Tagged: book of Isaiah

Isaiah 50: A Case against God

Listen: A Case against God (mp3)

Read: A Case against God (pdf)


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 50 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 and ultimate glory.

Key verse:

Isa. 50:8 – The One who justifies Me is near; who will contend with Me? Let us confront each other. Who has a case against Me? Let him come near Me!

Quick summary:

This chapter is a contrast between two servants: faithless Israel and the faithful Messiah. Israel has failed God, not because He divorced the nation but because, in effect, the nation divorced Him. By contrast, the faithful Servant humbly learns from Yahweh and even endures persecution in carrying out His will. Ultimately, Israel must choose: The people can walk in God’s light or in the light of their own campfires, which already are only temporary comforts.

Take note:

The suffering of the Servant in verse 6 is a stunningly accurate portrait of Jesus’ physical torment at the hands of His Roman executioners. In obedience to the Father and for the sake of lost humanity, Jesus willingly endures flogging, scorn and spitting. Compare the elements of this verse with the New Testament fulfillments:

  • “I gave my back to those who beat Me …” (Matt. 27:26; Luke 22:63; John 19:1)
  • “My cheeks to those who tore out My beard” (while there is no specific reference to this in the Gospels, it is likely the Roman guards carried this out as a way to produce pain and humiliation; to pluck the hair is the highest insult against an Oriental)
  • “I did not hide My face from scorn and spitting” (Matt. 26:67; Mark 14:65, 15:19; John 19:3)
  • Yet the Servant does not strike back, knowing “the Lord God will help Me” (v. 7; see 1 Peter 2:22-23).

The Correction of Israel (Isa. 50:1-3)

Judah’s captivity in Babylon is a direct result of the people’s sins, and the Lord illustrates this truth in two ways. First, He compares the nation to a divorced woman. According to Mosaic Law, the husband could give his wife a divorce certificate detailing her faults and she would have to leave the home (Deut. 24:1). Judah has so transgressed its covenant relationship with Yahweh that He is compelled to send her away. Second, the Lord compares the Jews to children being sold into indentured servitude because of a great debt (see Ex. 21:7; 2 Kings 4:1; Neh. 5:5).

Yet there is another way of looking at these verses. Since Yahweh is posing two questions – “Where is your mother’s divorce certificate?” and “[W]ho were My creditors that I sold you to?” – it’s possible that He is assuring the people that He has not completely written them off or abandoned them because of their sins. In fact, this perspective is more in line with the whole of Isaiah. While the people have indulged in grievous sins and the nation has turned a cold shoulder to Yahweh, the Lord must discipline them as an act of love but will fulfill His promises to them. The Babylonian captivity is but for a time; it will not last forever.

In verse 2, the Lord reminds the people that their rejection of Him is unreasonable. He has sent the prophets and performed miracles among them, yet like an unfaithful wife the nation has preferred idolatry and social injustice. If only the people would call to Him in repentance. “Is My hand too short to redeem?” He asks, using Oriental imagery of weakness. “Or do I have no power to deliver?” Of course He does. He dries up the sea by his rebuke, a reference to His work in the exodus (Ex. 14:21). He turns rivers into wilderness, perhaps an indication of the coming disaster for Israel’s wealthy and powerful enemies. He causes the enemies’ fish to rot, a reminder of His judgment on the Egyptians (Ex. 7:18, 21). And He dresses the heavens in black, another of Yahweh’s judgments on the Egyptians (Ex. 10:21). In short, the people are responsible for their sins and deserve divine discipline, yet their gracious and all-powerful God will remain faithful to His promise never to forsake them.

The Obedient Servant (Isa. 50:4-9)

The Lord teaches the Servant to comfort the weary, and the Servant obediently carries out His will. From a New Testament perspective, we can see that Jesus, the Suffering Servant, comes to do the Father’s will (see, for example, Matt. 26:39, 42) and in His humanity learns obedience (Heb. 5:8). Jesus provides comfort through His teaching, miracles and physical presence among the outcast. He willingly endures hardship, including rejection, false trials, mocking, scourging, slapping and crucifixion. Undeserving of any of this, He walks through His ministry with His face set toward Jerusalem and a destiny with death. Ultimately, He knows He will be vindicated (through His resurrection and exaltation to the Father’s right hand) and sit in judgment over those who have rejected Him.

Four times in this passage the Servant uses the name “Lord God.” Coming from the Hebrew Yahweh Adonai, this name may be translated “Sovereign Lord.” According to Robert B. Girdlestone, the name means that “God is the owner of each member of the human family, and that he consequently claims the unrestricted obedience of all” (Synonyms of the Old Testament, p. 34). So the emphasis in this passage is the Servant’s willing submission to the Lord in every aspect of His life and ministry.

Warren Wiersbe notes that the Servant’s mind and will are yielded to the Lord. His mind is submitted so that He may learn the Word and will of the Father. Everything Jesus says and does is taught to Him by the Father (John 5:19, 30; 6:38; 8:28). He prays to the Father for guidance and meditates on His Word (Mark 1:35; John 11:42). At the same time, His will is submitted so that those who see Him see the Father (John 14:9). The people of Judah in Isaiah’s day are neither willing nor obedient, but the Servant models perfect yieldedness to the Lord God even though His obedience results in severe persecution and even death (Matt. 26:67; 27:26, 30-31).

Finally, it’s vital to remember that the Servant, though divine, operates on faith while ministering on earth. “Keep in mind that when Jesus Christ was ministering here on earth, He had to live by faith even as we must today. He did not use His divine powers selfishly for Himself but trusted God and depended on the power of the Spirit” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Comforted, An Old Testament Study, S. Is 50:4).

The Challenge to Israel (Isa. 50:10-11)

This chapter closes with an exhortation from the Servant to follow His example: “Who among you fears the Lord, listening to the voice of His servant?” Jesus lays down a similar challenge when He says, “Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Me” (John 5:23b; see also Luke 10:16b). The Servant reminds his listeners that even the godly sometimes face dark moments and must trust in the Lord. Consider Jesus who, while bearing our sin debt on the cross, cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matt. 27:46b). “[T]he servant of God is never wholly without ‘light.’ A godly man’s way may be dark, but his end shall be peace and light. A wicked man’s way may be bright, but his end shall be utter darkness (Ps 112:4; 97:11; 37:24)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, S. Is 50:10).

In contrast to the godly, the wicked face the darkness, not by trusting in God, but by trusting in themselves. They kindle fires and set ablaze firebrands (pieces of burning wood), walking in their manmade light that all too quickly becomes extinguished. Those who reject God’s light, preferring their own schemes, will “lie down in a place of torment” (v. 11). King Solomon once wrote, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it is the way of death” (Prov. 16:7), and one day Jesus will tell even those who claim the name of Jesus but seek salvation their own way, “I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!” (Matt. 7:23).

The stark yet simple truth is that salvation is found only in the Lord and His Servant. Jesus proclaims, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Peter echoes this truth with these words, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). For those who reject the truth – and the Author of truth – there is a place of everlasting separation from God (Luke 16:23, 28; Rev. 20:13-15; 21:8).

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry comments: “Those that make the world their comfort, and their own righteousness their confidence, will certainly meet with a fatal disappointment, which will be bitterness in the end. A godly man’s way may be melancholy, but his end shall be peace and everlasting light. A wicked man’s way may be pleasant, but his end and endless abode will be utter darkness” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume,  S. Is 50:10).

Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 44: The First and the Last

Isaiah 44: The First and the Last (audio)

Isaiah 44: The First and the Last (study notes and worksheet / pdf)


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 44 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance and the worldwide impact of the coming of Messiah.

Key verse:

Isa. 44:6 – This is what the Lord, the King of Israel and its Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts, says: I am the first and I am the last. There is no God but Me.

Quick summary:

God assures Israel that He has chosen the nation and will continue to bless it. He makes plans for His servants while they are yet in their mothers’ wombs. Isaiah declares God’s majesty and uniqueness, then contrasts it with an almost comical description of the man-made gods who depend completely on the people who worship them. He calls on Israel to return to the one true and living God, who will remain faithful to His promises. The chapter ends with an amazing prophecy in which the pagan king who will free the Jews from Babylonian captivity two centuries later is called by name.

Take note:

The Lord often refers to Himself as “The first and … the last” or in similar ways in Scripture, reminding us of His eternal nature, creative and sustaining powers, and sovereignty. Isaiah and the apostle John, in the Book of Revelation, record these words, used interchangeably by God the Father and His Son:

  • “I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last – I am He”  (Isa. 41:4)
  • “… I am He. No god was formed before Me, and there will be none after Me” (Isa. 43:10).
  • “Listen to Me, Jacob, and Israel, the one called by Me: I am He; I am the first, I am also the last” (Isa. 48:12).
  • “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).
  • “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look – I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18).
  • “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13).

Spiritual Blessing (Isa. 44:1-5)

Because God has chosen Israel – a fact mentioned twice in verses 1-2 – the people are not to fear. The Lord will deliver the nation physically and spiritually. Twice He calls Jacob “My servant” and promises to pour out “My Spirit” and “My blessings” on coming generations. Continuing a theme from the previous chapter, He reminds the people that He has formed them. Like all of God’s creative acts, it is for a divine purpose. Although judgment is imminent, the nation’s restoration and spiritual revival are guaranteed. In verse 2 Israel is called “Jeshurun,” a poetic synonym meaning “the upright one” and used elsewhere only in Deuteronomy (see Deut. 32:15; 33:5, 26).

In the days to come, the Lord will “pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground,” making it fruitful (v. 3). Even more important, He will pour out the Holy Spirit, resulting in an unprecedented return to the Lord of Israel. But when will this occur? Nationally, the Jews return to their homeland after the Babylonian captivity, and again in 1948 after nearly 2,000 years without a state following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The spiritual revival, however, is yet to come. “This outpouring of the Spirit will occur when the people have returned in belief to the land (cf. Ezek. 36:24, 27; Joel 2:25-29) just after the Messiah’s second coming to establish the Millennium. Redeemed Israel will prosper numerically like grass and poplar trees, and they will want to be known as righteous individuals (Isa. 44:5), unashamed of Him and their nation” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1098).

