All Outcasts Welcome – Isaiah’s Revolution

“My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Many of us are familiar with these words that Jesus spoke when He cleansed the temple. I cherish these words because they remind me that God’s temple is not a house of praise or of preaching but primarily a house of prayer. Sermons have been preached frequently on this subject and this verse, but never have I heard a preacher speak on the actual Old Testament verses that originated Jesus’ passionate proclamation. As Jesus was driving out the moneychangers, He actually quoted Isaiah 56:

3  Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”
4  For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5  I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

6  “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
7  these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
8  The Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.”

This passage presents one of the most radical concepts of the Old Testament: my house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples. Notice that the emphasis is not that God’s house shall be a house of prayer; the emphasis is that it shall be a house of prayer for all peoples. In the context of this passage, Isaiah indicates that this includes the foreigner and the eunuchs. To understand how revolutionary these words are, we must go back to Leviticus 21:

18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, 20 or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. 21 No man of the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s food offerings; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God.

Because of the holiness of God, the Law did not allow those with physical defects to come into the Presence of God. This means that eunuchs were doomed to not be allowed to draw near to the Almighty God, forever unable to experience intimacy with the Maker of heaven and earth. But then comes Isaiah, who proclaims that the house of God shall be a house of prayer for all people, including foreigners, eunuchs, and anybody else that was previously excluded! The significance of this must not be missed – Isaiah is flying in the face of the very thing the Holy Law of God has declared! How revolutionary! Even in this Old Testament book, we see a glimpse of a new covenant that radically alters how God interacts with mankind. Instead of exclusion we find inclusion and grace extended to those previously considered unfortunate, despised, and rejected.

As I marvel at the Biblical significance of what God is saying through Isaiah, I realize that this verse does not stand alone. Did not Samuel proclaim to Saul that God does not delight in sacrifice but in obedience? Does not David say in the Psalms that doing the will of God is greater than any amount of offerings? Those who hold fast God’s covenant are accepted by Him – whether they are Greek, Hebrew, blind, lame, or even a eunuch. Isaiah even proclaims that foreigners that obey God and keep His covenant will have a better name than sons and daughters. How stunning those thoughts must have sounded to Hebrew ears! And what a beautiful thought for us who were once far away and unable to draw near to God but can now enter into His Presence through the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

While this passage does not stand alone, it does present an entirely new thought that introduces us to the New Testament reality concerning the people of God: your race or place of birth does not qualify you to be accepted in God’s Presence. It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, white or black, married or unmarried, Hebrew or non-Hebrew; none of those things give you any preference with God. What matters to God is reiterated so magnificently by Isaiah in this chapter:

6  “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—

God cares about people who join themselves to God to minister to Him, people who love His Name, who want to be His servants and keep His covenant – that is what God cares about. His house was never meant to be a house of exclusion for only Hebrews. His house is not only for the gifted, the eloquent, the successful, the rich, the secure, the pleasant, the saved, or the unmarred. His house is a house for the wounded, the marred, the struggling, the lonely, the excluded and rejected, those society regards as unlovable and those who do not ‘fit in’ – a house for the foreigners and eunuchs.

This radical gospel is difficult to comprehend, much less implement. We prefer our house clean, tidy, filled with like-minded people and those who understand. The Temple was not made, however, for only those the Law considers clean, pure, and accepted by God. The Temple was created for all who will come, join themselves to God, minister to Him, love His Name, and serve Him. May the temples of our hearts, our families, our theologies, and our churches reflect that glorious, revolutionary truth: My house shall be a house of prayer – for all peoples.

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