In this chapter, Isaiah proclaims God's welcome of foreigners and outcasts in his Jerusalem temple, and affirms that he will restore end-time Israel to the land. But he also has to rebuke Israel's leaders and warn them that judgment will come first.
The previous chapter extended an open invitation to all, including Gentiles, to come and celebrate God's wedding feast, if only they will abandon their wicked lifestyles and return to the Lord. God desires not only a remarriage to Israel, but to include Gentiles in his new covenant relationship. Here in chapter 56, Isaiah proclaims God's welcome of foreigners and outcasts in his Jerusalem temple, and affirms that he will restore Israel to the land. But he also has to rebuke Israel's leaders and warn them of judgment, that wild animals are first going to come and devour Israel's flock.

Given the position of this chapter within the Book of Isaiah, it is reasonable to view this as ultimately speaking about the millennial temple. However, Jesus related this chapter to the use of the second temple that existed during his earthly ministry 2,000 years ago. God's desire for this temple is expressed in verse 7, "my temple will be known as a temple where all nations may pray", which Jesus quoted to the Pharisees in Matthew 21:13 after he had driven out the merchants and money changers from its outer court. We must therefore recognise this chapter as applicable to Isaiah's generation and onwards, including during the Millennium.

In the Old Testament, only Levites could serve as priests, and according to Leviticus 21:18-20, anyone with any kind of physical defect was also excluded, including anyone who was blind, or lame, or had damaged testicles. So eunuchs were one category of people who were excluded from the priesthood, even if they were Levites. However, Isaiah 56 stresses that anyone is welcome in God's temple, including foreigners and eunuchs, as long as they truly worship God and follow his laws. It does not affirm them as priests, but it certainly affirms that they are welcome to pray in the temple, and that their offerings will be accepted on God's altar (v7). God even promises to honour eunuchs with a permanent monument in the temple (v5). Sadly, Israel's record of applying this welcome to foreigners and 'outcasts' was poor. When Israel and the temple were restored after the Babylonian exile, Nehemiah 13:1-3 records that they excluded all foreigners from Israel, based on a prohibition against Ammonites and Moabites in the law. They went back to the law of Moses, but ignored the later revelation of Isaiah.

After Jesus quoted this passage to the Pharisees, he made a deliberate point of healing the blind and lame who came to him in the temple, as recorded in Matthew 21:13-14, "My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are turning it into a den of robbers! The blind and lame came to him in the temple courts, and he healed them". These were people who were excluded from the priesthood, but Jesus wanted to prove his point that God welcomed them in the temple, as per Isaiah 56.

The Apostle Paul expounds upon this chapter in Ephesians 2:10-13, "For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them. Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh – who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands – that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ". God has given us Gentiles good works to do, to offer back to God as acceptable offerings. Paul even goes on to explain that we are being built into a new holy temple in the Lord, with Jesus as the cornerstone.

Although as Christians, we are being built into a spiritual temple of the Lord, (Ephesians 2:21), it is clear from many passages that Jesus will also rebuild a physical temple in Jerusalem during the Millennium. In Hebrews 10, the author explains that Jesus became our perfect sacrifice and that we receive forgiveness through his blood. Verse 18 says, "Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin". So although Isaiah 56 is a portrayal of the millennial temple, blood sacrifices will not be necessary as sin offerings. Perhaps they will offered as thank offerings, or as reminders of Christ's sacrificial death.

Having focussed on God's welcome of foreigners and outcasts, Isaiah then focusses back on Israel. In verse 8, he reaffirms that God will gather the dispersed of Israel, implying their return to the land. But then in verses 9 to 12, he has to warn Israel that 'wild animals' are first coming to devour her. Isaiah rebukes the watchmen (v10), who represent Israel's spiritual leaders. They are like mute guard dogs - their job is to bark a warning, but instead they just focus on satisfying their appetites and love to snooze. Likewise, Isaiah rebukes the shepherds (v11) who represent Israel's political leaders. They should be protecting their flocks, but instead they are focussed on their own monetary gain, and on their alcoholic indulgences. The implication is that Israel is first going to be scattered, because wild animals are coming and the people responsible for protecting the flock will all be caught off guard, either sleeping or drunk. Consequently, in Matthew 23, when Jesus was preaching to crowds in the temple area, he pronounced multiple woes against the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, and ended by prophesying renewed judgment on Israel. Matthew 23:37-39 says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it! Look, your house is left to you desolate! For I tell you, you will not see me from now until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!". As Isaiah ministered in about 700 BC, not only did he foresee the Babylonian exile, but also Israel's desolation by the Romans.
Places: Jerusalem, Millennial temple
Symbols: Watchmen as religious leaders, Shepherds, Priests like mute guard dogs
Tags: God welcomes Gentiles, God welcomes outcasts, Millennium, Millennial temple, Return of exiles to Israel, Roman exile, Warning to Israel, Wild animals devour the flock
The Lord Invites Outsiders to Enter
1 This is what the Lord says, “Promote justice! Do what is right! For I am ready to deliver you; I am ready to vindicate you openly.
2 The people who do this will be blessed, the people who commit themselves to obedience, who observe the Sabbath and do not defile it, who refrain from doing anything that is wrong.
3 No foreigner who becomes a follower of the Lord should say, ‘The Lord will certainly exclude me from his people.’ The eunuch should not say, ‘Look, I am like a dried-up tree.’”
4 For this is what the Lord says: “For the eunuchs who observe my Sabbaths and choose what pleases me and are faithful to my covenant,
5 I will set up within my temple and my walls a monument that will be better than sons and daughters. I will set up a permanent monument for them that will remain.
6 As for foreigners who become followers of the Lord and serve him, who love the name of the Lord and want to be his servants – all who observe the Sabbath and do not defile it, and who are faithful to my covenant –
7 I will bring them to my holy mountain; I will make them happy in the temple where people pray to me. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my temple will be known as a temple where all nations may pray.”
8 The Sovereign Lord says this, the one who gathers the dispersed of Israel: “I will still gather them up.”

The Lord Denounces Israel’s Paganism
9 All you wild animals in the fields, come and devour, all you wild animals in the forest!
10 All their watchmen are blind, they are unaware. All of them are like mute dogs, unable to bark. They pant, lie down, and love to snooze.
11 The dogs have big appetites; they are never full. They are shepherds who have no understanding; they all go their own way, each one looking for monetary gain.
12 Each one says, ‘Come on, I’ll get some wine! Let’s guzzle some beer! Tomorrow will be just like today! We’ll have everything we want!’