The Ultimate in Child Abuse: Isaiah 56 4-5
These verses speak of someone who had the utmost reason to feel Scripture had written him out of God’s purpose of salvation. After the work of the Servant of the Lord in ch.53, the emphasis in ch.54 on the new covenant relationship, and the astonishing universality of the offer of salvation in ch. 55, two potential nonqualifiers are introduced. First, in v.3 the foreigner has his disqualification dealt with: his worship will be acceptable because “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’ v.7. He is not a second class citizen, and what he is offered is not by concession because his inclusion in the family of God is nothing less than the fulfilment of all God’s purposes. But the second non-qualifier presents an apparently irreversible obstacle.
1. The Damage that was Done
V.3 The eunuch was a man who had been castrated as a small child, either because he would grow up in a royal court, or more likely in Isaiah’s day, emasculated as part of pagan ceremonies. Thus under the Law (Deuteronomy 23 v.l) exclusion from the Temple was mandatory. The man’s life had been irrevocably marred before he had any awareness of what had been done. All that remained was the overwhelming consciousness of a fundamental personal defect, put so explicitly: ‘I am only a dry tree.’ He was useless in the most basic of all relationships without hope in the most fulfilling of expectations sons to bear his name with no contribution to make. How could the message of God’s salvation touch his situation? It was irrelevant; a marvellous offer (Ch. ,55 vs. 1-3), but he was totally disqualified from receiving the gift. There are less physically horrible but equally destructive and apparently irreversible things done to people that cause them to think they are excluded from, can derive no benefit from, all the offer of God’s salvation which the Gospel holds. Some are damaged by parents who show more love to the other children than to them. Their self-esteem will never flourish, or else they begin to manifest deviant patterns of behaviour to try to establish self-respect. All the ingredients are there for a massive sense of worthlessness and, through later life, the recognition of a profound defect in personhood. Others are damaged by language. Sarcasm, day in and day out, can scar a child for life, who, as an adult, comes to suspect any gentle, loving invitation, even that of the Gospel.
Competitiveness, class-consciousness, bought into by parents trying to live out their own unfulfilled ambitions via their children, poses a bleak future for children never loved for themselves alone, alike in success and failure. Aggravated by the high rate of marital breakdown, sexual abuse of children seems more widespread. The child, at its most vulnerable, is a victim assaulted by the one who should have been its most ardent protection. The outcome is guilt, a sense of uncleanness and despair of normal relationships. ‘I am only a dry tree.’
2. The Transformation Offered vs. 4-.5
These verses take up the extravagant language of ch.55. God is offering something unimaginable, beyond hopes a,& dreams, and does not shun the more , explicit definition: ‘an everlasting name which shall not be cut off
Was this language absorbing the eunuch in in his chariot when Philip came alongside, Acts 8 vs. 26-40′? Coming down from Jerusalem his only souvenir was the scroll, and be has indeed been excluded from Temple worship. Now, he reads, he may have access to the Holy of Holies. He is given something better than a family tree, and is promised a validity and permanence for himself as an individual that almost mocks credibility. But it is mysteriously related to the Servant of the Lord, who in 53 v. 8 is himself a victim, “Cut off out of the land of the living,’ Philip, in Acts 8:35, begins to tell him about Jesus of Nazareth of very recent history, in whom all these promises have been fulfilled. No wonder Calvin says “What progress the eunuch made in such a short time!” No wonder, for the Gospel reaches the heart. It satisfies the Intellect but it also addresses the hurts and nee” of injured personalities, bringing Christ’s healing, transforming touch.
The access today is via the same route as then. The eunuch was invited to keep the Sabbath, organise six days around the one, bringing all his life under God’s gracious influence, acknowledging His lordship. The ‘Acts 8 eunuch’, by baptism, confessed Jesus and Saviour and King and from that moment His transforming power began to work. So today, for such abused and damaged people, some things change instantly, other things, deep intractable things, take longer. But everything is potentially redeemable. There is absolutely no exclusion in the extravagant gospel offer. Let no one say: ‘I am only a dry tree’
This exposition is by Gordon Fyles, a member of the full-time ministry team at Emmanuel, Wimbledon.