfillment of these glorious promises. He saw the bearers of
the glad tidings of salvation going to the ends of the earth, to every
kindred and people. He heard the Lord saying of the gospel church,
"Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of
the Gentiles like a flowing stream;" and he heard the commission,
"Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the
curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and
strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and
on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles." Isaiah
66:12; 54:2, 3.
Jehovah declared to the prophet that He would send His witnesses
"unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, . . . to Tubal, and
Javan, to the isles afar off." Isaiah 66:19.
"How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings,
That publisheth peace;
That bringeth good tidings of good,
That publisheth salvation;
That saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!"
The prophet heard the voice of God calling His church to her
appointed work, that the way might be prepared for the ushering in of
His everlasting kingdom. The message was unmistakably plain:
"Arise, shine; for thy light is come,
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
"For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And gross darkness the people:
But the Lord shall arise upon thee,
And His glory shall be seen upon thee.
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light,
And kings to the brightness of thy rising.
"Lift up thine eyes round about, and see:
All they gather themselves together, they come to thee:
Thy sons shall come from far,
And thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side."
"And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls,
And their kings shall minister unto thee:
For in My wrath I smote thee,
But in My favor have I had mercy on thee.
Therefore thy gates shall be open continually;
They shall not be shut day nor night;
That men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles,
And that their kings may be brought."
"Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth:
For I am God, and there is none else."
Isaiah 60:1-4, 10, 11;45:22.
These prophecies of a great spiritual awakening in a time of gross
darkness are today meeting fulfillment in the advancing lines of mission
stations that are reaching out into the benighted regions of earth. The
groups of missionaries in heathen lands have been likened by the prophet
to ensigns set up for the guidance of those who are looking for the
light of truth.
"In that day," says Isaiah, "there shall be a root of
Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the
Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious. And it shall come to pass
in that day, that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to
recover the remnant of His people. . . . And He shall set up an ensign
for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather
together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the
earth." Isaiah 11:10-12.
The day of deliverance is at hand. "The eyes of the Lord run to
and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf
of them whose heart is perfect toward Him." 2 Chronicles 16:9.
Among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, He sees men and women who are
praying for light and knowledge. Their souls are unsatisfied; long have
they fed on ashes. See Isaiah 44:20. The enemy of all righteousness has
turned them aside, and they grope as blind men. But they are honest in
heart and desire to learn a better way. Although in the depths of
heathenism, with no knowledge of the written law of God nor of His Son
Jesus, they have revealed in manifold ways the working of a divine power
on mind and character.
At times those who have no knowledge of God aside from that which
they have received under the operations of divine grace have been kind
to His servants, protecting them at the risk of their own lives. The
Holy Spirit is implanting the grace of Christ in the heart of many a
noble seeker after truth, quickening his sympathies contrary to his
nature, contrary to his former education. The "Light, which
lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9), is
shining in his soul; and this Light, if heeded, will guide his feet to
the kingdom of God. The prophet Micah said: "When I sit in
darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. . . . He will bring me
forth to the light, and I shall behold His righteousness." Micah
Heaven's plan of salvation is broad enough to embrace the whole
world. God longs to breathe into prostrate humanity the breath of life.
And He will not permit any soul to be disappointed who is sincere in his
longing for something higher and nobler than anything the world can
offer. Constantly He is sending His angels to those who, while
surrounded by circumstances the most discouraging, pray in faith for
some power higher than themselves to take possession of them and bring
deliverance and peace. In various ways God will reveal Himself to them
and will place them in touch with providences that will establish their
confidence in the One who has given Himself a ransom for all, "that
they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but
keep His commandments." Psalm 78:7.
"Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive
delivered?" "Thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the
mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be
delivered." Isaiah 49:24, 25. "They shall be greatly ashamed,
that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, Ye are our
gods." Isaiah 42:17.
"Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope
is in the Lord his God!" Psalm 146:5. "Turn you to the
stronghold, ye prisoners of hope!" Zechariah 9:12. Unto all the
honest in heart in heathen lands--"the upright" in the sight
of Heaven--"there ariseth light in the darkness." Psalm 112:4.
God hath spoken: "I will bring the blind by a way that they knew
not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make
darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things
will I do unto them, and not forsake them." Isaiah 42:16.
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