No God but Me (Isa. 44:6-23)

The Lord reminds the Jews of several of His titles, thus punctuating His unique claim of sovereignty. He is “the Lord, the King of Israel and its Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts … the first and … the last … Rock” (vv. 6, 8).  He makes a simple and profound declaration: “There is no God but Me” (v. 6), and He argues for His uniqueness by challenging anyone to predict the future (v. 7). Since His knowledge of things to come may be traced to His existence in eternity past, His chosen people have no reason to fear. In fact, they are witnesses of His mighty deeds (v. 8).

The God of Israel then exposes the futility of idol makers, whom he describes as “nothing” (v. 9) and whom He says have brought spiritual blindness upon themselves. Idolatry dominates the world in Isaiah’s day. Some idol makers are superstitious, viewing their creations of wood, metal and stone as deities, while others fashion these magnificent statues as physical representations of unseen gods. In any case, their efforts are futile and their proud professions will only result in shame. Idolatry in any form is a denial of the Creator and invites His wrath. The apostle Paul makes this point in Romans 1, arguing that idolatry is the natural consequence of rejecting the one true and living God, who has revealed Himself to all people (Rom. 1:18ff). As a result, Paul writes, they are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

In Isaiah, however, “the Lord’s scathing contempt for idolatry is expressed in mockery of the ‘wisdom’ of human beings who cut down a tree, burn some of it as fuel, make a few utensils for the home, fashion an idol from the leftovers, and then pray to that idol to deliver them. Only a God who lives, who is capable of action, and who cares, could possibly help anyone – then, or now” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 433). The people who craft these images for profit are mere humans, whom God will cause to “assemble and stand … be startled and put to shame” (v. 11). They labor feverishly over their iron and wood, denying themselves food and water for the sake of their craft until they grow weak. But their work is in vain and their muscled arms cannot overcome their dulled minds. They take cedar, cypress or oak, cut it down and use some of it to warm themselves, some of it to bake their bread and some of it to fashion idols. While they are in complete control of the wood in every stage of its use, they blindly choose to worship what their own hands have made. “Save me, for you are my god,” they cry (v. 17).  

Their failure to see the futility of their deeds is due first of all to their rejection of God and second to God’s response, which is to grant them what they desire – spiritual blindness. The word “detestable” in verse 19 is a strong Hebrew word (siqqus) that links idolatry to immoral practices. Isaiah makes the point that religious sins, which involve direct rebellion against God, are especially grievous and invite the wrath of the Almighty. In the end, the idolater “feeds on ashes” (v. 20), or delights in what is vain. This verse also might refer to the wood being used. The idol maker has reduced much of it to ashes to warm himself and prepare his food; it would have been better if the rest of the tree had been reduced to ashes as well.

Finally in this section, the Lord calls Judah to “remember these things” (v. 21). Jacob is God’s “servant,” whom he has formed, and He will not forget His people. He has swept away their sins, called them to return, and redeemed them. Now at last, He calls upon heaven and earth – even the elements that idol makers have reduced to graven images – to rejoice because the Lord “glorifies Himself through Israel” (v. 23).

Cyrus, the Lord’s Shepherd (Isa. 44:24-28)

The Lord’s repeated claim to control the course of human history, with special regard to Israel, is renewed in the closing verses of this chapter as He makes specific promises about the people, the temple and Jerusalem. After the Babylonian captivity, Jerusalem will be repopulated. The cities of Judah will be rebuilt. The temple will be restored. And, in dramatic fashion, the Lord names the Persian king whose edict makes it all possible – Cyrus, “My shepherd,” who would not even be born for another 150 years (see Ezra 1:1-4). If the Jews have any doubts about God’s command of time and events, He clears them up in this passage. Lawrence Richards notes: “Some commentators, who deny the possibility of such detailed predictive prophecy, have insisted the mention of Cyrus is evidence of postexilic authorship of the second part of Isa. But in the context the naming of Cyrus is evidence of something far different. It is proof of the power of Israel’s living God and a guarantee that history itself moves toward His intended end” (The Bible Readers Companion, S. 433).

But why is a pagan king called the Lord’s “shepherd,” a name normally reserved for the Messiah or the nation of Israel? It appears this title is given to show the citizens of Judah that God uses even unbelievers like Cyrus to accomplish His purposes and that no one, no matter how powerful, operates independently of the One who created all things. “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps…. Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the Lord’s decree will prevail” (Prov. 16:9, 19:21).

Closing Thought

John Walvoord and Roy Zuck describe the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “In 586 b.c. Nebuchadnezzar and his forces broke through Jerusalem’s walls, burned the houses and the temple, and carried many captives into exile. Cyrus, founder of the Persian Empire, first came to the throne of Anshan in Eastern Elam in 559. In 549 he conquered the Medes and became the ruler of the combined Persian and Median Empire. In 539 he conquered Babylon (Dan. 5:30) and the very next year issued a decree that the Jews could return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4). In doing this Cyrus was serving God’s purposes as if he were God’s shepherd. Those returnees built the temple, completing it in 515 b.c., and years later (in 444 b.c.) Nehemiah went to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures), S. 1:1099).

Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 43: Walk Through the Fire

Isaiah 43: Walk Through the Fire (audio file / mp3)

Isaiah 43: Walk Through the Fire (study notes and work sheet / pdf)


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 43 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance and the worldwide impact of the coming of Messiah.

Key verse:

Isa. 43:2 – I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and [when you pass] through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you.

Quick summary:

Despite Judah’s unfaithfulness, God promises to restore the nation after the Babylonian captivity.  The people are not to fear because the Lord created them, loves them and will carry out His promises to them. Just as God led the Israelites out of Egypt through the Red Sea, He will bring them out of Babylon, across the desert and safely back into their homeland. As a result, the people will witness to the world that He is the one true God and only Savior.

Take note:

The Lord repeatedly rehearses His uniqueness as the only true God. For the Jews, this is both a reminder and a prophetic prompt. The Babylonian captivity will finally cure the people of their idolatry, although it will take a spiritual revival in the last days to fully draw the redeemed of Israel into declaring worldwide the wonder of the Holy One of Israel and the salvation of the Messiah. Note how the Lord describes Himself to the people in this chapter:

  • “I [am] the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior” (v. 3).
  • “I am He. No god was formed before Me, and there will be none after Me” (v. 10).
  • “I, I am the Lord, and there is no other Savior but Me” (v. 11).
  • “I alone declared, saved, and proclaimed … I am God” (v. 12).
  • “I am He [alone] … I act, and who can reverse it?” (v. 13).
  • “I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, Your King” (v. 15).
  • “It is I who sweep away your transgressions for My own sake and remember your sins no more” (v. 25).

The Restoration of Israel (Isa. 43:1-7)

“These verses give Israel in eloquent detail the assurance Christ gives to his church, that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it,” writes D.A. Carson (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 43:1). Raging waters, scorching fires, brutal enemies and great distances will not prevent the Lord’s people from obtaining their inheritance. For the Jews in Isaiah’s day, this means a return to Israel and a rebuilding of the temple following the Babylonian captivity, and ultimately the coming of the Messiah. For the church, it means an irrevocable citizenship in the kingdom of heaven based on the finished work of Christ and the promise of His glorious return one day. All of this is assured, not because of human righteousness, but because of the faithfulness of the covenant-keeping Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah reminds the Jews of some of the strands that bind them to God: creation, redemption and calling (verse 1); the Lord’s omnipresence (verse 2); love (verse 4); adoption (verse 6); and the honor of His name (verse 7). This unique relationship between God and His people is pictured in the bold image of a human ransom. Nations fall and people are displaced to make way for Israel (verses 3-4, 14). God is not unjust to act this way for all the world’s people have rejected Him and gone their own way. In choosing Israel, the Lord demonstrates His sovereignty and grace. Even more important, whatever the nations lose to Israel is more than compensated in the ransom Israel’s Messiah would pay for the sins of the world, bringing into the kingdom people of every “tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

The Response of Israel (Isa. 43:8-13)

The Lord invites Israel, still spiritually blind and deaf, to stand before the nations as a witness of His uniqueness as the one true and living God. He challenges the nations to present witnesses. Can they point to past prophecies, made by their seers, which came true? Can they predict the

future? Of course not (see Isa. 41:21-23). In contrast, Israel, as God’s chosen servant, takes the stand and testifies that no god was formed before the Holy One of Israel, and there will be none after Him (v. 10). The Lord reminds His people, “‘I, I am the Lord, and there is no other Savior but Me. I alone declared, saved, and proclaimed – and not some foreign god among you. So you are My witnesses’ – the Lord’s declaration – ‘and I am God’” (Isa. 43:11-12). The Lord’s deliverance of Israel shows He is the true God. No one can successfully oppose Him or thwart His plans.

The name “Savior” is one God gives Himself in this passage and Isaiah uses frequently throughout his writings. For example, the Lord is “the God of your salvation” in Isa. 17:10; “God of Israel, Savior” in 45:15; “a righteous God and Savior” in 45:21; “Savior and Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” in 60:16; and “your salvation” in 62:11. No foreign god can duplicate His wondrous works. No deity fashioned out of metal, wood or stone is able to save the people God created for His pleasure, purpose and glory.

Twice in this section the Lord calls the citizens of Judah “My witnesses.” Warren Wiersbe writes, “[I]t is in the history of Israel that God has revealed Himself to the world. Frederick the Great asked the Marquis D’Argens, ‘Can you give me one single irrefutable proof of God?’ The Marquis replied, ‘Yes, your majesty, the Jews’” (Be Comforted, S. Is 41:1). Matthew Henry notes that the Lord shows Himself as God by two proofs in this passage: “[1.] He has infinite and infallible knowledge, as is evident from the predictions of his word (v. 12) … [2.] He has an infinite and irresistible power, as is evident from the performances of his providence…. The cause of God is not afraid to stand a fair trial; but it may reasonably be expected that those who cannot justify themselves in their irreligion should submit to the power of the truth and true religion” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 43:8).

The Routing of Babylon (Isa. 43:14-21)

By God’s grace and for Israel’s sake, the Lord promises to destroy Babylon and deliver the Jews from captivity. Even though Assyria is the threat in Isaiah’s day, and Babylon is pursued as an ally, this powerful kingdom to the east will rise up and do to Judah what the Assyrians could not – conquer Jerusalem and destroy the temple. Even so, once God’s use of the Babylonians as His rod of punishment is completed, He will defeat Judah’s foes and bring His people home. This deliverance is the backdrop against which a greater work of God will be accomplished in the sending of Messiah and His redemption on the cross. As D.A. Carson writes, “For its real fulfillment we must look beyond the modest homecomings from Babylon of the sixth and fifth centuries bc, although these are certainly in view, to the exodus which the Son of God accomplished at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31; cf. 1 Cor. 10:4, 11), which alone justifies the language of this and kindred passages” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 43:1).

In verses 16-17, Isaiah alludes to God’s deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian captivity and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. The exodus is a standing illustration of God’s unchanging character toward His people and a reminder to the church today that the Lord is directing human history to its ultimate conclusion in the destruction of His enemies and the deliverance of His people into “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell” (2 Peter 3:13). The works that God will yet do for His people are so wonderful, they will not remember the sins God already has forgotten or “the past events” such as the defeat of Sennacherib or the return from exile in Babylon (v. 18). The apostle Paul, quoting Isaiah 52 and 64, gives Christians a similar glimpse of the future when he writes, “What no eye has seen and no ear has heard, and what has never come into a man’s heart, is what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

The Rebellion of Israel (Isa. 43:22-28)

With the temple destroyed and the nation exiled under Babylonian rule, the Jews in the coming days will not be able to offer atoning sacrifices. Nevertheless, their gracious God promises to forgive their mounting sins. “It is I who sweep away your transgressions for My own sake and remember your sins no more,” the Lord says in verse 25. At the same time, the people should not lose sight of why they’re going into captivity in the first place: “Jacob, you have not called on Me … Israel, you have become weary of Me … you have burdened Me with your sins; you have wearied Me with your iniquities” (vv. 22, 24).

Matthew Henry takes note of five sins of omission in this passage. The people have 1) “cast off prayer;” 2) “grown weary of their religion;” 3) “grudged the expense of their devotion;” 4) not honored God with their sacrifices, “and so they were, in effect, as no sacrifices;” and 5) “aggravated their neglect of sacrificing” because God had not made it a burden for them  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 43:22).

Even though the Lord will forgive Judah, He must discipline them. He invites the people to court and urges them to state their case. He then offers His evidence against them. Their “first father” sinned and their “mediators” rebelled against God. The “first father” is Adam (see Hosea 6:7), Abraham, or possibly Jacob. If Adam, then the point is that his sin nature was passed to all people (Rom. 5:12). If Abraham, then even the father of the Jewish race was in need of a Redeemer. If Jacob, then God is reminding the people that even their ancestors were sinful and fallen men. In addition, the “mediators” – the priests and prophets – have rebelled against God and failed to lead the people to live in a manner pleasing to Him. Therefore, God is going to punish the nation at the hands of Babylon.

Closing Thought

God’s chosen people should never presume upon His grace. While we are the recipients of the “richness of His grace” (Eph. 1:7), we also are the receivers of the full weight of His divine discipline when we fail to “walk worthy of God” (1 Thess. 2:12). D.A. Carson comments: “Israel’s devastating response to divine ardor is a yawn of apathy. No rebuff could be worse … The final thrust [v. 28] is deadly, for destruction is the Hebrew term herem, reserved for such objects of judgment as Jericho or the Amalekites, with whom no compromise was to be endured. It is the strongest term in the language” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 43:22).

Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 42: The Islands Will Wait

Isaiah 42: The Islands Will Wait (audio / mp3)

Isaiah 42: The Islands Will Wait (study notes and worksheet / pdf)


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 42 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance and the worldwide impact of the coming of Messiah.

Key verses:

Isa. 42:6-8 – “I, the Lord, have called you for a righteous [purpose], and I will hold you by your hand. I will keep you, and I make you a covenant for the people [and] a light to the nations, in order to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, [and] those sitting in darkness from the prison house. I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, or My praise to idols.”

Quick summary:

Isaiah introduces the first of his “Servant Songs” referring to the Messiah (vv. 1-17). Israel is called the Lord’s servant a number of times (for example Isa. 41:8; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20) and so is the Messiah (49:3, 5-7; 50:10; 52:13; 53:11). The context and the characteristics of the servant in these passages determine which one Isaiah intends. “Israel as God’s servant was supposed to help bring the world to a knowledge of God, but she failed. So the Messiah, the Lord’s Servant, who epitomizes the nation of Israel, will fulfill God’s will” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1095). Israel, blind and deaf to God’s law, is unable to fulfill the servant’s role (vv. 18-25), and thus it will be left to the promised Messiah.

Take note:

The “Servant Songs” of Isaiah (42:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13ff; and 53:1-12) refer to different aspects of the Messiah’s ministry. The first depicts Him as the key that unlocks the captives’ chains. The second tells us His mission calls for suffering. The third points to His ultimate exaltation. And the fourth graphically portrays the Servant’s crucifixion.

“These servant songs not only display Christ in His essential beauty, but also serve to model the nature of all servanthood. Anyone who serves God must (a) have a desire to do so, (b) remain humble before others and dependent on the Lord, (c) be committed to winning others’ release from sin’s grip, (d) accept personal suffering, and (e) rely completely on God for guidance and strength (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., 1996, S. 432).

The Servant’s Mission (Isa. 42:1-9)

The opening verses of this chapter clearly identify “My Servant” as a person and not the nation of Israel. The Lord calls Him “My Chosen One” and declares, “I have put My Spirit on Him” (v. 1). Matt. 12:18-21 quotes Isa. 42:1-4 and relates this passage to Jesus and His ministry to Israel. As the Lord’s Servant, He does what Israel could never do: perfectly carry out the will of Yahweh so that people everywhere believe in the Holy One of Israel. “Servant” is the position assumed by Jesus during His earthly ministry. He is chosen from the foundation of the world for the redemption of mankind (1 Peter 1:20; Rev. 13:8). Salvation is in the mind of God from eternity past and stretches into eternity future; it should never be seen as Alpha and Omega’s “Plan B” or an afterthought by a Creator who finds Himself backed into a corner by one of His creatures.

Because the Lord created the heavens and the earth and gives breath to all people, He is sovereign over the universe and is able to assist His Servant. Yahweh assures Him of several promises: His calling for a righteous purpose; His help from the Lord; His fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Israel; His role as light to the Gentiles; and His deliverance of people from spiritual darkness and bondage. Although Cyrus will release the Jewish people from captivity in Babylon, the Lord’s Servant will free mankind from captivity in Satan’s kingdom. As Jesus declares, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Later, the apostle Paul writes, “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (Col. 1:13). The lost are spiritually blind and in darkness, but Jesus is sent to open their eyes and give them light (see John 8:12; 9:39-41).

Yahweh, Israel’s covenant-keeping God, makes these promises and refuses to let idols take the credit for their fulfillment. His people are called to remember all that the Lord has done for them and be assured that what He has promised will most certainly come to pass. Yahweh’s statement in verse 8 is especially important in the context of His relationship with His Servant, for if God will not give His glory to another, then Jesus’ claim to deity must either be true or blasphemy. Clearly it is true. Jesus not only claims to be God and demonstrates the authority of God by casting out demons, healing illnesses, controlling the world’s natural elements, raising the dead and forgiving sins; He also longs for the day when His work of redemption is complete and He returns to His glorified position at the Father’s right hand (John. 17:5).

A Song of Praise (Isa. 42:10-17)

Outburts of singing are frequent in Isaiah, and the songs of praise recorded here, as well as in Isa. 44:23; 49:13; 52:9 and other places are similar to Psalms 93 and 95-100 in theme and language. People everywhere are urged to sing and shout the praises of the Lord, who is victorious over His enemies at Messiah’s second coming. A “new song” (v. 10) is mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament (Ps. 33:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9) and twice in Revelation (5:9 and 14:3) – always in the context of worship and specifically in Revelation in worship of the exalted Messiah, who has redeemed people by His blood from every tribe, language, people and nation. This new song is “called for by a new manifestation of God’s grace, to express which no hymn for former mercies would be appropriate” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 42:10).

The mention of Kedar and Sela is noteworthy. Kedar is the second son of Ishmael (Gen. 25:13). He fathered a nomadic people in the northern Arabian Peninsula. Sela, or Petra, is in modern Jordan and defines people who carved their dwelling places out of rock. While the people of Kedar and Edom are at times Israel’s enemies, they will join their Jewish neighbors in praising the King of kings. The references to Kedar and Sela also may symbolize the world’s people who wander or remain in fixed locations. They, along with seafarers, desert dwellers and urbanites will join the chorus of nations to sing the Lord’s praise “from the ends of the earth” (v. 10).

The Lord is praised as He “advances like a warrior” and “prevails over His enemies” (v. 13). Silent for so long that people question whether He will come at all (see 2 Peter 3:3-4), He now “shouts” and “roars” (v. 13), laying waste the nations that reject Him and rescuing those who have waited patiently for His justice. It is interesting to note that the Lord groans “like a woman in labor” (v. 14). Earlier in the writings of Isaiah, the prophet says the day is coming when the Babylonians will be “in anguish like a woman in labor” (Isa. 13:8). This is just a foretaste of rebellious sinners’ plight in the coming Day of the Lord. So why, in this passage, does Messiah groan like a woman in labor? “Like a woman in parturition, who, after having restrained her breathing for a time, at last, overcome with labor pain, lets out her voice with a panting sigh; so Jehovah will give full vent to His long pent-up wrath” (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Is 42:14).

Finally, those who trust in idols rather than the living God will be “turned back [and] utterly ashamed” (v. 17). Their confidence in “metal-plated images” will come to naught. They will be ashamed that they ever said to inanimate objects, “You are our gods!” As the psalmist writes, “All who serve carved images, those who boast in idols, will be put to shame” (Ps. 97:7).

Israel’s Blindness and Deafness (Isa. 42:18-25)

Isaiah closes this chapter with a message about Israel’s sin and the suffering that results from it. We need to understand that “My servant” in verse 19 is not the Messiah, as in verse 1, but the nation of Israel. The people will not listen to or see what God has done. In fact they cannot listen or see because in their persistent rebellion they have stopped up their ears and closed their eyes. More than 700 years later the hardness of Israel’s heart is personified in the people’s refusal to receive Messiah’s message of the kingdom of heaven. Quoting from Isaiah 6, Jesus tells His followers that He uses parables, in part, to confound the self-righteous religionists: “For this reason I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You will listen and listen, yet never understand; and you will look and look, yet never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown callous; their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn back— and I would cure them” (Matt. 13:13-15).

Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is equally direct in his defense before the high priest: “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your forefathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51). What was the people’s response?  “Then they screamed at the top of their voices, stopped their ears, and rushed together against him” (Acts 7:57). Later, the apostle Paul, quoting Isa. 29:10, notes that Israel’s rebellion is so complete that God has sealed all but the believing remnant in their hardness: “[A]s it is written: God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear, to this day” (Rom. 11:8).

Isaiah is clear that the fault lies, not with the Lord, but with His people: “The Lord was pleased, because of His righteousness, to magnify [His] instruction and make it glorious” (Isa. 42:21). But the people will not receive the Lord or His instruction. As a consequence, they are “plundered and looted,” “trapped in holes or imprisoned in dungeons” (v. 22). Who gives Jacob to the robber and Israel to the plunderer? “Was it not the Lord? … So He poured out on Jacob His furious anger and the power of war” (vv. 24-25). Even so, Israel is oblivious. “It surrounded him with fire, but he did not know [it]; it burned him, but he paid no attention” (v. 25).

Closing Thought

Judah’s coming captivity in Babylon will turn the people’s feet but not necessarily their hearts back to the Lord. They will cease their idolatry and return to their homeland yet fail to be fully transformed, waiting for God to grant them a “heart of flesh” in the last days (Ezek. 11:19). Lest we be too harsh in our judgment of the Jews, it’s helpful to note the all-too-frequent impact of God’s chastening on Christian lives today. His rod of discipline often succeeds in curbing sinful behavior but not reforming the heart. The fault is not the Lord’s, who punishes His own as a loving Father (see Heb. 12:3-13). Rather, the fault lies with us when we choose to stubbornly endure rebuke rather than tenderly embrace our Savior.

Warren Wiersbe comments: “How sad it is when God disciplines us and we do not understand what He is doing or take it to heart (v. 25). Israel’s captivity in Babylon cured the nation of their idolatry, but it did not create within them a desire to please God and glorify Him” (Be Comforted, S. Is 41:1).

Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 41: The Worm and the Machine

Isaiah 41: The Worm and the Machine (audio)

Isaiah 41: The Worm and the Machine (study notes and worksheet / pdf)


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 41 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance and the worldwide impact on the coming of Messiah. This chapter may have been written late in the prophet’s life.

Key verses:

Isa. 41:11-13 –Be sure that all who are enraged against you will be ashamed and disgraced; those who contend with you will become as nothing and will perish. You will look for those who contend with you, but you will not find them. Those who war against you will become absolutely nothing. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand and say to you: Do not fear, I will help you.

Quick summary:

Isaiah foretells the coming of the Persian king Cyrus as God’s instrument of judgment against Babylon. He encourages God’s people, who will be captives of Babylon when this prophecy is fulfilled, not to fear this warrior from the east because the Lord will use him to defeat Israel’s enemies and restore the nation to its former glory.

Take note:

Throughout Isaiah, both the nation of Israel and the coming Messiah are called God’s “servant.” The context helps us determine which “servant” is intended. In Isa. 41:8-9, it is the nation of Israel (see also Isa. 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3). In other passages, the Messiah clearly is in view. For example, Isa. 42:1-9 announces the coming of the Lord’s “Chosen One” who will bring justice to the nations. And in Isa. 52:13 – 53:12 we encounter the Suffering Servant who will be “pierced because of our transgressions” and ultimately exalted – a prophecy wonderfully fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, who died for our sins, rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, where today He is seated at the right hand of the Father awaiting His triumphant return to earth.

Source and Strength (Isa. 41:1-7)

This chapter opens with a courtroom scene. The Lord calls Israel and all the nations before Him to “come together for the trial” (v. 1). The Old Testament is replete with courtroom settings in which the Lord presents His case against the wicked and pronounces judgment. Here, the Lord announces the rise of the Persian king Cyrus, whom God will use to judge the Babylonians, and He calls the idols of the nations to testify (vv. 21-24).

This powerful Persian leader “subdues kings” … “makes [them] like dust [with] his sword” and “like wind-driven stubble [with] his bow” (v. 2). However, it is clear that the Jews are not to fear this conquering king because the Lord has given him his strength and will use him to accomplish His purposes. “The Lord hands nations over to him,” Isaiah declares (v. 2). And if there’s any doubt about God’s sovereignty over human affairs, the Lord challenges His listeners: “Who has performed and done [this], calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord …” (v. 4). “A great truth is emphasized here. God controls the course of history and the rise and fall of nations. Even the pagan serves God’s purposes, even though unwittingly. However, you and I have the greatest privilege of all. We can serve God knowingly and gladly” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 431).

If there is any doubt about the sovereignty of God, He assures His people in verse 4, “I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last – I am He.” His declaration of eternal power and presence is repeated in Isa. 44:6 and Rev. 1:8 and is echoed by Jesus’ claims to deity in Rev. 1:17 and 22:13. Those who argue that Jesus is a lesser god, a created being or only a man who existed for a scant three decades face strong opposition from the Son of God Himself in these and other New Testament passages. To cite but a few other examples, Jesus claims to be eternal and uncreated (John 8:58; 17:5); divine (Mark 14:61-62; John 8:24, 58); and co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 11:25-27; 12:28; Luke 4:18; 23:34, 46; John 8:16-19, 42; 15:26; 16:13-15). 

Closing out this section, Isaiah mocks the nations that rush to one another for protection against Cyrus. They delve deeper into their idolatrous practices rather than turn to the Lord of Hosts who directs the Persian army for his own glorious purposes. The craftsman and metalworker who wield their tools, using solder and nails to fasten their idols will not be able to keep them from falling beneath the mighty hand of God.

The Consolation of Israel (Isa. 41:8-24)

The Lord now turns His attention back to Israel, whom He calls “My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend” (v. 8). Even though God is raising the rod of discipline against His chosen ones, He will not forget them or His covenant promises to them. Soon to be exiled in Babylon, they are assured nonetheless that the Lord has chosen them. Like a loving father disciplining an unruly child, He reminds them of His faithful love: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand” (v. 10).

From the endearing title of “servant,” Judah is then called a “worm” (v. 14). “My servant” is an honorable title given to great leaders like Moses (Num. 12:7), David (2 Sam. 3:18) and the Messiah (Isa. 42:1). So why would the Lord refer to His chosen people using such a degrading word as “worm?” Warren Wiersbe observes: “‘Servant’ defined what they were by God’s grace and calling, but ‘worm’ described what they were in themselves. Imagine a worm getting teeth and threshing mountains into dust like chaff! As the nation marched ahead by faith, every mountain and hill would be made low (40:4); and the Lord would turn mountains into molehills!” (Be Comforted, S. Is 41:1). “See,” the Lord says, “I will make you into a sharp threshing board, new, with many teeth. You will thresh mountains and pulverize [them], and make hills like chaff” (v. 15). And when that day comes, what will be the people’s response? “[Y]ou will rejoice in the Lord; you will boast in the Holy One of Israel” (v. 16).

In verses 17-20 the scene changes to a desert being transformed into a garden. This harkens back to the days of wandering in the wilderness and God’s provision for the people’s every need. Six times in these verses the Lord uses the personal pronoun “I” to assure His people that He will act on their behalf: “I, the Lord, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, do not forsake them. I will open rivers on the barren heights, and springs in the middle of the plains. I will turn the desert into a pool of water and dry land into springs of water. I will plant cedars in the desert, acacias, myrtles, and olive trees. I will put cypress trees in the desert, elms and box trees together …” (vv. 17-19). The reason for God’s action is clear: “so that all may see and know, consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it” (v. 20).

Now the scene changes once again, this time to a courtroom. God challenges the nations’ idols to plead their case before His holy bench. Have any of their predictions come true? What do they know about the future? Are they even able to do anything good or evil to prove their power? Of course not. “Look,” the Lord says, “you are nothing and your work is worthless. Anyone who chooses you is detestable” (v. 24).

The Conquests of Cyrus (Isa. 41:25-29)

Verses 25-29 go back over the ground of verses 2-4 but add detail. The north and east are mentioned together, defining Cyrus’ conquests, which will overarch the Babylonian Empire from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian and Black Seas. North and east also describe Cyrus’ lineage and leadership. His father is a Mede and his mother is a Persian. His army consists of Medes, whose country lay north, and Persians, whose country lay east, from Babylon. The one “who invokes My name” (v. 25) is Cyrus, who credits the God of heaven with his victories (Ezra 1:2-3). This does not necessarily prove that Cyrus is a true believer, for in other inscriptions he diplomatically credits the gods of conquered peoples for his triumphs, among them Marduk in Babylon and Sin (the moon god) in Ur.

In contrast with the idols of verses 21-24, God can and does predict the future. Besides describing Cyrus and his conquests long before his birth, the Lord informs the people that a messenger will come, heralding the news that the Jews will be released from captivity and returned to their homeland. The idols, however, “are a delusion; their works are nonexistent; their images are wind and emptiness” (v. 29).

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry comments: “When we are freed from that which hindered our joy, and are blessed with that which is the matter of it, we ought to remember that God is our exceeding joy and in him all our joys must terminate. When we rejoice over our enemies we must rejoice in the Lord, for to him alone we owe our liberties and victories” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 41:10).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips