Isaiah (Part 47): Rescue Revelation Introduced (Ch 42b)
In verses 1 through 4 of Isaiah 42, we saw the Servant’s mission as bringing the truth of God to the world (“justice to the nations”). That truth or justice is both the realization that God is the caregiver and that he will provide care in rescue (or, for those who refuse, judgment). In verses 5 through 9, the Servant’s mission is emphasized as providing covenant. This is additional revelation to what God has already brought in the last couple of chapters about his Servant Rescuer. In fact, it is interesting to note both the tying together of these revelatory passages AND their progressive aspects. There are three passages specifically that bear this out.
God speaks to his servant, Jacob (Israel) 41:8-10
God speaks about his Servant Rescuer 42:1
God speaks to his Servant Rescuer 42:6-7
In each instance, God mentions that his servant is called or chosen by him. Then God discusses how he will support his servant in both similar and increasingly revealing terms.
God supports by strengthening, helping, and holding.
God supports by strengthening, delighting in, and placing Spirit on.
God supports by holding, keeping, and appointing as a covenant.
Each speaks of God’s support in similar ways. But we notice a progression of relationship throughout. The helping and holding is seen in God’s delight and presence through his Spirit. That’s relationship! And then rather than just using terminology that hints of the relationship, he states unequivocally that he is appointing the Servant as a covenant—specific relational bond.
We also see God’s purpose in it all. When speaking to Jacob in chapter 41, purpose is not specifically mentioned, but God had given them purpose in the past. In Exodus 19:6 God told them that they would be a “kingdom of priests.” A priest represents people to God and God to the people. How was Israel to function as a kingdom of priests? They were to represent God to the nations of the world. In their special relationship with God, they were to show the nations how they were to have a relationship with their Creator and Lord. Purpose shows in the progression of rescue revelation across the passages as follows.
Purposed to be kingdom of priests (Ex 19:6)
Purposed to bring truth (“justice”) to the nations.
Purposed to be light to the nations, bringing out prisoners.
The wording of 42:6 deserves special attention. God is not talking about making a covenant with the Rescuer. He says that he will appoint the Rescuer, his Servant, to “be a covenant” for the people. A covenant is an agreement—an alliance. The Rescuer will form this alliance between God and the people. In the immediate context, we see Cyrus doing this by being the means by which the Jews could not only return to their homeland but also return to the place where they were instructed to worship God. God had told them that they were to worship him at the temple in Jerusalem. Cyrus brought them back to Jerusalem and gave instructions about rebuilding the temple for that special purpose of worship to their God. Cyrus was the covenant.
We do, however, see the fulfillment of the ultimate context with greater precision. Christ became the covenant in that he himself was the means of atonement opening opportunity and pathway for all humanity to reconcile with God.
The definition of Covenant Satisfaction Atonement offered earlier in our Isaiah series needs some adjustment to account (or highlight) the fact of Christ being the covenant. Here is a restatement of Covenant Satisfaction Atonement:
By his unblemished sacrifice on the cross, Christ satisfied the curse of death placed on humanity for breaking the original covenant of life with God and offered himself as a New Covenant of life through whom we share in the satisfaction of his death, receive the forgiveness of sins, and inherit his life of righteousness.
I believe that when Jesus was on earth making the statement in John 9:5, “I am the light of the world,” he had in mind Isaiah 42:6-7. Remember that Jesus, being fully human, was limited in his knowledge as all people are. He was born as a baby with a developing brain. He asked questions, studied, and learned, growing up in wisdom through his formative years. Even during his ministry he admitted to knowing only what God had revealed to him and not knowing that which God kept hidden (Matthew 24:36). Imagine Jesus as a boy at the local synagogue, opening the scrolls and studying Isaiah. I believe we are told of that one incident in his pre-ministry years at 12 years of age because it was at that time he knew, he realized, God confirmed through revelation that he was the Messiah and would be that covenant—that “light to the nations.”
Verses 8 and 9 provide the covenant reason. God emphasizes that his is Yahweh—the Existent One (or the One who exists). Moreover, he strengthens the consideration by saying, “That is My name.” Philosophically, we may understand this name as highlighting the point that God is the only absolutely necessary being. All else—human or not—depends ultimately on him who depends on no one. Thus, he is caregiver of all those dependent on him. And that has been his point all along in Isaiah. So, his “trial/debate” with the idols concludes that they cannot possibly be able to care for or to rescue those who trust in them. Only God can provide care—and that glory, his caregiving glory, he will not give to another.
Imagine a parent coming home to his/her small children. They leap up as the door opens and rush into their parent’s embrace. That is the picture we have here. It is not some aloof, austere statement of pride that God gives. He, like the parent, says that he wouldn’t trade this purpose of relational joy for anything. God says he will not give his praise (literally, hymn or song of praise) to idols. That song is the joy and glee of his children resting securely in his embrace. Don’t ever picture that as a one-way street in which we are glad for God’s embrace while God sits emotionally unaffected. He, again like the parent, thrills in every moment of that embrace.
In verse 9 we read that we should remember God’s care from times past. The Jews needed to remember the countless rescues by God from crossing the Red Sea on to their current situation. But in this passage he promises a new rescue. We feel the shift here as the focus leaves the immediate context of the Babylon delivery and settles on the ultimate context of Christ’s rescue from sin. God is eager and excited to wake us up to this new revelation. He is revealing his redemption restoration!
The New Song of verses 10-16 parallel the new events hinted at in 42:9. This is the rescue of which all the earth will sing. God does not call out a command to sing but rather an invitation to join him in his joy. Even from Edom (cities Kedar and Sela were in Edom), the unlikeliest of people to be joining in worship of Israel’s God, come those who do recognize their Redeemer. This is a powerful explosion of gladness and singing and that thrill that sweeps through the entire being—and it is sweeping through God himself!