The Suffering Servant

1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:1-12 ESV

This is, arguably, one of the most significant chapters in the entire Bible. It actually extends from verse 13 of the previous chapter and provides an amazing portrait of the suffering servant: Jesus Christ. Chapter 53 of Isaiah is quoted by the New Testament authors more than any other section of Scripture. And you can see why they aligned themselves with this remarkable section of God’s Word, because in it is contained the quinticential description of Jesus as the suffering servant of God.

For anyone familiar with the New Testament account of Jesus’s life, it would be difficult to read this chapter in Isaiah and not see a clear and compelling portrait of the Jesus and His crucifixion. He is described as being marred in appearance, despised, rejected, pierced, crushed, wounded, oppressed, afflicted, and burdened with the sins of mankind. The amount of detail provided in these verses is difficult to fathom, when you consider that Isaiah penned these words more than seven centuries before Jesus appeared on the scene.

The descriptions of Jesus in this passage are far from flattering. He is portrayed as a yowneq, which is the Hebrew word for a small shoot or suckling. It refers to a small sprout that appears after a tree has been cut down. It is an unexpected shoot that appears out of nowhere in dry ground because of the presence on an unseen root. Isaiah referred to this aspect of Jesus earlier in his book.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. – Isaiah 11:1 ESV

In that chapter, Isaiah describes Jesus, the shoot, as having power and authority. He will come as a conquering King, not a suffering servant.

…and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt of his loins. – Isaiah 11:4-5 ESV

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people. – Isaiah 11:10-11 ESV

But the Jesus of Isaiah 53 is quite different. The Jesus who came to earth as a man, in His incarnate form, was anything but beautiful and physically impressive. In fact, Isaiah says, “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him” (Isaiah 53:2 NLT). He didn’t have a charismatic personality, come from an influential family or wield  a lot of power.  Born in relative obscurity in the town of Bethlehem, Jesus spent His childhood in the backwater town of Nazareth. He was the adopted son of a lowly tradesman, and spent the early years of His adulthood living at home and working alongside His father.

And even when Jesus began His earthly ministry, He would do so without a lot of fanfare or noteriety. And while He received the glowing endorsement of His Heavenly Father at the commencement of His ministry, things did not end well for Him. Isaiah describes Him as “despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3 NLT). During the 3-1/2 years of His earthly ministry, Jesus encountered far more rejection than He did acceptance. The Jewish religious leaders hated Him with a passion. The majority of the Jewish nation, while enamored with His miracles and amazed by His teaching, would end up rejecting His claims to be their long-awaited Messish.

And Isaiah fast-forwards into the closing days of Jesus’ earthly existence, describing events associated with His eventual trials and crucifixion. Speaking in the past-tense, Isaiah says the suffering servant, “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4 ESV). The Jewish people believed that Jesus died for His own sins. He was accused by the Pharisees of blasphemy because He had claimed to be God. And the Jews “thought his troubles were a punishment from God” (Isaiah 53:4 NLT). But Isaiah clears up the confusion, declaring that Jesus “was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). Don’t miss the significance of this verse. It was written hundreds of years before Jesus was even born and yet, it perfectly describes the details associated with the crucifixion of Jesus.

And, just in case we miss his point, Isaiah stresses that Jesus died because of our sins, not His own.

Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 ESV

Men were the ones guilty of straying from God, walking away from His love and faithfulness. And yet, Jesus was the one who died in their place. And like an innocent sheep being led to the slaughter, Jesus didn’t utter a word in His own defense. Mark describes the fulfillment of this prophecy in his gospel account.

Then the high priest stood up before the others and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus was silent and made no reply. – Mark 14:60-61 NLT

Jesus would end up unjustly condemned, sentenced to death, and stripped of life, without a single descendant. His life was cut short, having done nothing to deserve the death He suffered. And He would suffer the ignominy of having to be buried in a borrowed tomb. The gospel writers provide us with the fulfillment of this prophecy when they describe Joseph of Arimathea asking Pilate for the right to bury the body of Jesus in his own tomb.

And Isaiah delivers the amazing part of this entire story. The death of the suffering servant was all the plan of God Almighty. It had been the will of God from the very beginning.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him – Isaiah 53:10 ESV

None of what happened to Jesus took place outside the divine will of God. It had all been a part of His sovereign plan. God had a method to His seeming madness. What Isaiah is describing had to have sounded farfetched and difficult to understand from the perspectives of the Jews in his audience. Why in the world would God do something so heinous to His own servant? What could be remotely redeeming about any of this? And the answer would be, “Everything.” The suffering servant would eventually recognize the wisdom behind God’s plan.

When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins. – Isaiah 53:11 ESV

One of the truly amazing things about this passage is its undeniable accuracy. So much of what we read in these verses was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. He lived out these verses to the smallest detail. And because of His obedience to the will of God, Jesus was exalted.

I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels. – Isaiah 53:12 NLT

Jesus hung on the cross, bracketed by the two “rebels” who were crucified on either side of Him. And Jesus went to that cross willingly, not begrudgingly. The apostle Paul describes what happened because of Jesus’ willing submission to His Father’s redemptive plan for mankind.

…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 NLT

The people of Judah were facing the prospect of some intense suffering, all as a part of God’s will concerning them. And God wants them to realize that this plan was to be embraced, not rejected. Like the suffering servant, they were to trust God for their future and submit to His will. If they would only listen, they would be exalted at just the right time. God’s will for Jesus included suffering and, eventually, death. But it also included exaltation and glory. God always has a purpose behind His actions. And while the people of Judah were having a difficult time understanding why God was bringing His judgment on them, He wanted them to rest in His sovereign will for them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Your God Reigns!

1 Awake, awake,
    put on your strength, O Zion;
put on your beautiful garments,
    O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for there shall no more come into you
    the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Shake yourself from the dust and arise;
    be seated, O Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
    O captive daughter of Zion.

For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” For thus says the Lord God: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. Now therefore what have I here,” declares the Lord, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares the Lord, “and continually all the day my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
    together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.

11 Depart, depart, go out from there;
    touch no unclean thing;
go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves,
    you who bear the vessels of the Lord.
12 For you shall not go out in haste,
    and you shall not go in flight,
for the Lord will go before you,
    and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
    he shall be high and lifted up,
    and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
    his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations.
    Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand. Isaiah 52:1-15 ESV

There are times in life when it is difficult to imagine God sitting on His throne and ruling in unparalleled power and sovereignty. We look at the circumstances surrounding us and see no signs of His presence or power. The world appears to be in a state of chaos. The enemies of God seem to hold the upper hand. Righteousness looks as if it is on the wane, while wickedness spreads like a cancer through the land. Immorality runs rampant and injustice prevails. People call good evil and evil good. And, it appears as if God is going nothing about. Either because He can’t or because He doesn’t care.

But Isaiah 52 extends to the people of God, in every generation, a much-needed wake up call. This particular message is directed at Zion, the holy mountain upon which the city of Jerusalem sat. It is a call to the people of Judah, but it is timeless in nature. The situation in which they found themselves was unique to them but, at the same time, universal. They were facing difficult days and wrestling with strong feelings of doubt regarding God’s involvement in their circumstances. Which is why, in chapter 51, they had extended their own wake up call to God.

Wake up, wake up, O Lord! Clothe yourself with strength!
    Flex your mighty right arm!
Rouse yourself as in the days of old
    when you slew Egypt, the dragon of the Nile. – Isaiah 51:9 NLT

From their vantage point, it appeared that God was the one who had fallen asleep on the job. The evidence was all around them that God had either abandoned them or simply forgotten all about them. But their perspective was skewed and their conclusion was wrong. Not only was God there, He cared, and He was going to act on their behalf. But, as we have seen, His intervention into their difficulties was going to be on His schedule and according to His divine plan, not theirs. He knew what was best and He was going to do what needed to be done at just the right time – no sooner or later. And, they were going to have to trust Him.

Salvation comes easy to God. It requires no effort on His part. He doesn’t even break a sweat. Which is why He told the prophet, Jeremiah, “I am the LORD, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27 NLT). Which is the same thing God said to Abraham when Sarah had laughed at His announcement that she would bear a son, in spite of her barrenness

“Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” – Genesis 18:14 NLT

It is the same message Jesus conveyed to His disciples when they had asked Him, “Who then can be saved?” He responded, ““With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV).

The problems facing the people of Judah were not a problem for God. In fact, He is the one who had sovereignly ordained each and every circumstance in which they found themselves. The Assyrians and Babylonians had been instruments in His hands. The fall of Judah to the Babylonians had been His doing. Their 70 years of captivity were part of His divine plan for them. And, just as God had found it quite easy to bring His judgment upon the people of Judah, He would find it just as easy to bring about their salvation. The 800-pound gorilla in the room was not God’s lack of power, but the peoples’ lack of faith. They didn’t trust God.

Now, God addresses the people of Judah in their captive state – in the midst of one of darkest days of their corporate history.

Remove the chains of slavery from your neck,
    O captive daughter of Zion.
For this is what the Lord says:
“When I sold you into exile,
    I received no payment.
Now I can redeem you
    without having to pay for you.” – Isaiah 52:2-3 NLT

Just as no one had forced God to sell the people of Judah into slavery, no one would coerce or bribe Him to redeem them. He would act according to His own divine will.

The truth was, that the people of God had a track record of finding themselves in difficult situations. Generations earlier, Jacob and his family had willingly sought shelter in Egypt, in an attempt to escape the famine in Canaan. But they ended up enslaved to the Egyptians and had to be rescued by God. Centuries later, when they had occupied the land, they found themselves harassed by the Assyrians, and the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and deported as slaves.

And hundreds of years later, the southern kingdom of Judah would find itself living in captivity in Babylon, enslaved once again and crying out in despair. Their captors would mock the name of God, declaring their false gods to be superior in strength. And even the Jews would end up blaspheming the name of God by failing to trust in His word and rely on His covenant faithfulness. Their wailing and moaning would be a visible sign of their lack of faith. And yet, God tells them:

“But I will reveal my name to my people, and they will come to know its power. Then at last they will recognize that I am the one who speaks to them.” – Isaiah 52:6 NLT

And the following verses contain a powerful song of praise from the lips of Isaiah as he considers the incredible nature of God’s promise of redemption.

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7 ESV

Don’t miss what Isaiah is saying here. The key to the salvation of God’s people was the fact that God reigns. He is in complete control of all things. He is the ruler over all the earth. He is final determiner of all that happens. God is not only powerful, He is ALL powerful. And, as far as Isaiah is concerned, the salvation of the Lord is as good as done because He reigns over all.

The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God. – Isaiah 52:10 ESV

God would one day return a remnant of the people of Judah from their captivity in Babylon. But there is an even greater deliverance foreshadowed here. This passage predicts an even more remarkable day when the people of God experience release from their captivity to sin. Look back on verse 7 and consider the significance of what is conveyed in its words.

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,
the good news of peace and salvation,
    the news that the God of Israel reigns!

Now fast forward to Paul’s letter to the Romans. He picks up on this very same passage when addressing the Roman believers about their need to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost in their community.

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. – Romans 10:14-17 ESV

The release of the people of Judah from their physical captivity in Babylon did nothing to restore their broken relationship with God. They remained stubbornly unfaithful and persistently inconsistent in their obedience to and worship of Him. Sin still plagued their lives. Immorality and injustice remained a constant part of their individual and corporate existence.

But one day, God would send His Son to remedy their true problem: Their slavery to sin. And, He would do it by sending His Son. In the closing verses of this chapter, Isaiah is given a vision of the coming Messiah, God’s servant who “shall be high and lifted up,  and shall be exalted” (Isaiah 52:13 ESV). In these three verses we have a prophecy concerning Jesus and His incarnation, crucifixion and ultimate glorification, as described so eloquently by the apostle Paul.

…being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV

Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, came to earth in order to provide sinful mankind with a means by which they might be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. It required His death. It also demanded His resurrection and ascension. And it will include His eventual return to earth to consummate God’s redemptive plan for the earth and for His people, Israel. And all of this will take place because our God reigns, whether we see it, believe it, or place our trust in it.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Wait For the Lord

16 “And I have put my words in your mouth
and covered you in the shadow of my hand,
establishing the heavens
and laying the foundations of the earth,
and saying to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”

17 Wake yourself, wake yourself,
stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
the cup of his wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
the bowl, the cup of staggering.
18 There is none to guide her
among all the sons she has borne;
there is none to take her by the hand
among all the sons she has brought up.
19 These two things have happened to you—
who will console you?—
devastation and destruction, famine and sword;
who will comfort you?
20 Your sons have fainted;
they lie at the head of every street
like an antelope in a net;
they are full of the wrath of the Lord,
the rebuke of your God.

21 Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted,
who are drunk, but not with wine:
22 Thus says your Lord, the Lord,
your God who pleads the cause of his people:
“Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more;
23 and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors,
who have said to you,
‘Bow down, that we may pass over’;
and you have made your back like the ground
and like the street for them to pass over.” Isaiah 51:16-23 ESV

Back in verse 9, the people of Judah called on God to wake up from His apparent slumber. From their perspective, it appeared as if God was asleep or unconcerned about their dire circumstances. But in verse 17, God turns the tables, calling on the people of Judah to wake up. He reminds them that He is the one not only made the heavens, but had chosen them to be His people. Why would He abandon His own? No, they had fallen asleep on the job and had failed to do His will. And now, they were suffering the consequences for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. This wasn’t a case of spiritual narcolepsy. They were hungover from wine of God’s wrath.

