Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 48 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile.
Isa. 48:9 – I will delay My anger for the honor of My name, and I will restrain Myself for your benefit and for My praise, so that you will not be destroyed.
Isaiah 48 summarizes the message of chapters 40-47, assuring the Jews of their promised deliverance from Babylon through Cyrus. God has always known that His people would forsake Him. Yet for the honor of His name and the benefit of His praise, He remains true to His promises and saves them. He also tells them well in advance what He’s going to do so they will not attribute the events to the work of idols or natural causes. Yahweh prophetically signals the day of His people’s liberation from Babylon, depicting their salvation as an escape from a barren desert to a land of abundant water.
Verse 16 features a glimpse of the Trinity: “‘Approach Me and listen to this. From the beginning I have not spoken in secret; from the time anything existed, I was there.’ And now the Lord God has sent me and His Spirit.” Certainly the “Lord God” is a reference to the Father, while “His Spirit” speaks of the Holy Spirit. But the prophet, referring to himself as “me” speaks “not in his own person so much as that of Messiah, to whom alone in the fullest sense the words apply” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 48:16). This fact becomes clearer when we read Isa. 61:1-2a: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor …” Jesus reads these very words in the synagogue in Nazareth and then proclaims, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled” (Luke 4:21).
Remembering God’s Prophecies (Isa. 48:1-11)
This prophecy speaks to the Jews in exile in Babylon more than a century in advance. Comfortable in captivity, the people see no need to return to their homeland. They forget that the reason for their exile was their wanton sinfulness. They took oaths and invoked the Lord’s name but lacked the holiness Yahweh demands of those called by His name. The Lord told them the captivity would take place, but they refused to repent. And now – more than 100 years later – they are too complacent to go back home. The Lord calls them stubborn, with necks of iron and foreheads of bronze. He reminds them that He told them what would happen far in advance so they would not attribute this knowledge to their lifeless idols. “You have heard it,” says the Lord. “Observe it all. Will you not acknowledge it?” (v. 6).
From now on, the Lord says, He will “announce new things … hidden things” that the Jews have not known. That is, He tells them the Persians will defeat the Babylonians, resulting in the opportunity for His people to go home. The Lord has done this, and no one else. “God by his prophets told them beforehand of their deliverance, lest they should attribute the accomplishment of it to their idols. Thus he saw it necessary to secure the glory of it to himself, which otherwise would have been given by some of them to their graven images: ‘I spoke of it,’ says God, ‘lest thou shouldst say, My idol has done it or has commanded it to be done,’” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 48:1).
Warren Wiersbe ties the mood of complacent Judah with that of the modern-day church: “One would think that the Jews would have been eager to leave their ‘prison’ and return to their land to see God do new and great things for them. They had grown accustomed to the security of bondage and had forgotten the challenges of freedom. The church today can easily grow complacent with its comfort and affluence. God may have to put us into the furnace to remind us that we are here to be servants and not consumers or spectators” (Be Comforted, (An Old Testament Study), S. Is 45:1).
Still, the Lord is faithful. Though the Jews deserve destruction for their wickedness, the Lord promises to delay His anger “for the honor of My name” and restrain Himself “for your benefit and [for] My praise” (v. 9). He refines His people in the furnace of affliction, “but not as silver” (v. 10). This phrase could be taken one of two ways. First, the people – wicked, complacent, hard-hearted, are more like dross than like silver. Second, the affliction the Lord brings on His people is not severe enough to burn all their sinfulness away. Both views are possible; the former is probably the best. In verse 11, Yahweh then asks, “… how can I be defiled? I will not give My glory to another.” In other words, why should the Lord permit His name to be polluted by utterly destroying His special people to whom He has made everlasting promises?
Noting God’s Sovereignty (Isa. 48:12-19)
Isaiah often writes of two proofs of God’s uniqueness: His creative power and His ability to foretell the future. “My own hand founded the earth,” the Lord says in verse 13, “and My right hand spread out the heavens.” Next, He makes it clear that no god could predict the future emergence of Cyrus, or make the Persian king his ally in defeating the seemingly unbeatable Babylonians. “Who among the idols has declared these things?” He asks. “The Lord loves him (Cyrus); he will accomplish His will against Babylon … I have spoken; yes, I have called him; I have brought him, and he will succeed in his mission” (vv. 14-15).
The Lord speaks in the first half of verse 16, stressing that He has not been working in secret since the time of creation. But a different speaker steps forward in the middle of the verse, beginning with the words, “And now.” Commentators suggest it is Cyrus, Isaiah, or perhaps even Israel, but the most likely spokesman is the Messiah. “And now the Lord God has sent me and His Spirit,” He says. “Probably the Messiah, God’s Servant, is intended because of His association (as in 42:1; also note 11:1-2) with the Spirit. Just as Cyrus would not fail in his mission (48:15), so the Messiah-Servant, sent by God with the Holy Spirit on Him, will not fail in His mission” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1102).
Isaiah again quotes Yahweh – “the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” – beginning in verse 17 to stress the fact that God’s discipline has a purpose: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for [your] benefit, who leads you in the way you should go.” Through the Babylonian siege and subsequent captivity, and through 70 years of exile, the Lord is teaching His people to trust Him. The writer of Hebrews later echoes this truth, assuring his readers that God’s punishment is an outgrowth of His love: “God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there whom a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline – which all receive – then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness” (Heb. 12:7-10).
There are consequences to disobedience, and blessings to be missed, which the Lord makes clear: “If only you had paid attention to My commands,” He says. “Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Your descendents would have been as [countless] as the sand, and the offspring of your body like its grains; their name would not be cut off or eliminated from My presence” (vv. 18-19).
Fleeing Babylon (Isa. 48:20-22)
The edict of Cyrus to free the Jews and return them to their homeland is recorded in 2 Chron. 36:22-23: “The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and also [to put it] in writing: This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build Him a temple at Jerusalem in Judah. Whoever among you of His people may go up, and may the Lord his God be with him.”
From the perspective of Isaiah’s time, more than a century prior to this declaration, the people are to know that when the day of freedom comes, their descendents are to leave Babylon with haste. As they go, they will rejoice at their redemption, much as the people in Moses’ day rejoiced at their release from Egyptian bondage. In both cases, it is the Lord who buys back His people. Just as He provided food, shelter and water for the multitude fleeing Egypt, He will supply the Jews leaving Babylon with everything they need. Isaiah reminds his countrymen that Yahweh can split the rocks in the desert and cause abundant water to gush forth (see Ex. 17:1-17; Ps. 78:15-16).
The chapter ends with a contrasting statement for those who oppose the Lord. “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked” (v. 22). This declaration, applying to Jew and Gentile alike, is repeated in Isa. 57:21).
What blessings do we miss by getting out in front of the Lord rather than waiting on Him? What peace do we forfeit when we reject His light and grope in the darkness of our own frail wisdom? Matthew Henry comments: “Now God tells them [the Jews] what he would have done for them if they had persevered in their obedience, First, That they might be the more humbled for their sins, by which they had forfeited such rich mercies. Note, This should engage us (I might say, enrage us) against sin, that it has not only deprived us of the good things we have enjoyed, but prevented the good things God had in store for us. It will make the misery of the disobedient the more intolerable to think how happy they might have been. Secondly, That his mercy might appear the more illustrious in working deliverance for them, though they had forfeited it and rendered themselves unworthy of it. Nothing but a prerogative of mercy would have saved them” (S. Is 48:16).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips