Tuesdays are for the Old Testament
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 17, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66.St. Louis: Concordia, 1972. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 56” pp. 260-267.
Luther notes that Isaiah 56 is a fairly general proclamation of God’s Law. It speaks to all people, not just the people of Israel. The goal of the proclamation is to show people their need for God’s promises (LW 17, 260). He calls the people to act in a godly manner. Forsake evil. Do good. Salvation from God will come soon (LW 17, 261). When confronted by God’s commands, especially the Gentiles might say that God has made only demands. They are not under the covenant promises of God. Verse 3 raises this question. However, the foreigner is not separated from God (LW 17, 262). There is the further issue that the prophet speaks of those outside the covenant as children of prostitution. Luther speaks against the rejection of marriage, so common in his time. The point of the passage is more to say that even those who come from bad circumstances can look to God in hope. The promise of God’s covenant, name, and place is for those people as well (LW 17, 263). He brings all who are trusting him to his holy place, his temple.
On p. 263 there’s a statement which is, at least on its surface, similar to one which is often attributed to Luther in the context of civil leaders. “I would rather have a pious pagan than a wicked Jew; I would rather have a pious Turk than a wicked Christian.” These are words Luther invents as a statement God might be making in Isaiah 56:4-5 as he calls those of foreign lands to himself. Here Luther does not speak specifically of civil authority, but he does indicate that, in his opinion, God is well pleased with people from every nation who look to him. It is not the origin or the label, but the attitude of trust in God, and that trust governing conduct, which matters.
The crux of the issue here, in fact, is that God is the one gathering people to himself. He pictures this as a welcoming into his house. Those who refuse his care he treats as “beasts” in verse 9. “He attacks them like a good preacher, who so divides the Word of God that he might terrify the hardened and console the afflicted. One must not comfort or terrify where there is no need. Here he summons all kings of the earth to punishment and vengeance” (LW 17, 264). Those who claim to guard the truth but are merely working for themselves are unknowing animals, dogs who can’t even bark. Again, Luther compares these people to the church leaders of his day (LW 17, 265). They teach their own way (v. 11) and turn, in the end, to their own desires (LW 17, 266).