Thursday, 9 October 2014

(283) October 10: Isaiah 43-44 & Colossians 2

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider how God proves he is the true God.

To ponder:
“But now” (43v1) contrasts the judgement Israel would suffer in exile (42v24-25) with God’s mercy he would then give: As the one who created them, he declares they need no longer fear as he has redeemed and summoned them. This probably refers to Israel’s “birth” in the Exodus. The point is that because God brought Israel into being as his chosen people, they have hope. So he promises they will survive flood and fire, as he is their God (43v1-2). In speaking of nations being paid as a ransom for them, he probably means that the conquering of these nations is somehow required for Cyrus to gain the power necessary to send the Jews home from Babylon. Whatever the case, the point is that Israel are so precious to the LORD that he is prepared to have men die in the reconfiguring of the Middle East that would be necessary for their return (43v3-4). We should remember, he would even give his own Son for our redemption.
            God then promises to bring Israelites home from the four corners of the earth, noting they were called by his name, and so belong to him, and created for his glory, and so to bring honour to him (43v5-7). He calls the nations to lead out the blind and deaf, which are the Israelites who have not understood what God has been doing (43v8). With the nations gathered, probably for judgement, he also asks them to bring witnesses to prove who (presumably of their gods) predicted these things. The assumption is that they can’t. By contrast the LORD declares Israel to be his servant and witnesses, who can now know and believe that he is the true God, because he revealed, saved and proclaimed the return from exile, which they have witnessed when looking back on this prophecy. And for us too, this is a key reason we can know he is the only God, whose supremacy is seen in the fact that no-one can be delivered by another from his judgements, and his actions cannot be reversed (43v9-13).
            God therefore says he will cause the Babylonians to become captives, with repeated stress of his special relationship with Israel: He is “the LORD” (YAHWEH, his personal covenant name), Israel’s creator and King, and so will act for their sake (43v14-15). Here he recalls his destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, but instructs Israel not to dwell on it because he is now doing a new thing, equivalent to causing streams to appear in the desert, he is going to refresh his people in the metaphorical desert of their captivity, so that they praise him (43v16-21). Yet this will be an act of grace as Israel have not called on him for deliverance, and whereas God had not burdened them with an excessive demand for offerings and incense, they have burdened him with their sins, and so not really brought him sacrifices in the manner he intended at all, because they weren’t offered in a way that honoured him (43v22-24). Nevertheless, he is the one who totally forgives Israel’s sins “for his name’s sake” – ie. so that he would be glorified in delivering and restoring them. But, in case some would suggest this proves they are actually innocent, he calls them to debate with him, reviewing their past which shows they were sinful since the time of Abraham or Jacob. And this is why they must first suffer by going into exile, with the disgrace to their priests and destruction of the people it will bring (43v25-28). Our redemption in Christ is not because we are any better than others, but simply because in grace God has chosen to set his love upon us and forgive us.
            Again, for these same reasons, God tenderly reminds Jacob as his servant that he need not fear, as God will bring about a spiritual renewal equivalent to the streams in the desert, so their descendents will not continue in such sin, but flourish in righteousness, considering it an honour to belong to the LORD, and by implication be eager to serve him (44v1-5). And again, here God declares that he is the only God, calling others to say if they know of any like him who has done equivalent past acts or foretells what is to come (44v6-7). We must remember that Isaiah’s words were spoken over a century before the exile. So through them, God can tell the exiles not to fear as he proclaimed their exile long ago, which means they are witnesses to the fact that as the one who can predict the future he is the true God, and so is their rock, who will act for their good (44v8).
            Perhaps because of the temptation they might have faced to turn to Babylonian idols, God then reiterates that those who make idols are nothing, and those who commend them are blind, and they will all be brought down, presumably by Babylon’s destruction (44v9-11). That there is nothing special in those who craft idols or the materials they use is then stressed in a way that mocks the irrationality of worshipping or relying on such things. The point is that idols are made of wood just as fires are, and so are a lie, not being able to know or see anything (44v12-20). It is equally ludicrous to worship gods crafted out of our own ideas or preferences.
            And so, God again calls Israel as his servant to remember these things, and so be sure he hasn’t forgotten them when they are in exile. Declaring he has swept away their offences he calls them to return to him as he has redeemed them, presumably by having already acted in such a way that will enable them to walk free. And all heaven and earth are called to sing in praise because of this, as God displays his excellence in it (44v21-23). How much more for our full redemption in Christ. God then declares that he is the creator of all, who foils false prophets by not fulfilling what they say will pass, whilst carrying out the words of his true prophets (servants), who declare that Jerusalem will again be inhabited and Judah rebuilt in an act equivalent to the Exodus when God declared the Red Sea would become dry; and who declare that Cyrus will be like God’s shepherd in leading the people back to this pasture by decreeing not only that the city will be rebuilt, but the temple be relaid (44v24-28).
These prophecies really are an astonishing display of God’s kindness to his people in preparing so long in advance to keep their eyes fixed on him. The same sentiment is found in Jesus warning his disciples that he would leave them, and in the New Testament predictions of the difficulties Christians will undergo. They also keep us from thinking God has abandoned us, and look us forward to the day we inhabit the heavenly Jerusalem.
Praying it home:       
Praise God that we can be so sure he is the true God because all these things came to pass. Pray that we would be comforted in the knowledge that he has not forgotten us, but will fulfil his gospel purposes.

Thinking further:
None today.

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