by Sam E. Stone
The children of Israel had hope for the future. Last week we learned of the deliverance God has promised his people (Isaiah 45). This wasn’t going to happen immediately, however. The prophet reminded them not to forget that the Lord says, “I am God, and there is no other” (46:9). Babylon’s idols will not help them stand against the Lord’s mighty power. Babylon will fall. “Sit in silence, go into darkness, Daughter of the Babylonians; no more will you be called queen of kingdoms” (47:5).
The Lord then explained why he had allowed Israel to be conquered originally. “I was angry with my people” (v. 6) because of their disobedience. But now Jehovah will judge the Babylonians (see v. 11). God will use Cyrus, “a bird of prey” from the East (46:11), to bring their downfall. For a time, however, the Jewish people will have to suffer in “the furnace of affliction” (48:10).
Plan/ Isaiah 48:12-16
Some of the people of Israel went through the motions of following God, but their heart was not in it. True, they invoked the name of the Lord—”but not in truth or righteousness” (48:1). God—the one true and living God—is in a different league than the pagan idols (v. 14). Isaiah recaps the reasons why the people should listen to him. He is the sole Creator (vv. 12, 13); he is the Lord of history (vv. 14, 15); he has spoken with authority, foretelling what is to come.
The Lord has even revealed the name of his chosen ally (v. 14), Cyrus the Great (see 44:28; 45:1). This Persian leader will overthrow Babylon and send the Jewish people back to their homeland to rebuild Jerusalem. “I have called him. I will bring him, and he will succeed in his mission.” Bible scholars are not sure of whom the prophet is speaking in verse 16—”the Sovereign Lord has sent me, with his Spirit.” Some feel “me” refers to the prophet himself; others feel it refers to the servant of the Lord. It could be either (see 42:1; 61:1).
One teacher described these verses as “the great and ever-recurring lament of the Lord’s eternal love over the beloved’s rebellion” (see Psalm 81:13-16). God speaks of himself here as “Lord,” “Redeemer,” and the “Holy One of Israel.” He continually teaches his people, pointing them in the right way to live. “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.“
Linking peace and righteousness is a familiar pattern in Scripture (see Hebrews 7:2). Obedience to God’s will brings peace. Sin disrupts that peace, however, causing righteousness to end. It is only when the sin is paid for and righteousness is restored that a person can once again find peace with God. This shows there are both unconditional and conditional elements in the covenant relationship between God and his people. The nation’s lack of faithfulness led to their punishment (the captivity), but in his mercy God will not allow their name to be cut off nor destroyed.
The chapter concludes with a call for holiness. Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians! This is not like when Israel escaped from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 12:31-36). The meaning isn’t simply, “Hurry before they change their mind” (Genesis 19:15ff). It is more like the warning given Lot when he was told to flee Sodom (Genesis 19:15-18). “Get out! Leave your sinful past behind!” God has redeemed you, giving you a second chance.
The Israelites did not have to worry about their needs en route to the promised land. The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob. Just as when the nation went through the wilderness after Egypt, God provided their every need. “They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock.” That same God will take care of you.
These words of reassurance are combined with a warning though. “There is no peace for the wicked.” Sinners pay a high price. Those who rebel against the Lord cannot find peace. Turning to God does bring peace, and with it salvation for eternity.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.