July 26th, 2021 - Isaiah 44-48
Today we begin our reading with God’s blessing on Israel. His promise of salvation here extended the usefulness of sinful Israel to another generation. The past was bleak but the future would see a glorious new era that was transformed by the Spirit. By recording thus says the Lord, Isaiah shows that this emphatic statement emphasized that God has authored this prophecy and it will come to pass. God pouring out the Spirit is connected to restoration here. We see this action by the Spirit in both the Book of Joel and the Book of Acts as well. The next section of chapter 44, verses 6-20, use the form of a trial speech to press God’s argument that disgrace comes to all who trust in idols. God begins by reminding the people who He is and what He has done. The salient points are that God is the first and last, that He is the rock, and that there is no other God. He is Israel’s King and Redeemer and the Lord of Heavens Armies. The Lord finds nothing positive about those who make idols nor those who worship them.
The Lord has a lot to say about idols and the idol makers. Those who make them are foolish and they are not worth anything. But the people who buy them don’t know they are worthless so they are put to shame because they make a show of worshiping them. The detail of making an idol is quite a process. First the maker has to make the right tools and that makes him hungry. So he takes another part of the piece of wood to make a fire to cook his meal. The wood carver makes a pattern and draws it in the block of wood. How interesting that people are made in the image of God but the idols are made by human hands in the image of man. And this was the same block of wood that the idol maker used to get wood to build a fire to cook his food and to keep himself warm. The description of making an idol really drips with sarcasm and ridicule. The idol makers cannot see the irony in using the same piece of wood to warm themselves and another part of the same piece of wood to carve an idol from.
The rest of the chapter speaks to restoration for Jerusalem. Israel is not forgotten by God. The Lord has promised to forgive Israel’s sins and all creation is called to celebrate God’s redemption of Israel. We are reminded once again that the Lord is sovereign over history. He raised up Cyrus of Persia to execute judgement on Babylon. He restored Israel to the holy land. God promises that He will expose false prophets and fortune tellers who are forbidden to use forms of divination to try to predict the future. But God already knows the future. Eventually God would expose them as liars. Sometimes we see a sudden depletion of natural resources. This indicates divine judgement. But at the end of chapter 44 we see rivers dry up. This just simply illustrates God’s power to do what He said He would do through Cyrus of Persia. Because of the Lord’s actions Jerusalem will once again be inhabited.
It is somewhat strange that the Lord referred to Cyrus as the anointed one. This designation is commonly reserved for king David, his descendants, or the coming Messiah, but here it is given to Cyrus. He was anointed because in a sense he was was selected to fulfill a specific mission. Cyrus was to be the one who allowed God’s people to go back to their own land. This title is not used of any other foreign ruler in all of scripture. The Lord would give Cyrus victory over Babylon. Cyrus’s victories provided factual proof that the Lord has the power to fulfill His plans. But idols and false gods cannot even see. We see that even though Cyrus did not know the Lord, the Lord knew him. Isaiah prophecies about the rescuer Cyrus by name some 150 years in advance. This prophecy would prove to the exiles that the Lord is indeed God and that He knows the future. We see that everything is under God’s control. Verses 9-13 show that there were those who tried to argue with God over His right to use the pagan king to serve His purposes. Remember God had promised to bring His people back to the land and He would use anyone He chose to accomplish His purposes. God asks the question why would a created being question the creator? Why would clay try to question the potter? God will do what God will do.
Israel’s restoration would bring them a new sovereignty. Foreign nations would come to honor the Lord and because they recognized God’s special blessing on His people, they would also want to honor His people. Never again would Israel be humiliated or disgraced, oppressed, harassed, or abused. Verses 18-25 remind us salvation is from the Lord and He alone. In His new era every human will submit to God either willingly or unwillingly. Looking at verse 18 we are reminded that ancient people viewed the world as a place of empty chaos. But, God’s purposes are good, and He made the world from the beginning as a place to be lived in with Him in harmony. The Lord invites the whole world to look to Him. All of humanity needs to seek the Lord, the one true God who created all things, because in Him there is salvation. He swears by His name because His words are always true. He will never go back on His word and at the end of time all nations will submit to His authority, willingly or unwillingly. We see in Philippians 2:10-11 that “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Chapter 46 is a collection of salvation oracles, spoken by the Lord, and all of them are addressed to the stubborn exiles. They share a common theme, that the Lord is truly God. Verses 1-2 are a taunt against the self contradiction of the Babylonian religion. Marduk-bel was the most important of the Babylonian gods. The word Bel designated lordship. Nebo was the patron deity of Babylonian scribes and he was thought to be the son of Marduk-bel and the god of writing, wisdom, and fate. Instead of being paraded in glory at a Babylonian festival, these gods would be hauled away in ox carts and disposed of, rejected by the Babylonian people. Those who remained in Israel would have been the remnant left alive after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. God’s point here is that He, the creator of humanity cares for and carries His people. This is in contrast to the Babylonian gods and idols who had to have people carry them. And God reminded His people He had chosen them even before they became a nation. God also knew many of the exiles would be totally discouraged. They would not believe the prediction of God’s rescue and here God challenged this unbelief. God reminds them that He knows the future before it ever happens, and He has total control over all events. His actions match His words and He is the first and the last. The swift bird of prey from the east refers to Cyrus, king of Persia. There was a time when Israel cared little for doing the right thing but the good news was, God was coming to set things right. A craftsman might bestow material splendor on an idol but the Lord bestows true dignity on His people.
In the final two chapters of our readings see two main themes. Chapter 47 speaks of Babylon’s great pride being foolishness. Chapter 48 is a minder to Israel that they need to pay attention to the Word of the Lord. Chapter 47 begins with a taunt against Babylon. The queen of nations is humiliated, forced to work as a servant girl. Sitting in dust was a way of expressing humiliation. Grinding meal was the work of a slave girl and uncovering a thigh was a suggestion of doing menial labor with an over tone of the shame of indecent exposure. Babylon would lose her status and privilege. God’s vengeance against those who oppose Him and those who oppress His people will bring justice to the world by purging it of wickedness. Babylon’s confidence and arrogance were well known but all of this nations charms, magic, and wisdom are useless against the disaster God has decreed for her. The people of Israel had provoked God’s wrath, prompting Him to use Babylon to punish them. Now wicked Babylon would be punished. Verse 8 brings a claim of God’s divinity. There would be many calamities and loses for the Babylonians. In the face of this calamity, the people would turn to the occult for help but there would be none. Babylon was advanced in astronomy, which the stargazers and astrologers used as a form of divination. There would be no one to help then, not their leaders, their gods, not even their friends.
Finally the Lord calls on Israel to forsake her historic rebelliousness and actually listen to what He had to say. The Hebrew word used here for listen carries the connotation of obeying or acting on what is heard. The first 11 verses of this chapter is a speech where the prophet argues a set of points against his audience. Israel was religious but not truly committed to the Lord. Although Isaiah was usually focused on Judah, here he is addressing all of Israel. God had forewarned His people that if they continued to be disobedient, there would be dire consequences. There would be exile, and even though Israel had repeatedly failed to believe God’s past predictions, here He revealed new things that were not yet heard. Specifically God revealed that Babylon would fall and Israel would be restored. God reveals that the exile was a furnace of suffering, the refiners fire where the dross or impurities were removed. God would not let His reputation be tarnished. Israel’s exile had raised questions among the nations about the Lord’s character and reputation. The nations would not have perceived that Israel’s wicked character led to their exile. Instead they would have viewed it as a failure of Israel’s God to protect His people and their land. Verses 12-22 comprise the final trial speech and a review of the arguments of chapters 40-48. The final conclusion is also announced.
God chose Cyrus and used him to humiliate Babylon and liberate Israel. God reminds His people that His promises are clear though not always specific as to manner and time. In verse 16 there is a reference to the sovereign Lord and His Spirit have sent me with this message. But the identity of the one who is sent is unclear. Isaiah may be referring to himself as a Spirit inspired prophet who spoke the very words of God to Israel. However, the connection with the Spirit also suggests a reference to the promised Messiah. The presence of the Spirit assures the servants success. If Israel had only listened to the Lord they would not have gone into exile. Instead, they would have known the blessings God had promised…if they would only be obedient. They would have known peace and righteousness. There would have been an abundance of good things for God’s people. But they did not listen. God referenced His covenant promise to Abraham as well. If they had been obedient they would have had descendants as the sands on the seashore. Instead, they were nearly wiped out in the exile. And yet, they were free to return home from exile. They were called to shout their return to the ends of the earth. Their journey home would find them rejoicing in the Lord’s provision, which sounds very much like the exodus from Egypt. While God would provide for His people the wicked would not fair nearly as well. There would be no peace or provision for them. Peace speaks of God’s kingdom, from which the wicked are excluded.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
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