March 6, 2015.
Daily Reading: Isaiah 45-50.
Background: Isaiah 40-44.
Concepts and Connections.
1. God uses who He will: As the people are in Babylonian captivity, the Lord as raise up a king, according to His plan from the days of old, to concur Babylon and deliver the children of Israel. This king was named Cyrus, king of the Persians, and when he would come in to take over Babylon, he would set forth a decree that would allow the Jews to return to their own land and rebuild the house of the Lord (see Ezra 1). Isaiah is not the only prophet to announce the destruction of Babylon by the hand of Cyrus, as Jeremiah also makes this proclamation amongst the children of Israel, though he doesn’t call Cyrus by name (see Jeremiah 25:12-13, 29:10). It is important to note that the Lord has sent this oracle so that the people of Israel (and all who listen/read) will know that this has been done by His hand, for His glory, and not by the hands of the gods of Cyrus or because Cyrus knew God. The Lord was going to use Cyrus to deliver His people. The oracle says of Cyrus, “I name you, though you do not know me.” It is a good lesson to remember that the Lord can use whoever or whatever He chooses to accomplish His will, whether that person believes in Him or not. The time of Babylon’s destruction was approaching, and the children of Israel would soon be delivered to rebuild the house of the Lord.
2. The Lord is sovereign: Much of this chapter has to do with the sovereignty of the God of Israel, as there is no god like Him, none that could ever compare. The gods of the nations around the Israelites, the gods of the Babylonians, were no gods at all, but rather mute and dumb idols who could not save. There is no man that can stand in the path of God so as to instruct Him what He should do or stop Him from accomplishing His will. An analogy of a potter and clay is used to show that the clay (mankind) has no right to say to the potter (God), “What are you making,” or “Your work has no handles.” Paul cites these words in Romans 9:20 to call to remembrance the sovereignty of God. To prove to the people that He was in control, God sent prophets and His word in the days of old to proclaim what would happen in the future. The gods of the Babylonians could not even speak, much less predict the future. The Lord, who created the earth and man upon it, is in control. He stretched out the heavens with his own right hand; who is mankind that the Lord should be bothered by him? The end of the chapter calls all the ends of the earth to turn to the Lord and be saved. The Lord is sovereign, and in the end “every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” Paul references these words in Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:10.
God vs. idols: The children of Israel had made a grievous decision by worshiping idols and false gods, forsaking their Lord, the Almighty, Holy One of Israel. This chapter contrasts the lifeless idols and gods of foreign nations to the One true God, and there is simply no comparison. Other gods are made by the skill of the craftsman’s hands, overlaid with silver or gold and propped up, for they cannot even stand on their own. Yet men bow down before them and plead for deliverance, a deliverance that the lifeless gods cannot give. There is none like the God of Israel, who indeed formed the dry land and all that is upon it, who gave the ability to the craftsman, and life to man. It was not the job of man to bring forth gods, for the One True God had rather brought forth man. Though His children were stubborn in heart, His will would be accomplished, and He would indeed put salvation in Zion.
Prophecy of Babylon’s downfall: Just as the gods of the Babylonians fell in comparison to the Holy One of Israel in the previous chapter, Babylon too would fall by the hand of the Almighty. The previous chapter named the king (Cyrus) whom the Lord had appointed to overtake Babylon, and this chapter continues with the picture of destruction that would come upon the great city. Babylon was a very evil nation, as it became the symbol of evil (see Revelation 18), and this chapter shows very little mercy that the great city would receive due to its evil and oppression. Babylon had been set up in pride, thinking that none could come against them to overpower them (v. 10-11), for they were one of the most powerful nations of their time. But their power had not come by their own hand, but by the hand of the Lord, for He had used the captivity of Babylon to punish His people for going astray. But the time of their punishment was nearing completion, and the pride of Babylon would soon be turned into mourning and lament. The great city would be over come by the hand of the Lord through Cyrus, just as it had been set up by the God of Israel. Deliverance was coming, as Babylon would soon fall.
1. A stubborn people, refined: The first part of this chapter calls Israel into court because of their stubbornness. The Lord has refined His people, though not like silver, but with affliction, for they had turned away from Him. But He would defer His anger to save a remnant for His own name sake, as had been declared of old. He declared it then so that they would know who it was that delivered them, rather than giving credit to their idols and false gods who had no power at all. The Lord had always been in control, and He had provided a way of making this known so that His people, and people everywhere, could see His power and sovereignty. It is interesting to note that in the first verse, the people of Israel are said to have confessed the name of the Lord, but not in truth or right. Perhaps this was another instance of lip service, where they confessed with their mouth, but their hearts were far from the Lord (see Isaiah 29:13). However, the Lord would redeem Israel just as He said that He would. For through the seed of Abraham, all the nations of the earth were to be blessed (see Genesis 12:7). In the days to come, a Messiah would be born through the children of Israel, and He would come to save the world (see Galatians 3:16).
2. The Lord’s call: The Almighty, the first and the last (see also Revelation 1:17, 2:8, 22:13), calls to Israel at the end of this chapter that they might hear His voice and come back to Him. He was going to destroy Babylon for the sake of His people, and they were being called into assembly before Him. The Lord loved His people and He wanted not to see them destroyed, as many might have perceived from their current situation, but rather for them to come back to Him and again be His people and He their God. He reminds the people of how He has been with them from the beginning, revealing His will and righteousness to them as He had not done for any other nations on the earth. He then laments the folly of the people of Israel, their falling away to lifeless idols and false gods, only to their own impediment. If they had not done so, the Lord would have continued to bless them and they would have continued to prosper among the nations, for the Lord would have fought for them. They could have been a light to the world, but they had rather chosen the path of disobedience as was predicted so long before. However, the Lord was calling again the remnant of the children of Israel, because He would soon deliver them from the hand of Babylon. He was telling them now so that they would know that it was the Holy One of Israel who had done this great work.
The redemption of Israel: The Lord had raised up a servant to bring back His people from the lands of Babylon. The Holy One of Israel would do this work through the people He had appointed, the servant which He had raised from the womb, and His salvation would reach the ends of the earth. He calls to Israel and with vivid imagery He sets forth the path for them to return home (v. 8-12). Both heaven and earth are called into rejoicing for the comfort of His people, for the relieving of their affliction. But Zion is not convinced, for the people of God feel as though they have been abandoned by Him (though it was they who had abandoned God). Zion asserts that the Lord had forgotten them. But the Lord answer with strong words, relating His relationship with His people as a mother with her nursing child. How could He have forgotten His people? They had been engraved on the palm of His hand. The Lord had not forgotten His people, and His deliverance was soon to come. He would again have compassion on a people who’s sins and iniquities had separated them from Him (see Isaiah 59:1-2). Israel would be restored, and they would be revered among the nations. Then they would know that the Lord had done this. He was their Lord and Savor, the Mighty One of Jacob. His hand was not slack that it could not redeem. His hand is still not slack today. Blessed is the nation who’s God is the Lord (ref. Psalm 33:12).
Separated by sin, redeemed through an obedient servant: Continuing on, the Lord asks the people where the certificate of divorce was with which He had sent them away? The question is rhetorical, as there was no certificate, implying that He indeed had not sent them away or forsaken them. They were still His people and He was still their God. But they had been sold into the hand of the Babylonians because of their sins, sent away because of their transgressions (see Isaiah 59:1-2). He had come to redeem, but they were not present. He called, but no man answered. He again asks some rhetorical questions, showing the folly of assuming that He didn’t have the power to save them. He who rebukes the sea and clothes the heavens in darkness; could He not redeem? The servant continues to proclaim the righteousness and power of the Lord, for he is strengthened by the Lord. He calls for his adversary or those who contend with him to come out and confront him, for he knows that the Lord is on his side. He wants to convince Israel of this and lead them home. He calls them to trust in the name of the Lord; he calls them to rely on God. But they continue on their own paths, lit by their own torches, paths that will lead only to torment until they learn to trust in their God.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Matthew 23-25.
Trust in the name of the Lord.