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
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment (chapters 1-35)
Part 2: Historical Interlude (chapters 36-39)
Part 3: Salvation (chapters 40-66)
When this takes place:
Chapter 46 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. 46:11 – “I call a bird of prey from the east, a man for My purpose from a far country. Yes, I have spoken; so I will also bring it about. I have planned it; I will also do it.”
“The discussion of Cyrus’s victories on God’s behalf led to thoughts of Babylon’s idols, who had to be carried by their worshipers and were therefore obviously powerless to save them (46:1–2). While Babylon carried their gods, Israel’s God carried them (46:3–4)! While the Babylonians lavished gold on their helpless gods, Israel’s mighty God controlled all of history. By calling in Cyrus – the ‘bird of prey from the east’ – he would destroy Babylon and free its Israelite captives (46:8–13)” (H.L. Willmington, Willmington’s Bible Handbook, S. 370).
Isaiah emphasizes the inability of Babylon’s gods to save the Babylonians from the Persian king Cyrus or prevent the victory that will result in Judah’s return home after 70 years in exile. The prophet calls two of Babylon’s chief gods by name:
- Bel – also known as Marduk, the chief god of Babylon. The celebrated tower of Babylon is dedicated to this god, residing in the center of one of two parts into which the city is divided; the king’s palace is the focus of the city’s other half. Identified with the sun, or with the planet Jupiter, Bel is worshiped in turrets, on housetops and other high places so as to be nearer to the heavenly hosts (see Jer. 19:13, 32:29; Zeph. 1:5). Bel is the Babylonian god of fortune, “the most propitious star to be born under” (Robert Jamieson, A. R.Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 46:1). According to the Apocryphal book Bel and the Dragon, Cyrus casts down Bel.
- Nebo – the son of Marduk, is the god of writing and learning and is associated with Mercury, or Hermes, in astrology. The extent of Nebo worship is reflected in the compounding of the god’s name with the names of Babylonian kings, for example Nebuchadnezzar.
The Helpless Gods (Isa. 46:1-13)
Once gloriously transported in New Year’s Day processions, the Babylonian gods Bel and Nebo are now seen as heavy burdens being dragged into captivity. They crouch and cower, as if in fear of the Persians, and they are incapable of saving themselves or their Babylonian subjects. The gods credited with empowering Nebuchadnezzar to enslave the Jews are now in shackles. In contrast, the one true God, the Holy One of Israel, has sustained His people from the womb and carried them along since birth (v. 3). From the time of conception to old age, the Lord watches over His people and delivers them from trouble. “I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear and save you,” the Lord declares (v. 4).
The gods of gold and silver cannot compare to the God of Israel. Pagans hire skilled craftsmen to fashion idols out of precious metals. They place them on sturdy mounts where they may be approached and implored. They kneel down and bow to the gods. They hoist them on their shoulders and set them in prominent places. And they cry out to these hand-molded deities. But the idols don’t budge. They don’t answer the desperate cries. And they can’t save. Like Elijah, who taunted the false gods on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:20-29), Isaiah often derides pagans and their gods (see Isa. 40:18-20; 44:9-20; 45:16, 20; 46:1-2). Unlike these lifeless gods, the one true God hears and saves.
In verses 8-11 the people of Babylon are called to remember what the Lord did “long ago.” The Lord speaks in the past tense, even though His work of defeat (for the Babylonians) and deliverance (for the Jews) is more than a century in the future. God is not bound by time, nor is He troubled by the earth’s mightiest kings. “I declare the end from the beginning,” He says, “and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will” (v. 10). God demonstrates His uniqueness by His knowledge and control of the future (Isa. 45:21) and His ability to bring Cyrus from the east like a bird of prey (Isa. 46:11). Interestingly, the standard of Cyrus is a golden eagle on a spear, and he is described by some as having a nose similar to the beak of a hawk or eagle.
Matthew Henry writes: “Cyrus came from the east at God’s call: for God is Lord of hosts and of those that have hosts at command. And, if God give him a call, he will give him success. He is the man that shall execute God’s counsel, though he comes from a far country and knows nothing of the matter. Note, Even those that know not, and mind not, God’s revealed will, are made use of to fulfil [sic] the counsels of his secret will, which shall all be punctually accomplished in their season by what hand he pleases” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 46:5).
The “hardhearted” and “far removed from justice” in verse 12 are the Babylonians, who will experience God’s justice at the hands of the Persians. They also will see the Lord’s salvation as He delivers the Jews, restores them to their homeland and places His majesty in Israel.
Just as Isaiah delivers a message of hope to the Jews when they need it most, the New Testament writers urge Christians to take heart in troubled times. “‘Fear not’ is God’s great promise to us as Christians,” writes Warren Wiersbe. “He is greater than Satan and this world, so we need not fear. He has a purpose for our lives, and He will fulfill it if we trust Him. He will pardon our sins and keep His promises” (Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old Testament, S. Is 40:1).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips
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 45 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. 45:12-13 – “I made the earth, and created man on it. It was My hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. I have raised him [Cyrus] up in righteousness, and will level all roads for him. He will rebuild My city, and set My exiles free, not for a price or a bribe,” says the Lord of Hosts.
Isaiah prophesies that Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, will be God’s chosen servant to free the Jewish exiles from Babylonian captivity and restore them to their homeland. The Lord, who “made the earth, and created man on it” (v. 12), will empower Cyrus to crush the Gentile nations for the benefit of Israel and the glory of God.
That the Lord controls human history is evident from His many declarations in this chapter, among them:
- “I will go before you and level the uneven places” (v. 2).
- “I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches from secret places” (v.3).
- “I call you by your name” (v. 4).
- “I will strengthen you, though you do not know me” (v. 5).
- “I make success and create disaster” (v. 7).
- “Woe to the one who argues with his Maker” (v. 9).
- “It was My hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host” (v. 12).
- “Israel will be saved by the Lord” (v. 17).
- “Every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear allegiance” (v. 23).
So All May Know (Isa. 45:1-13)
In chapter 44, the Lord names the Persian king who will free the Jews from Babylonian captivity and return them to their homeland – 150 years before this king is born. Cyrus is called “My shepherd” in chapter 44 and now “His anointed” in chapter 45. The word “anointed” refers to the relationship between the Lord and Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David (1 Sam. 10:1, 16:6). Since Israel will have no king in exile, Cyrus will function in this role to bring about God’s blessings. “Like the Messiah (lit. ‘the Anointed One’) who would come after him, Cyrus would have a twofold mission: to free the people, and to bring God’s judgment on unbelievers” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1099).
Cyrus will conquer other nations with God’s help and fill his coffers with their treasures. His defeat of Lydia and Babylon are two examples. All of this is for the sake of God’s people and despite the fact that Cyrus does not acknowledge the Lord as the true God. This is an important lesson in history and contemporary culture. The Lord is sovereign over His creatures and is moving human history to its climax in the “glorious appearing” of Messiah. If He can enable Sampson to use the jawbone of a donkey to smite the Philistines (Judges 15:14-16), empower a donkey to prophesy (Num. 22:22-31) and write with His invisible hand on the wall of a king’s palace (Dan. 5:5), He can use a pagan king to rescue His people and restore them to their homeland. Never think that the success of the wicked is due to a twisted sense of justice on God’s part or His lack of interest in the affairs of mankind. The Lord is omniscient and omnipresent; nothing escapes His attention.
Verses 5-7 emphasize the uniqueness of God, a theme repeated often in chapters 43-46. The Lord is not universally recognized in Cyrus’ day, but the day is coming when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11). The words “light” and “darkness,” “success” and “disaster” in verse 7 are Hebrew expressions of opposites suggesting all that is. Every event in human history comes from the Lord – not that He is the author of evil (James 1:13), but that He is able to turn mankind’s wicked deeds into ultimate good (Gen. 50:20). No one may trick God, or thwart His purposes.
Verse 8 provides a graphic glimpse of the Lord’s ministry during the millennium. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck write, “When the millennial kingdom is established on the earth the heavens, figuratively speaking, will rain down righteousness (God’s standards will be followed). And salvation, like a great harvest, will spring up. That is, people everywhere will know the Lord (cf. v. 6; 11:9; Hab. 2:14)” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1100)
In verses 9-13 it is clear that those who question the Lord’s sovereignty invite His woes. A potsherd, a broken and discarded piece of pottery, has no right to question the potter. Neither does a child have the right to question why her parents brought her into the world. In the same way, Israel has no justification for challenging God’s decision to raise up Cyrus as His “shepherd” and “anointed one” to deliver the Jews from Babylonian bondage. The people may inquire of God and seek to understand His ways, but they must never question His authority, as Maker, to direct human history. The Lord later reminds the Jews, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways…. For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).
Turn to Me and be Saved (Isa. 45:14-25)
In the millennium, the nations will realize that Israel’s God is the only true God, and they will acknowledge Him. People from Egypt and Cush – and even the Sabeans, known as majestic men of stature – will be subservient to the Jews and declare “there is no other God” (v. 14). Although Isaiah admits that the Lord, at times, seems to hide Himself, He is without a doubt the Savior of Israel. While those who worship false gods will be ashamed because their gods cannot save them, the Jews will never be ashamed because they will enjoy God’s presence throughout eternity. During their coming days in captivity in Babylon, God’s people can count on Him to send Cyrus to deliver them. The Lord offers two proofs. First, He is the Creator of heaven and earth, in complete control of kings and kingdoms. Second, He is truth (see also John 14:6); whatever He speaks is right. God’s people are assured of their redemption because God has determined it and has spoken truthfully that it will come to pass.
The Lord invites the Gentiles who will escape Cyrus’ sword to present their case before Him. The futility of praying to hand-made wooden gods will be exposed, and any case the pagans can muster in favor of idol worship will fall on the deaf ears of gods who “cannot save” and “have no knowledge” (v. 20). Which of the idols can name the Jews’ deliverer a century before his birth? And which of the carved wooden statues can save a nation from exile? Only the God who “announced it from ancient times.” He declares, “There is no God but Me, a righteous God and Savior; there is no one except Me” (v. 21).
The final verses of this chapter mark God’s gracious call to all the world’s inhabitants to repent and be saved. The Lord affirms once again that He is the only true God and, as such, the only means of salvation. “Every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear allegiance,” He states in verse 23. The New Testament boldly applies this passage to Christ, directly in Phil. 2:10-11 and indirectly in Rom. 14:9, 11:
- “… so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow – of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).
- “Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living. But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written: As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God” (Rom. 14:9-11).
Even so, many people will continue to rebel against God. And while the Lord allows them to wallow in their sins for a while, ultimately they will be “put to shame” (v. 24). The apostle Paul warns unbelievers that one day they will stand before God “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). The apostle John provides more graphic details of the final judgment of the wicked: “And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15).
However, the redeemed of Israel will rejoice in being justified, or made righteous in the Lord. While this passage is a message of hope to the Jews under siege by the Assyrians, and facing future exile at the hands of the Babylonians, we are not to conclude that all Jews will receive eternal life just because of their nationality. Rather, Isaiah is speaking of a nation of redeemed Jews who have turned from unbelief and embraced their Lord and Savior. By the same token, we are not to assume that only Jews will be saved, for the Lord invites all the nations to turn to Him, and the apostle Paul makes much of the fact that Jews and Gentiles alike are grafted together to make up the people of God (Rom. 11:11-24). John confirms this in Rev. 5:9: “You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Matthew Henry writes: “All true Christians, that depend upon Christ for strength and righteousness, in him shall be justified and shall glory in that. Observe, First, All believers are the seed of Israel, an upright praying seed. Secondly, The great privilege they enjoy by Jesus Christ is that in him, and for his sake, they are justified before God, Christ being made of God to them righteousness…. Thirdly, The great duty believers owe to Christ is to glory in him, and to make their boast of him” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 45:20).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips