“You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means” is a quote that came to mind when I saw the new post by Nazarenes United For Peace. This quote was said by Inigo Montoya in the movie Princess Bride, to Vizzini in response to his continued use of the word “inconceivable.” I think that it may apply to Nazarenes United for Peace’s use of Isaiah 60:11 in response to the United States President Donald Trump’s position on border control and immigration.
I’ve already given my thoughts about Nazarenes United for Peace in another response to one of their posts, “An Altar Call” so I won’t go into it again here except to say that I don’t question the integrity or Christian commitment of any of the leaders of the group. I offer this response in a desire to help people properly apply Scripture instead of picking a verse that fits a view and using it in support of a position regardless of context, original meaning or universality (proof-texting).
One of this first things I noticed was how the LXX translated Isaiah 60:11:
And thy gates shall be opened continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; to bring in to thee the power of the Gentiles, and their kings as captives.
So ironically, contrary to a call for peace and peaceful entry of immigrants into the United States, this verse actually speaks of military victory and forceful enslavement of conquered kings.
Another thing that struck me after I read the rest of chapter 60 to understand the context of verse 11, was how if we were to actually apply this verse to modern United States of America, we would also need to equally apply the verses around it. What would that mean?
Build the Wall. Applying all of Isaiah chapter 60 equally would mean applying verse 10 which would support immigrants, or more accurately, conquered foes -now slaves- rebuilding the nation’s border walls. This goes a bit further than candidate Trump’s promise that Mexico would pay for the border wall. In Old Testament time, people of defeated nations would often be taken captive to serve the victors as slaves. Applying this today would perhaps mean instead of deporting illegal aliens, they would be rounded up to build the wall along the border.
Have a Military Parade. Applying the second half of verse 11 as we do the first half would mean that President Trump would get the parade that he asked his military leaders to explore. In the time of what we call the Old Testament, when a nation’s army returned victorious, they would parade through cities displaying their military might and the conquered Kings. This would be equivalent to the military parades we see China, North Korea and the former Soviet Union putting on to show off to the world the strength and power of their military machine.
Have a Strong Military-and Use It. Verse 12 goes on to describe how any nation that does not yield to Israel’s policies (“serve” them) would “perish”, be “utterly ruined.” Today, that would mean enforcing U.S. policy around the world through military force, causing other countries to “serve” the U.S. through its trade agreements, military treaties, and other policies or else face the full force of American military might.
The United States Would Become Rich. If we apply verse 5 equally as the other verses, we would see the wealth of the world come to the Unites States. Other nations would have to suffer diminished wealth as the U.S. grows more wealthy. This would fit into Trump’s desire to re-negotiate former trade agreements to better benefit the United States. It would be the commercial application of “America First.”
Of course, any scholarly reading of Isaiah 60 would not render the interpretation I pursued above, including that of verse 11 offered by Nazarenes United for Peace. We know that Isaiah 60 speaks specifically to the nation of Israel from verses like 14 when Isaiah writes that “all who despise” them “will call you the City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel.” But before we too quickly apply this passage to Old Testament Israel or even modern Israel, we have to understand that it is prophecy. So really, it extends beyond the people of Israel to Christians, but not American Christians, future Christians. As participants in the New Covenant, we’re grafted into the Old Testament prophecy of the future Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God Today. There is no denying that Christ ushered in the Kingdom of God. We become citizens of the Kingdom when we become true followers of Jesus Christ. There is, without question, an existence of the Kingdom of God in our world today as we experience the presence of God in the person of Jesus and the Spirit of Christ in the Holy Spirit. But as real and present the Kingdom of God is today (“already”) it hasn’t fully come (“not yet”) so we can’t apply all of the future prophecies of the Kingdom to today’s world.
Yes, we want to be Kingdom people. We want to live as though the Kingdom is fully come, because as citizens of the Kingdom -Kingdom People- that’s how we live, but that doesn’t make the Kingdom any more fully come.
The Kingdom of God to Come. The not yet of the Kingdom is yet to come. Its fullness is what we long for. It’s reality is what much of prophecy points to, including Isaiah 60. We can read prophecies like Isaiah’s and get a picture of what the future Kingdom will be like. We can read the Old Testament prophets and peer into the future. While we would love to experience today what is yet to come, no attempt to hasten the coming of the fullness of the Kingdom will make it happen. We can and should live as Kingdom People, but we still must wait for the Kingdom to fully come. We can’t apply future prophecy, particularly that which applies to Israel, to the United States of America.
So how should we understand Isaiah 60:11? As prophecy given to Israel, the People of God, looking forward to Zion’s restoration, when their gates no longer need to be closed in fear of external enemies, but rather open-both for commerce and as a display of victory. It’s a vision of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God when this world as we know it will cease and a world fully in line with the will and nature of God will come. It’s Israel’s future. It’s our future.
With all of that said, what more do we need to remember? Proper attention to context. Proper interpretation. Proper application. These are what is needed when we appropriate Scripture to support our political views.