by Sam E. Stone
This month we look at five more chapters in the book of Isaiah to hear God’s message about the coming salvation for Israel. Last month we followed the theme, “Comfort for God’s People.” Now we learn of “A Future for God’s People.” It is helpful to read the verses between last Sunday’s printed text and today’s. They provide valuable background for understanding the message.
Isaiah 43:14-28 contrasts God’s mercy and Israel’s unfaithfulness. The Lord told the people, “Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” (vv. 18, 19). The people had not honored God with their sacrifices (v. 23), but had burdened him with their sins (v. 24). The Lord reminded Israel that they had been chosen for a special role in history. None of their manmade idols have any value (see 44:9-20). God is all they need.
“Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel.” Sometimes Isaiah speaks about the entire nation as “servant,” while at other times he refers to the coming Messiah with that title. Here he calls the people to remember these things (see vv. 6-8).
Four contrasts can be noted in the text: The idolaters made their idols (vv. 9, 10-12), but God made Israel (v. 21); the idolater is in bondage to his idol (v. 18-20), but Israel is bound as a servant to God (v. 21); the idolater prays in vain for his idol to save him (v. 17), but God states that he has redeemed Israel; the idolater bows down to a piece of wood (v. 19), but even the trees join in celebration of God’s salvation of Israel (v. 23).
“Return to me, for I have redeemed you,” the Lord declares (v. 22). Israel’s suffering has prepared the way for God’s forgiveness and restoration. Paul Butler notes that the New Testament makes clear “the actual, historical event which blotted out sin and accomplished redemption was the atoning death of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:1-18). . . . The redemptive plan included God’s deliverance of Israel from her captivity so she might bring forth the Suffering Servant.”
Verse 23 serves as a transition between the previous section and this one. The Creator of the world is seen in all his glory as the great Redeemer. Now he explains in more detail what his redemptive plans include. He actually names Cyrus, the “one from the east” (41:2) who will save the nation of Israel. Jerusalem will have good news to share with the surrounding towns (see 40:9). The very name of the Persian king who will conquer Babylon and rebuild the temple is revealed (44:28).
Throughout history various empires have conquered Jerusalem and the people of that land. The pagans mocked Jehovah God and those who trusted in him. No more! No one can keep God from preserving those who are faithful to him. Out of that faithful remnant (Jerusalem and Judah) will come Christ and the church. Israel will fulfill its divine destiny.
The Redeemer is the Lord who has made all things. In contrast to the false prophets, he always speaks truth. He alone knows and can accurately foretell the future. The false prophets (Deuteronomy 13:1-3) have their signs, but they are nothing. The Old Testament speaks of these people as diviners (for example, the witch of Endor—1 Samuel 28:8 and other false prophets—Jeremiah 27:9).
Today charlatans still try trickery and sorcery to mislead crowds. God will foil them. He overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense. In contrast the Lord carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers. Specifically Isaiah records that God said of Jerusalem, “It shall be inhabited.” The capital city will be rebuilt and restored, no matter how unlikely that appears at this time. Only the Redeemer can accomplish something this great. After all, he is the one who said to the watery deep, “Be dry” (evidently an allusion to the crossing of the Red Sea).
One of the most striking prophecies in the entire Old Testament is that of Cyrus (v. 28). He was named and his actions were outlined 150 years before he was born! God told how Cyrus would rebuild the temple long before it had been destroyed. The Redeemer can use even a pagan king to accomplish his eternal purpose in redeeming a lost world.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.