You have drunk the cup of the Lord’s fury.
You have drunk the cup of terror,
tipping out its last drops.” – Isaiah 51:17 NLT
They were punch drunk, hammered and hungover from having imbibed the divine anger of God Almighty. God describes Judah as bereft of their senses and of children. They were like a heavily intoxicated individual who has no one to assist them in getting home safely. All their children are gone.
“Not one of your children is left alive
to take your hand and guide you.” – Isaiah 51;18 NLT
The picture here is bleak. Judah is described in stark terms that reveal the devastation brought on them by God’s judgment. And they had received exactly what they deserved. No one felt sorry for them, including God. They had not been innocent victims, but had been willing participants in the rebellion that had brought on them the judgments of God. And their sins have impacted the lives of multiple generations.
“For your children have fainted and lie in the streets,
    helpless as antelopes caught in a net.
The Lord has poured out his fury;
    God has rebuked them.” – Isaiah 51:20 NLT
And yet, God provides them with powerful words of comfort.
See, I have taken the terrible cup from your hands.
    You will drink no more of my fury.” – Isaiah 51:22 NLT
God acknowledges that they are afflicted and totally incapacitated by the fury of His wrath. But God reveals that a day will come when His anger is abated, and He speaks in the past-tense, as if it has already occurred. It is as good as done.
And God lets them know that their fortunes will take a dramatic and unexpected turn for the better. Instead of being the sufferer, they will watch as all those nations that had tried to destroy them come under the vengeance of God.
“Instead, I will hand that cup to your tormentors,
    those who said, ‘We will trample you into the dust
    and walk on your backs.’” – Isaiah 51:23 NLT
This message from God has long-term ramifications, that reach far beyond the immediate context of Isaiah and the generation to whom he ministered. God is revealing prophetic details that extend into the future and encompass generations of Israelites. Yes, they would eventually suffer at the hands of the Babylonians, but in time the Jews would find themselves suffering at the hands of other nations and in other centuries. Theirs would be a history marked by constant abuse and unrelenting persecution. For generations, they would be a nation without a homeland. During WWII, they would become pariahs in virtually every country in which they resided. In Germany, the Nazis would persecute and murder to the point of virtual extension. The viscious pogroms of communist-controlled Russia would carry on the unrelenting efforts to eliminate the Jews as a people group. And, during the seven years of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will do everything in his power to eradicate every single Jew from the face of the earth.
And yet, because they belong to God, they are still here. And, even the Antichrist, backed by the power and authority of Satan himself, will not be able to destroy God’s people or prevent Him keeping His promise to redeem and restore them to a relationship with Him.
In spite of all that was happening around them and to them, God was reminding the people of Judah that He was far from done with them. Much was going to happen in the not-so-distant future. But even more would take place in the centuries ahead. And God did not want them to lose hope. He desired that they have a long-term perspective based on His faithfulness and His plan for their eternal well-being as a nation. The prophet Habakuk penned these words, expressing his intention to trust in God no matter what happened around him, and they should provide inspiration and encouragement to every child of God in every generation.
“I will wait quietly for the coming day
    when disaster will strike the people who invade us.
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the heights.” – Habakuk 3:16-19 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

His Righteousness Draws Near

1 “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
    you who seek the Lord:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
    and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
    and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
    that I might bless him and multiply him.
For the Lord comforts Zion;
    he comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
    her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
    thanksgiving and the voice of song.

“Give attention to me, my people,
    and give ear to me, my nation;
for a law will go out from me,
    and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.
My righteousness draws near,
    my salvation has gone out,
    and my arms will judge the peoples;
the coastlands hope for me,
    and for my arm they wait.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment,
    and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;
but my salvation will be forever,
    and my righteousness will never be dismayed.

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
    the people in whose heart is my law;
fear not the reproach of man,
    nor be dismayed at their revilings.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
    and the worm will eat them like wool,
but my righteousness will be forever,
    and my salvation to all generations.”

Awake, awake, put on strength,
    O arm of the Lord;
awake, as in days of old,
    the generations of long ago.
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces,
    who pierced the dragon?
10 Was it not you who dried up the sea,
    the waters of the great deep,
who made the depths of the sea a way
    for the redeemed to pass over?
11 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain gladness and joy,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

12 “I, I am he who comforts you;
    who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
    of the son of man who is made like grass,
13 and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker,
    who stretched out the heavens
    and laid the foundations of the earth,
and you fear continually all the day
    because of the wrath of the oppressor,
when he sets himself to destroy?
    And where is the wrath of the oppressor?
14 He who is bowed down shall speedily be released;
    he shall not die and go down to the pit,
    neither shall his bread be lacking.
15 I am the Lord your God,
    who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
    the Lord of hosts is his name.” Isaiah 51:1-15 ESV

Three times in the first eight verses, God calls on His people to hear what He has to say. But He specifically addresses the small remnant made up of those who remained faithful to Him – those who still knew and pursued righteousness.

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
    you who seek the Lord.” – Isaiah 51:1 ESV

“Give attention to me, my people,
    and give ear to me, my nation.” – Isaiah 51:4 ESV

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
    the people in whose heart is my law.” – Isaiah 51:7 ESV

And God explains why the should listen to Him. First of all, He is the one who made them. He called one man, Abraham,  and from him created a great nation. Then God blessed them, providing them with Zion, the mountain on which Jerusalem sat and from which David reigned. Secondly, they should listen to Him because He is the Creator-God, the maker of all things. He is powerful and fully capable of sending His salvation to rescue them. And that same power He used to create the universe will be used to destroy all the He made. It all will be part of His redemptive plan for His creation. Finally, God explains that they should listen to whata He has to say because He is not yet done. They have no reason to fear man because God is on their side and He has an infallible plan of salvation already in place. He assures them, “my righteousness will last forever” (Isaiah 51:8 ESV).

That small, but faithful remnant of those who still believed in and waited on God, were being encouraged to keep their eyes focused on Him. Even though things looked bleak and the prospects for Judah were anything but good, God was faithful. They were His chosen people and He had promised to protect and provide for them. But He had also promised to punish them if they refused to obey Him. They were going to suffer at the hands of the Babylonians, but God would restore them. He would return them to the land and, while they would be small in number, He would once again bless them and multiply them. All in keeping with His promise to Abraham.

Their greatest danger would not be the Babylonians, but their tendency to look at their temporary circumstances and draw the wrong conclusions. Once they found themselves in captivity in Babylon, even the faithful would be tempted to question God’s covenant promises. But God tells them to see things from His perspective.

“Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment,
    and they who dwell in it will die in like manner.” – Isaiah 51:6 ESV

The apostle Peter warned of this coming day.

But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. – 2 Peter 3:10-13 NLT

Isaiah prophesied about this coming day of judgment. He described the future destruction of the earth and heavens in chapter 24.

The earth mourns and dries up,
    and the land wastes away and withers.
    Even the greatest people on earth waste away.
The earth suffers for the sins of its people,
    for they have twisted God’s instructions,
violated his laws,
    and broken his everlasting covenant.
Therefore, a curse consumes the earth.
    Its people must pay the price for their sin. – Isaiah 24:4-6 NLT

Then the glory of the moon will wane,
    and the brightness of the sun will fade. – Isaiah 24:23 NLT

The things we can see with our eyes are temporary in nature. They are not meant to last. Even our circumstances are fluid, constantly changing from the pleasant to the painful, from moments of joy to seasons of sorrow. But God is eternal and so is His plan for His people. That is why they were to focus their attention on Him and not their immediate surroundings and circumstances. And again, Isaiah has already addressed this issue with the people of Judah.

“Shout that people are like the grass.
    Their beauty fades as quickly
    as the flowers in a field.
The grass withers and the flowers fade
    beneath the breath of the Lord.
    And so it is with people.
The grass withers and the flowers fade,
    but the word of our God stands forever.” – Isaiah 40:6-8 NLT

But verse nine reveals that even the faithful remnant were wondering if God had fallen asleep at the wheel. They were busy looking at their circumstances and questioning whether God had dosed off. So, they called on Him to awake.

Wake up, wake up, O Lord! Clothe yourself with strength!
    Flex your mighty right arm!
Rouse yourself as in the days of old
    when you slew Egypt, the dragon of the Nile. – Isaiah 51:9 NLT

These righteous ones still believed God could save them. Their faith, while small, was focused on the right thing: God Almighty. They weren’t calling on the Assyrians or Egypt to be their saviors. In fact, they remind God of when He defeated Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea. They knew that God could save and they express their confidence in His saving power.

Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
    They will enter Jerusalem singing,
    crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
    and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 51:11 NLT

This is an amazing expression of faith in the midst of uncertainty and overwhelming signs of pending doom. Their words convey their belief in the faithfulness of God and His power to deliver, no matter how bad the circumstances may appear.

Yet, God seems to know that they still harbored doubts. He was aware that their bold-sounding words of faith were accompanied by unexpressed thoughts of fear. They were wrestling with questions about what was going to happen when the Babylonians showed up on the scene in overwhelming strength and numbers. So, God asks them, “So why are you afraid of mere humans, who wither like the grass and disappear?” (Isaiah 51:12 NLT). “Will you remain in constant dread of human oppressors? Will you continue to fear the anger of your enemies?” (Isaiah 51:13 NLT). Faith and fear make lousy playmates. They don’t go well together. Fear is horizontally focused and fixated on the temporal, while faith is vertically focused and centered on the eternal. As the author of Hebrews put it:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 ESV

And the apostle Paul put the same thought in his own words.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT

God was revealing to the faithful remnant in Judah that He had plans for them that they could not see. They were blind to the salvation strategy He had in place for them. And, while they might find themselves oblivious to His plans, they could rely upon His character. He was their God, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

For I am the Lord your God,
    who stirs up the sea, causing its waves to roar.
    My name is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Isaiah 51:15 NLT

The seeming reality of our circumstances is nothing when compared to the unquestionable actuality of God’s matchless power and unwavering faithfulness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Walk By the Light of Your Fire

The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
    he awakens my ear
    to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious;
    I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
    and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
    from disgrace and spitting.

But the Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
    He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
    Let him come near to me.
Behold, the Lord God helps me;
    who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
    the moth will eat them up.

10 Who among you fears the Lord
    and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
    and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on his God.
11 Behold, all you who kindle a fire,
    who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire,
    and by the torches that you have kindled!
This you have from my hand:
    you shall lie down in torment. Isaiah 50:4-11 ESV

Judah’s sin against God will be answered by His well-justified judgment. He will punish them for their rebellion against Him and for their stubborn refusal to heed His calls to repent. One day, they will find themselves in captivity and blame God for their circumstances, accusing Him of abandonment. But God makes it clear that their captivity in Babylon will be because they left Him, not the other way around. In verse 1,  He tells them, “you were sold because of your sins.” He could have saved them from their fate, but when He called, “there no one to answer” (Isaiah 50:2 ESV). They had ignored His warnings and refused His pleas that they repent. 

Yet, God assures them that He has the power to deliver. He is the Creator-God, who spoke the universe into existence. There is nothing too difficult for Him. And, as if in response to God’s declaration of omnipotence and saving strength, verse 4 opens up with the voice of the servant of God, the Messiah.

Four times in eight verses, the servant refers to God as “the Sovereign Lord.” The Hebrew is ‘Adonay Yĕhovih and can be translated “Lord God.” In the Old Testament, the name, ‘Adonay is used only of God. It is a term of honor and respect, acknowledging Him as Lord or Sovereign over all. And the servant links it with the proper name for God, Jehovah. He is the Lord God, the Sovereign God who reigns and rules over all. And, as such, He deserves the obedience and worship of all.

The servant introduces himself as one who has the right to speak on behalf of God.

“The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught.” – Isaiah 50:4 ESV

He describes himself as a disciple who has listened to the words of the Sovereign Lord and learned well.

“Morning by morning he wakens me
    and opens my understanding to his will.
The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,
    and I have listened.” – Isaiah 50:4-5 NLT

Unlike the rebellious people of Judah, the Messiah has paid attention to the words of God, listening carefully to what He has to say and faithfully obeying His commands. And he boldly, but not boastfully claims, “I have not rebelled or turned away” (Isaiah 50:5 NLT). As proof of his willing obedience, the Messiah prophetically relates His treatment at the hands of men at his crucifixion.

“I offered my back to those who beat me
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.
I did not hide my face
    from mockery and spitting.” – Isaiah 50:6 NLT

The gospel accounts of Jesus’ trials reveal the truth behind these words.

Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him… – Matthew 26:67 NLT

Then some of them began to spit at him, and they blindfolded him and beat him with their fists. “Prophesy to us,” they jeered. And the guards slapped him as they took him away. – Mark 14:65 NLT

The guards in charge of Jesus began mocking and beating him. – Luke 22:63 NLT

But, in spite of these harsh treatments at the hands of men, the Messiah will remain resolute in his determination to do the will of the Sovereign Lord.

“Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Therefore, I have set my face like a stone,
    determined to do his will.
    And I know that I will not be put to shame.” – Isaiah 50:7 NLT

Don’t miss what is going on here. The Messiah is describing his harsh and unjustified treatment at the hands of sinful men. But he does not blame God or accuse Him of abandonment. He trusts in the sovereign will of his Father, resting in the knowledge that God has a plan in place for his life. And the less-than-satisfactory circumstances surrounding his life were part of that plan. What a dramatically different perspective than that of the people of Judah. They were blind to God’s plans for their future. All they could see was the suffering and humiliation of the moment.

Yet, the Messiah knew that, in spite of all that would happen to him, the Sovereign Lord would vindicate and rescue him. He boldly and confidently declares, “ the Lord God helps me” (Isaiah 50:9 ESV). His accusers and abusers will all pass away like a moth-eaten garment, but he will stand secure and blameless.

In a sense, the servant is expressing the words that should have flowed from the mouths of the people of Judah.

“All my enemies will be destroyed
    like old clothes that have been eaten by moths!” – Isiah 50:9 NLT

God was going to vindicate and avenge them on day as well. And He would do it through His servant, the Messiah. But the people of Judah refused to take the Sovereign Lord at His word. So, the Messiah calls out to them, begging them to listen to what he has to say. He wants them to follow his example and place their trust in God

“If you are walking in darkness,
    without a ray of light,
trust in the Lord
    and rely on your God.” – Isaiah 50:10 NLT

As Isaiah has made clear already, the day was coming when the spiritual darkness surrounding the people of Judah would be illuminated by a great light.

The people who walk in darkness
    will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
    a light will shine. – Isaiah 9:2 NLT

And, in his gospel, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophesy, when he quoted from it at the moment Jesus entered into the regions of Zebulun and Napthali in Galilee.

…so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
    on them a light has dawned.” – Matthew 4:14-16 ESV

Jesus, the servant of God, would claim to be that light  – “the light of the world (John 8:12). And the apostle John described Jesus as not only the light, but the source of life.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:4-5 ESV

And John would go on to declare that the light would shine in the darkness, but the people would reject the light, preferring instead to remain in spiritual darkness.

“…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:19-21 ESV

The light came into the world, and he did so that he might expose the deadly nature of man’s sin and offer himself as the true source of life. But, for the most part,  the world would reject his offer. Instead, they would rely on their own dim lights, attempting to remove the darkness that surrounded them through self-effort and acts of self-righteousness. And the Messiah warns them of the futility of it all.

“But watch out, you who live in your own light
    and warm yourselves by your own fires.
This is the reward you will receive from me:
    You will soon fall down in great torment.” – Isaiah 50:11 NLT

Their lights would prove insufficient. Their acts of righteousness would fail to meet God’s exacting standards. Failure to accept God’s light would leave them in perpetual, everlasting darkness. But for all those who see God’s light and embrace it, the future would be markedly different, just as Jesus, the servant had promised.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Have I No Power to Deliver?

1 Thus says the Lord:
“Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce,
    with which I sent her away?
Or which of my creditors is it
    to whom I have sold you?
Behold, for your iniquities you were sold,
    and for your transgressions your mother was sent away.
Why, when I came, was there no man;
    why, when I called, was there no one to answer?
Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?
    Or have I no power to deliver?
Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea,
    I make the rivers a desert;
their fish stink for lack of water
    and die of thirst.
I clothe the heavens with blackness
    and make sackcloth their covering.”
Isaiah 50:1-3 ESV

The first three verses of chapter 50 continue the theme established in the preceding chapter. God knows that when the people of Judah find themselves in captivity in Babylon, they will accuse Him of abandonment. He addresses His children, the people of Judah, as if they are already in exile, and He defends Himself against their charges of forsaking their mother, Israel. He had not divorced her and sent her away – even though He had every right to do so. She had been unfaithful to Him. She had committed spiritual adultery against Him, not once, but repeatedly. And He had not sold her into slavery in order to pay a debt. God owes no man anything. He is obligated to no one.

This was not a case of God having grown discontent with His wife, Israel, and jettisoning her for a younger, more loving spouse. He makes it very clear to His children that their captivity was their own fault. It was their sins that had caused God to do what He had done.

“No, you were sold because of your sins.
    And your mother, too, was taken because of your sins.” – Isaiah 50:1 NLT

When the inevitable consequences of their repeated sins against God finally came to fruition, the people of Judah would be quick to blame God. They would see themselves as the innocent victims, having been abandoned by their heavenly Father. But God would have none of it. He would not allow them to deny their own guilt and cast dispersions on His character and integrity.

And what makes Judah’s sin so egregious is that they had been warned by God, repeatedly. He had sent His prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah to call them to repentance. And they had the northern kingdom of Israel as living proof of what happens when God’s people remain stubbornly unwilling to heed His warnings and return to Him. The northern tribes of Israel had rejected God’s calls to repent and had suffered the consequences.

When Josiah was king of Judah, the Lord said to me, “Jeremiah, you have no doubt seen what wayward Israel has done. You have seen how she went up to every high hill and under every green tree to give herself like a prostitute to other gods. Yet even after she had done all that, I thought that she might come back to me. But she did not. Her sister, unfaithful Judah, saw what she did. She also saw that I gave wayward Israel her divorce papers and sent her away because of her adulterous worship of other gods. Even after her unfaithful sister Judah had seen this, she still was not afraid, and she too went and gave herself like a prostitute to other gods. Because she took her prostitution so lightly, she defiled the land through her adulterous worship of gods made of wood and stone. In spite of all this, Israel’s sister, unfaithful Judah, has not turned back to me with any sincerity; she has only pretended to do so,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 3:8-10 NLT

Israel had been conquered by the Assyrians, had its capital city of Samaria plundered, and its people taken as captives to Nineveh. And the people of Judah had watched all this happen, but had remained unmoved and unimpressed by God’s judgment against their brothers and sisters. They continued to forsake God and pursue false gods. And al the while, they attempted to fool God into believing that they remained faithful by going through the motions of religious ritual and outward law keeping. But it was all a facade, intended to deceive God into believing that they remained devoted and sincere.

And God accuses them of ignoring His many calls to repent.

“Why was no one there when I came?
    Why didn’t anyone answer when I called?” – Isaiah 50:2 NLT

Isn’t it interesting how, when we find ourselves in trouble, we immediately call out to God for rescue. Yet, when we are living in sin and enjoying the temporal pleasures that sin offers, He calls out to us, and we ignore Him. He pleads with us to repent and return to Him, but we are too enamored with the false sense of joy and contentment that a lifestyle of sin provides.

That God did not prevent the fall of Judah had nothing to do with a lack of power on His part. He could have, but He chose not to. And He reminds them that His power is unlimited.

“For I can speak to the sea and make it dry up!
    I can turn rivers into deserts covered with dying fish.
I dress the skies in darkness,
    covering them with clothes of mourning.” – Isaiah 50:3 NLT

All of this is reminiscent of the story of Job, the man of God who found himself having lost everything – his children, his health and all his wealth. He was under intense emotional, physical and spiritual attack, wrestling with trying to understand the why behind his condition. And he stated:

“If only I knew where to find God,
    I would go to his court.
I would lay out my case
    and present my arguments.” – Job 23:3-4 NLT

Job was anxious for an opportunity to plead his case before God. All his friends had accused him of being a sinner suffering the obvious consequences of God’s anger. But Job had pleaded innocence, persistently claiming that he done nothing deserving of his fate. And he was convinced that, if he could just have a hearing before God, he would receive a fair trial and a just decision.

“Then I would listen to his reply
    and understand what he says to me.
Would he use his great power to argue with me?
    No, he would give me a fair hearing.
Honest people can reason with him,
    so I would be forever acquitted by my judge.” – Job 23:5-7 NLT

But Job felt like God was nowhere to be found. He claimed, “I go east, but he is not there. I go west, but I cannot find him” (Job 23:8 NLT). God seemed hidden and concealed and yet, Job was able to say:

“But he knows where I am going.
    And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.
For I have stayed on God’s paths;
    I have followed his ways and not turned aside.
I have not departed from his commands,
    but have treasured his words more than daily food.” – Job 23:10-12 NLT

The people of Judah could make no such claim. They were guilty as charged and fully deserved the punishment they had received. Job had suffered greatly, but had done nothing to deserve it. And yet, despite his innocence, he knew that casting blame on God was not the answer. In fact, he wrote, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28 NLT).

Had the people of Judah only understood the reality of that thought. But they had no fear of God. In spite of what had happened to Israel, they continued to emulate the sins of Israel, forsaking God for lifeless idols made by human hands. They practiced deceit and lived a lie. They ignored God’s laws and violated His calls for justice and righteousness. They turned their backs on the very one who had the power to deliver them. And they would suffer the consequences for their sins.

But what about innocent Job? He had done nothing to deserve his sorrowful circumstances. What did God do for Him?

…the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before! Then all his brothers, sisters, and former friends came and feasted with him in his home. And they consoled him and comforted him because of all the trials the Lord had brought against him. And each of them brought him a gift of money and a gold ring. So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. – Job 42:10-12 NLT

God blessed and restored him. And, amazingly, that was exactly what God planned to do for the rebellious nation of Judah. He would bless and restore them. Yes, they would suffer for their sins. They would pay the price for their disobedience. But God, the faithful, covenant-keeping God, would redeem them from their captivity and restore them to the land of promise. Despite the gravity of their circumstances, His hand was not shortened, and His power to redeem was not diminished in any way. And the day will  come when the people of Judah and Israel will acknowledge God just as Job did.

“I had only heard about you before,
    but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
I take back everything I said,
    and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” – Job 42:5-6 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

My Lord Has Forgotten Me

Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
    in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
    as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
    to apportion the desolate heritages,
saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
    to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
They shall feed along the ways;
    on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
    neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
    and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will make all my mountains a road,
    and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Behold, these shall come from afar,
    and behold, these from the north and from the west,
    and these from the land of Syene.”

13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
    break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
    and will have compassion on his afflicted.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.”

15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.
17 Your builders make haste;
    your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you.
18 Lift up your eyes around and see;
    they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, declares the Lord,
    you shall put them all on as an ornament;
    you shall bind them on as a bride does.

19 “Surely your waste and your desolate places
    and your devastated land—
surely now you will be too narrow for your inhabitants,
    and those who swallowed you up will be far away.
20 The children of your bereavement
    will yet say in your ears:
‘The place is too narrow for me;
    make room for me to dwell in.’
21 Then you will say in your heart:
    ‘Who has borne me these?
I was bereaved and barren,
    exiled and put away,
    but who has brought up these?
Behold, I was left alone;
    from where have these come?’”

22 Thus says the Lord God:
“Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations,
    and raise my signal to the peoples;
and they shall bring your sons in their arms,
    and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
23 Kings shall be your foster fathers,
    and their queens your nursing mothers.
With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you,
    and lick the dust of your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”

24 Can the prey be taken from the mighty,
    or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?
25 For thus says the Lord:
“Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
    and the prey of the tyrant be rescued,
for I will contend with those who contend with you,
    and I will save your children.
26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
    and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.
Then all flesh shall know
    that I am the Lord your Savior,
    and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” Isaiah 49:8-26 ESV

In these verses, God acknowledges the feelings of His chosen people. His judgments against them will leave them feeling forsaken and alone. When the prophecies Isaiah has been sharing have taken place, the people will assume that God’s anger with them has caused Him to abandon them completely. Displaying His omniscience, God reveals the future thoughts of the people of Judah as they languish in captivity in Babylon. He does so by portraying Zion, the city of Jerusalem, speaking on their behalf.

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.” – Isaiah 49:14 ESV

Yet, God responds to this false assumption in strong terms.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you. – Isaiah 49:15 ESV

God cannot and will not forget His own. They are His chosen people with whom He has made a binding covenant. The people of Judah are the direct result of God’s blessings upon Abraham and Sarah. They are the byproduct of God’s miraculous intervention into the affairs of this elderly couples, allowing the barren Sarah to conceive and bare a son, Isaac. But even before Isaac drew his first breath, God had told Abraham, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly” (Genesis 17:1-2 ESV). God was calling Abraham to a life of holiness or set-apartness. He was to be God’s possession and all his future offspring would belong to God, just as Isaac would. Then God went on to expand on the nature of the covenant He was making with Abraham and, by extension, with Abraham’s offspring.

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:4-8 ESV

Now, centuries later, God was dealing with the descendants of Abraham who had failed to walk before Him and remain blameless. For generations, the people of Judah had refused to live their lives set apart to God. They were guilty of spiritual adultery, having given their adoration to a litany of false gods. And yet, in spite of all they had done to offend a holy God, He was reassuring them that He would not forsake them.

In fact, He describes for them a day when they will find the land of Judah too small to accommodate all the children they will bear. One day they will again experience God’s promise of fruitfulness.

“Even the most desolate parts of your abandoned land
    will soon be crowded with your people.
Your enemies who enslaved you
    will be far away.
The generations born in exile will return and say,
    ‘We need more room! It’s crowded here!’ – Isaiah 49:19-20 NLT

And this inexplicable outcome will leave the people of Judah wondering what is going on. They will question how their lot in life changed so dramatically.

“Who has given me all these descendants?
For most of my children were killed,
    and the rest were carried away into exile.
I was left here all alone.
    Where did all these people come from?
Who bore these children?
    Who raised them for me?” – Isaiah 49:21 NLT

The elderly among them will find themselves back in the land of promise experiencing the joy of watching their lineage spread through the lives of their children and grandchildren. Their enemies will be long gone.  But not before those very same enemies are finished transporting the people of Judah back to the land, even carrying their children in their arms.

What God is revealing here is a miraculous, future events that only He could bring about. While this prophecy would be fulfilled in part when King Cyrus decreed the return of the people to the land of Judah, there are aspects of this prophecy that remain as yet unfulfilled. God describes the kings and queens of the earth serving and caring for the people of God. He portrays them as bowing down before the people of Judah, licking the dust from their feet in a display of abject submission. He even promises, “I will feed your enemies with their own flesh. They will be drunk with rivers of their own blood” (Isaiah 49:26 NLT). One has to ask whether any of this taken place. Has this promise been fulfilled? And the answer would be, “No.” But it will be. And God reveals just how He will bring it about. 

He will do it through His servant, the Messiah. He will raise up His chosen one to redeem the people of Israel and restore them to a right relationship with Him. And God speaks to His servant, assuring Him that the seeming delay in His redemptive plan for Israel is coming to an end.

“At just the right time, I will respond to you.
    On the day of salvation I will help you.
I will protect you and give you to the people
    as my covenant with them.
Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel
    and assign it to its own people again.” – Isaiah 49:8 NLT

This statement seems to be in direct response to the words of the servant as expressed in verse 4:

“But my work seems so useless!
    I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.
Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand;
    I will trust God for my reward.” – Isaiah 49:4 NLT

The servant is portrayed as wrestling with feelings of frustration over what appears to be His incomplete and seemingly unsuccessful work. This imagery is not meant to display Jesus as somehow struggling with feelings of futility or anger over His earthly ministry. It is intended to reveal to the people of Judah that when the Messiah comes, He will not complete all His work at His first appearance. When Jesus stated on the cross, “It is finished,” He was referring to the commission God had given to Him at His first advent. He had been sent to die on behalf of sinful manking, as payment for the sin debt they had accrued with God. And He successful completed that mission. But He rose again and, just before He returned to His Father’s side in heaven, He assures His disciples He would be coming back. He had unfinished business.

And, in Isaiah 49, God is describing events associated with Christ’s second advent, His second coming. He will return to earth and He will enact the final judgment of God against the nations of the world. He will defeat all the enemies of God, including Antichrist, the false prophet, and Satan himself.

In the book of Revelation, John is given a vision of this coming day, when the kings of the earth, in league with Antichrist and Satan, will attempt to do battle with Jesus, the Lamb of God. And it will not go well for them.

“The ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but will receive ruling authority as kings with the beast for one hour. These kings have a single intent, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. They will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen, and faithful.” – Revelation 17:12-14 NLT

They will be defeated. In fact, John is given further insight into the lopsided nature of this battle later on in his book.

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army. Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed the signs on his behalf—signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur. The others were killed by the sword that extended from the mouth of the one who rode the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh. – Revelation 19:19-21 NLT

As a result of this resounding victory over the enemies of God by the Lamb of God, a remnant of the nation of Israel will experience God’s unmerited favor and the fulfillment of His covenant promise to Abraham. They will be restored to a right relationship with Him and will reign alongside Jesus in His heavenly Kingdom in Jerusalem. God has not and will not forsake them. He has a plan in place for them and when that plan finally comes to fruition, God says, “All the world will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel” (Isaiah 49:26 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Suffering Servant and Victorious Savior

1 Listen to me, O coastlands,
    and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
    from the body of my mother he named my name.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
    in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”[
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the Lord,
    and my recompense with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
    he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
    and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
    and my God has become my strength—
he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord,
    the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
    the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Isaiah 49:1-7 ESV

These opening verses of chapter 49 continue the theme of God’s redemption of Israel. The day was coming when He would use His servant, Cyrus, to release the people of Judah from their captivity in Babylon and allow them to return to the land of Canaan. At that time, a remnant of God’s people would experience their physical restoration to the land, the pleasure of occupying the rebuilt city of Jerusalem, and the joy of taking part in the revitalized sacrificial system in the restored temple. But this chapter reveals an even greater restoration that has yet to take place. And it will be the result of the efforts on another one of God’s servants.

The opening verses are spoken from the lips this as-yet-to-revealed individual, and he proclaims himself to the hand-picked servant of God.

“The Lord called me from the womb,
    from the body of my mother he named my name.” – Isaiah 49:1 ESV

This should recall the encounter between Joseph and the angel Gabriel, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). – Matthew 1:23 ESV

Gabriel had also met with Mary, long before she was pregnant, and informed of what was about to take place.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:30-33 ESV

And earlier in this book, Isaiah recorded details concerning the birth of this servant.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6 ESV

And, in an interesting bit of self-disclosure, the servant refers to himself as Israel, claiming that God had referred to him in that way.

And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” – Isaiah 49:3 ESV

Why would God call this servant, Israel. If, as the two gospels indicate, this servant is Jesus and His name was to be Immanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, why does God now refer to Him as Israel? It would seem that God saw Jesus as the embodiment of all that Israel should have been. Like Israel, Jesus would be, in a sense, the offspring of God. His earthly birth would make Him a Son of the Most High. But, unlike Israel, Jesus would prove to be perfectly obedient to His Father. Paul refers to His obedience when he writes, “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). Jesus did what Israel had failed to do. Remain faithful to God and obedient to all His commands.

Jesus would bring glory to God through His earthly life and ministry. He would do the will of God, proclaiming the gospel message and manifesting the power of God through His miracles and messages. But from all appearances, the ministry of Jesus would appear unfruitful and highly unsuccessful.

“But my work seems so useless!
    I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.
Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand;
    I will trust God for my reward.” – Isaiah 49:4 NLT

And John confirms the seeming failure of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:10-11 ESV

But Jesus was God’s servant and, as such, He had a job to do. Just a few verses earlier, Isaiah recorded the agenda given by God to Jesus.

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
    a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
    till he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his law.” – Isaiah 42:1-5 ESV

This portion of Jesus’ ministry agenda has an as-yet-fulfilled aspect to it. He has not yet established His righteous rule on earth or ushered in perfect, undiluted justice. But the day is coming when He will.

And the servant reveals that His job description has been given to Him by God Himself, the very one who formed Him in Mary’s womb. Jesus took on human flesh for one reason only, to become the substitutionary atonement for the sins of mankind. He had to become a man in order that He might die on behalf of men. You might say that Jesus was born to die. But His death had a purpose: “to bring Jacob back to him [the Lord]; and that Israel might be gathered to him [the Lord]” (Isaiah 49:5 ESV). Paul reminds us that, “Christ died for us so that … we can live with him forever”(1 Thessalonians 5:10 NLT). But the redemption of lost Gentiles was only part of plan. Jesus also died so that His own people, the people of Israel, might be one day restored to a right relationship with their God. The servant makes it clear that His God-ordained purpose was to bring Jacob or Israel back to God. And in his letter to the Romans, Paul makes it clear that God will one day restore His chosen people to a right relationship to Him.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:11:25-27 NLT

And all of this will be accomplished through the efforts of Jesus Christ on Israel’s behalf. He will “raise up the tribes of Jacob” and and “bring back the preserved of Israel” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV). And, not only that, Jesus will be “a light for the nations,” so that God’s plan of salvation “may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV).

But before any of this happens, Jesus would become “one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers” (Isaiah 49:7 ESV). He would be humiliated and rejected long before He experienced His glorification and restoration to His Father’s side. But the day is coming when Jesus returns and God paints a very different picture of that occasion.

“Kings shall see and arise;
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” – Isaiah 49:7 ESV

The servant will one day receive the same worship Isaiah describes as being given to God, because He is the Son of God, the Messiah and Savior of the world. He is the suffering servant who will become the conquering King.

“Let all the world look to me for salvation!
    For I am God; there is no other.
I have sworn by my own name;
    I have spoken the truth,
    and I will never go back on my word:
Every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to me.”
The people will declare,
    “The Lord is the source of all my righteousness and strength.”
And all who were angry with him
    will come to him and be ashamed.
In the Lord all the generations of Israel will be justified,
    and in him they will boast. – Isaiah 45:22-25 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

No Peace For the Wicked

12 “Listen to me, O Jacob,
    and Israel, whom I called!
I am he; I am the first,
    and I am the last.
13 My hand laid the foundation of the earth,
    and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I call to them,
    they stand forth together.

14 “Assemble, all of you, and listen!
    Who among them has declared these things?
The Lord loves him;
    he shall perform his purpose on Babylon,
    and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans.
15 I, even I, have spoken and called him;
    I have brought him, and he will prosper in his way.
16 Draw near to me, hear this:
    from the beginning I have not spoken in secret,
    from the time it came to be I have been there.”
And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.

17 Thus says the Lord,
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you to profit,
    who leads you in the way you should go.
18 Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!
    Then your peace would have been like a river,
    and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;
19 your offspring would have been like the sand,
    and your descendants like its grains;
their name would never be cut off
    or destroyed from before me.”

20 Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea,
    declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it,
send it out to the end of the earth;
    say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!”
21 They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts;
    he made water flow for them from the rock;
    he split the rock and the water gushed out.

22 “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.” – Isaiah 48:12-22 ESV

That last line is a virtual promise from God and it is all-encompassing in its scope. As the book of Isaiah has made painfully clear, God was going to deal with the wickedness of His chosen people. He would no longer tolerate their blatant acts of spiritual infidelity and moral compromise. They had sinned against Him, and they were going to suffer the consequences. And God has revealed that His chosen method of punishment would be the Babylonians. Just as He had chosen Israel to be His prized possession, He had chosen Babylon to be His preferred means of punishment. He would use King Nebuchadnezzar and his army to invade the land of Judah, destroying its cities and taking captive its people. Babylon’s victory over the people of Judah would be according to the will of God. In fact, according to the prophet Jeremiah, God decreed that their rise to global dominance would be His doing.

“With my great strength and powerful arm I made the earth and all its people and every animal. I can give these things of mine to anyone I choose. Now I will give your countries to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who is my servant. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control. All the nations will serve him, his son, and his grandson until his time is up.” – Jeremiah 27:5-7 NLT

But notice that God puts a time limit on Babylon’s rule. And it will be because they act wickedly, punishing the people of God disproportionately and wrongly taking credit for their success.

“I was angry with my people;
    I profaned my heritage;
I gave them into your hand;
    you showed them no mercy;
on the aged you made your yoke exceedingly heavy.” – Isaiah 47:6 ESV

They would let their many victories go to their heads and assume that they would remain in power forever. They would get cocky, claiming, “I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children” (Isaiah 48:8 ESV).

But as God has promised, “There is no peace for the wicked.” He would bring judgment against the Babylonians, and Jeremiah makes that fact plain.

“Then many nations and great kings will conquer and rule over Babylon.” – Jeremiah 27:7 NLT

And God has already decreed that His chosen instrument for bringing judgment on the Babylonians will be King Cyrus of the Persians.

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
    whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
    and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
    that gates may not be closed:

“For the sake of my servant Jacob,
    and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
    I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me.” – Isaiah 45: 1, 4-5 ESV

God would punish wicked Judah by using the Babylonians. Then He would repay the Babylonians for the wickedness by using the Persians. And God would use Cyrus, the Persian king, to return the people of Judah to the land of promise.

And in verses 12-21 of Isaiah 48, God calls His people to recognize His hand in all of this. He has told them all that is going to happen, long before any of it has begun. He has predicted their fate, including their fall at the hands of the Babylonians and their eventual restoration to the land. And two times, God calls on the people of Judah to pay attention to what He is saying.

Listen to me, O Jacob,
    and Israel, whom I called!” – Isaiah 48:12 ESV

“Assemble, all of you, and listen!” – Isaiah 48:14 ESV

Draw near to me, hear this…” – Isaiah 48:16 ESV

But the people of Judah suffered from a severe hearing problem. God even laments, “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea…” (Isaiah 48:18 ESV). If they would have listened to what He had said, obeying His commands and living in keeping with His divine decrees, things would have been markedly different. But listening proved difficult for them. And, through His prophets, God had continually called to them, begging for them to heed what He had to say.

“Listen, you foolish and senseless people, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear. Have you no respect for me? Why don’t you tremble in my presence?” – Jeremiah 5:21-22 NLT

The root of their problem was rebellion, fueled by a lack of fear of God.

“But my people have stubborn and rebellious hearts. They have turned away and abandoned me. They do not say from the heart, ‘Let us live in awe of the Lord our God.’” – Jeremiah 5:23-24 NLT

And God reminds the people of Judah that He has been there from the beginning. The one who created the world, had called them and made them His own. He had been beside them all along the way. He had spoken to them, provided for them, and guided and protected them. They had no reason to doubt His goodness or question His word, and now He was telling them that King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were coming. But He was also letting them know that He had plans for the Babylonians as well.

“I have said it: I am calling Cyrus!
    I will send him on this errand and will help him succeed. – Isaiah 48:15 ESV

God was going to punish Judah for their wickedness, but He was also going to redeem and restore them. And to make sure they understand the inevitability of His plan, He speaks of it in the past-tense, as if their exodus from Babylon has already taken place.

“Yet even now, be free from your captivity!
    Leave Babylon and the Babylonians.
Sing out this message!
    Shout it to the ends of the earth!
The Lord has redeemed his servants,
    the people of Israel.” – Isaiah 48:20 ESV

God’s word is irrefutable and unchangeable. His prophecies are not wishful thinking or some form of positive motivational, name-it-and-claim-it rhetoric. He is the God of the universe who is all-knowing and all-powerful. His word always comes to fruition. Which means, had the people of Judah done what He had said and lived in obedience to His commands, their “peace would have been like a river.” But, instead, they would learn the painful lesson that “there is no peace for the wicked.”

Taking God at His word is difficult. We are wired to doubt. Just as Eve allowed Satan to cast doubt on the word of God and cause her to disobey His command, we are prone to hear the promises of God and question their validity and credibility. Not only do we wonder whether God will do what He has said, we find ourselves questioning whether He can. And when we do, we fail to live in awe of the Lord our God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

For My Own Sake, I Do It

1 Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the Lord and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right. For they call themselves after the holy city, and stay themselves on the God of Israel;     the Lord of hosts is his name.

“The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth, and I announced them; then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’

“You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known. They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’ You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened. For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel.

“For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. 10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. 11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?     My glory I will not give to another.” – Isaiah 48:1-11 ESV

This opening verses of chapter 48 are not pretty. In them, God is going to pronounce a series of stinging indictments against the people of Judah. In the preceding chapters, God has clearly articulated His unique status as the one true God. Repeatedly He has announced, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46:9 ESV). The false gods the people of Judah had chosen to worship in place of Him were nothing more than lifeless statues made by human hands. They were powerless and unreliable substitutes for the God of creation. And yet, God’s people, chosen by Him, were guilty of abandoning Him for false gods. Sure, they would have said that they still believed in Him, but their actions proved otherwise. And as God stated earlier in the book of Isaiah:

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

God picks up that same theme in the opening verse of chapter 48, stating:

“Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the Lord and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right.” – Isaiah 48:1

Don’t miss the significance of what God is saying here. God is reminding them that they are descendants of Jacob, whom God renamed Israel. And His reference to the waters of Judah appears to be a figurative expression describing the nation’s birth through the tribe of Judah. Like the birth of a child being accompanied by water, the people of Judah were birthed by the divine will of God.  And these people, brought into being by the sovereign act of God and according to His mercy and divine favor, were quick to confess Him as their God, but “not in truth or right.” The NET Bible translates that phrase as, “not in an honest and just manner.” God is accusing them of blatant hypocrisy. They proudly proclaimed themselves to be children of God and residents of the capital city of Jerusalem. They even boasted of depending upon God. But the truth was quite different. Over the centuries, God had repeatedly told them about things that were going  to happen, and every one of these future events had taken place. And God explains that He told them in advance, so that when the prophecies took place as He decreed, they wouldn’t give credit to their false gods. Which He knew they would be prone to do.

Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’ – Isaiah 48:4-5 ESV

God had proven Himself reliable time and time again. He had provided them with ample evidence of His omniscience and omnipotence. He was all-knowing and all-powerful and yet, they continued to doubt His word and place their trust in worthless idols. So, now God tells them that He is going to reveal to them new things. This time they won’t be able to claim prior knowledge. He is about to do something never-before seen or spoken of.

“Now I will tell you new things, secrets you have not yet heard. They are brand new, not things from the past. So you cannot say, ‘We knew that all the time!’” – Isaiah 48:6-7 NLT

God exposes the people of Judah for what they were: Traitors, rebels, and over-confident, hard-headed children who refused to give God the glory and credit He deserved. They had a track-record of unfaithfulness and infidelity that stretched back to the very beginning. And yet, God informs them that He would preserve them. But God makes clear His reason for doing so. It would not be not because they deserved it, but because God was going to protect the integrity of His name. They were guilty of dragging His reputation through the mud. All the way back in the book of Deuteronomy, God informed Moses and the people of Israel why He had chosen to rescue them from their captivity in Egypt.

“The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him. Therefore, you must obey all these commands, decrees, and regulations I am giving you today.” – Deuteronomy 7:7-11 NLT

God rescued them because He had promised to do so. His integrity depended upon it. God cannot and will not lie. What He says, He does. What He promises, He fulfills. But the people of Judah had broken their commitments to God. They had disobeyed His commands, decrees and regulations – for generations. And prophet Ezekiel records the words of God spoken in accusation against the people of Israel.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.” – Ezekiel 36:22-23 ESV

And in Isaiah 48, God warns the people of Judah that He is going to refine them, purifying them like a metallurgist does silver – through intense heat. And He will do so for the sake of His own name.

“For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?  My glory I will not give to another.” – Isaiah 48:11 ESV

When God eventually redeems the nation of Judah, there will be only one explanation: He did it. No false god will be able to take credit for it. And the salvation that God brings for His people will get the attention of the nations. They will see His sovereign power revealed in His miraculous redemption of His chosen people, and be amazed.

“And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” – Ezekiel 36:23 ESV

But there is far more to God’s message of redemption and restoration than the eventual return of the people of Judah to the land of Canaan. That would happen just as God had said. But Ezekiel goes on to state that God has something even more significant in store for His stubborn and stiff-necked people.

“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses” – Ezekiel 36:24-29 ESV

The day is coming when God will fulfill this promise. He will do for the people of Israel and Judah what they do not deserve and what they could never have accomplished on their own. It is the essence of redemption that the Redeemer purchase the release of those who had no chance of redeeming themselves. The apostle Peter reminds us, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV). The faithfulness of God as opposed to the faithlessness of the people of God. That’s what these 11 verses stress. The people of Judah did not deserve to be God’s chosen people, but they were. They didn’t deserve His favor and had not earned His redemption. But because God cares about the integrity of His own name, He will do for them all that He has promised to do.

For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson