Isaiah (Part 49): Rescue Revelation Assured (Ch 43c)
The central points of the three chiasms that we discussed in chapters 42 and 43 make clear God’s purpose in his interaction with Judah at the time of the Babylonian captivity, but they also highlight God’s intention at all times. God created for relationship. God rescues for relationship. And he does so—usually—through a revelation and response mechanism whereby he provides revelation, and then, depending on his image bearer’s response, moves toward the person in greater care-giving and revelation or away from the person. The three chiastic emphases follow this pattern:
42:21 Truth is magnified
43:3, 4 God takes care-giving focus away from the faithless nations to focus on Judah
43:10b-12a God is the only god—the only rescuer
The musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables has just been made into a movie. Hugo’s story and the musical’s emphases follow exactly this truth we see highlighted in Isaiah (and, really, throughout the Bible). At the beginning of the story, the protagonist Valjean, a paroled convict who has been hardened by the cruelty of people/life over the past twenty years sings in the conflict of his soul after being confronted by a bishop’s love/mercy. Valjean recognizes that this sudden, unexpected mercy counters everything he thought true of the relationship of people to each other and his own hard-hearted, selfish ways. He realizes that either he pushes back against this new knowledge—this revelation—or he must alter his ways to accept the mercy. By the end of his soliloquy song showing this conflict, he discards his old self and chooses a life changed in focus on mercy.
The antagonist of the musical is Inspector Javert who hunts for Valjean because, in discarding his former self (and identity), Valjean is thought of as a parole violator. Javert has conducted his entire life according to a legalistic philosophy of the good being rewarded for good and the bad receiving judgment. It is simple, ordered, and just. However, in that mindset, there is no room for mercy. Toward the end of the production, Javert falls into the hands of revolutionaries who want him killed. Valjean asks to have Javert placed in his hands, which they allow. Valjean takes Javert aside, and then in the manner of Valjean’s changed self, tells Javert he is free to go. Valjean, in essence, gives Javert his life back. It is now Javert’s turn to feel the conflict of soul just as Valjean had in the beginning. Javert’s ordered universe has been rocked violently by this sudden, unexpected mercy. Javert sings of this conflict to the same tune as Valjean had sung his conflict earlier. But Javert, in also recognizing that this mercy cannot exist alongside his “just” philosophy of rewarding an enemy with only judgment, instead of choosing change, rebels against it, leaping to his death off a bridge.
This is what the world has faced since the Garden. We are all sinners worthy of eternal death. But into our lives God reveals mercy in providing rescue. Those who do not resist the flood of mercy are washed clean. Those who resist seal for themselves doom because, as we learned in 43:10-12, God is the only rescuer. There is no other.
The important fact we learn here is that righteousness—true righteousness of God—is characterized throughout the Bible as including mercy. Righteousness is not a synonym for justice. God is just, but more than that, God is righteous. A righteousness of justice alone fails; it is structured with no heart. God’s righteousness—structured with heart and soul—is the righteousness that rescues. And surely we realize this in the Bible’s instruction for us in how to live. We are to imitate Christ, but how? In justice? No, we imitate Christ in love.
Recognizing this important and absolute standard of mercy interwoven in the very fabric of God’s righteousness, we must also then maintain that any atonement theory or soteriological system that does not account for mercy is not a construction of God’s design.
The Calvinist recognizes mercy in God’s treatment of the elect. But how does the Calvinistic system perceive God’s action with the non-elect? Calvinists argue that God is just in leaving them to their eternal fate because of their sin. But though justice is evident, where is God’s mercy in their case? And since mercy is in the very fabric of righteousness, how is God’s action toward them righteous, since it involves justice alone?
We have discussed atonement theories in early sessions. The atonement definition we had settled on was tentatively called the Covenant Satisfaction Atonement. I have adjusted that definition slightly and renamed it. My purpose was to ensure that the relationship purpose of God’s motivation was highlighted both in the definition and the name. Here it is:
Kinship Atonement: Christ satisfied the curse of death laid on humanity for breaking the original covenant of life
with God by his unblemished sacrifice on the cross, and offers himself as a New Covenant of life through whom
we receive the forgiveness of sins, inherit his life of righteousness, and are thus fitted to everlasting relationship
with our God.
This Kinship Atonement definition, then, fits well into the overall concept of Kinship Theology—the understanding of God’s revelation according to his relationship purpose. Kinship Theology, as we have discussed before, rests on three pillars of restoration to the brokenness of relationship that occurred in the Garden as a consequence of original sin. These three pillars are Faith Electionism (FE), Biblical Eglitarianism (BE), and Amillennial Eschatology (AE). FE, relating to soteriology, has to do with our relationship with God. BE, relating to ecclesiology, has to do with our relationship with each other. AE, relating to eschatology, has to do with our relationship with the rest of creation—to be fully restored upon Christ’s return. These three pillars, then, encompass the image qualities of faith (FE), hope (AE), and love (BE).
To this point in this summary we have reviewed some major foundational stones of our entire Isaiah discussion. As we move forward through our study, we must keep in mind these elements, all understood based on God’s purpose for relationship.
Isaiah’s next section—chapters 43b through 44a—describes for us the rescue revelation assurance. This section begins (43:14-21) emphasizing that God accomplishes the rescue. Verses 14 and 15 make the declaration that God will rescue, but notice that the declaration is surrounded on both sides by noting the transcendent and immanent truths about God. He is Lord, Redeemer, Holy One, Yahweh (Existent One), Creator, and King. We may understand the purpose for this emphasis by remembering the predicament of the Jews. At the time of this writing, the Jews were still in their homeland. Assyria’s power was waning, and Babylon’s power was just forming. When the days spoken of in the prophecy would finally come to pass, Babylon would be the greatest empire on earth. They would swoop in, destroy the Jerusalem temple, and carry off the Jews as slaves. God is reminding them through this prophecy that he is not some regional god that can be thwarted by the temple destruction. God knows what will happen; God plans what will happen; and the people can trust the fact that in his transcendent and immanent nature over the entire creation, he will rescue them.
God points out to them in verses 16 and 17 that he caused the rescue of Israel from Egypt through the Red Sea, thus showing (1) the fact that his people had previously been rescued from a nation holding them in captivity, and (2) that it was God, in fact, who did this through the supernatural proof of dry land path through the sea. But immediately then God says that they need not dwell on that (43:18). “Look forward!” he fairly shouts in his eagerness. Another rescue is coming! (43:19a). This rescue is described in mirror image to the Red Sea escape. Whereas before they had a path of dry land through the sea, verses 19b-20 show a river being made in the desert. This, of course, is metaphorical imagery to show that life (water) that God provides in spite of their prison and misfortune (desert). And the world (“animals of the field”) will benefit from Judah’s rescue.
God ends the section in verse 21 proclaiming, “The people I formed for Myself will declare My praise.” I am afraid that too often we view praise of God in the separated aspect of a group of people on the outskirts looking to God and praising him for what they see—the Great God full of glory. Why am I afraid of this picture that seems to do honor to God? I worry about this picture because it is not the picture that God presents of the praise of his people. Notice, first, that he does not say merely, “The people will declare My praise,” or even, “My people will declare My praise.” He states significantly, “The people I formed for Myself will declare My praise.” He is not saying this to distinguish these people from other people. Rather, he is emphasizing the purpose for which he created and made them his people. He formed them for himself, meaning he formed them for his purpose. What was his purpose? Remember our foundational stones rehearsed earlier. God’s purpose in his creation is for relationship. Therefore, his emphasis here is that in relationship his people will declare his praise. This alters that picture of praise just a bit. Instead of a people on the outskirts looking at God to praise him, the people are gathered in the embrace of God, filled with his goodness, mercy, and righteousness, praising that God who holds them and whose life and glory courses through their very beings. God’s people are not gods themselves, but God’s glory does flow through them. Jesus prayed for that very thing in John 17:20-23: “I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
Verses 14 through 21 showed that rescue is by God. Verses 22 through 28 show that rescue is not of Jacob. In other words, the Jews had nothing to do with their rescue. They did not contribute to it.
God starts out explaining this in verse 22 by complaining that Jacob has not called on him and has grown weary of him. God is probably speaking to the what occurred in Isaiah’s time and the years after leading up to the Babylonian invasion. God could hardly fault them for not bringing sacrifices during the time of captivity after the temple was destroyed. But although verses 22 and 23a seem as if to say that sacrifices had ceased, the Jews actually never did stop sacrificing. What is described is more likely the complaint God had in the introduction section of Isaiah 1:10ff. There God specifically argued against the Jews not for failing to bring the physical offering but rather for failing to bring a heart intent on offering and relationship with the physical offering. Their gifts became no more than ritual duty (along with the sacrifices that the Jews also paid to foreign gods).
Verse 23b seem odd. In that verse, God states that he has not burdened the Jews with offerings or wearied them with incense. Why does he say this? God had never brought physical offerings to the Jews. But this statement goes along with the previous one. The issue is the heart. God first tells the Jews that they are not seeking relationship with him; they are performing merely rote ritual. Then God says in 23b that he has never treated them in that fashion. The interaction God has with Judah has never been some duty-bound performance from God. He has always treated them intent on relationship. But they have not brought sacrifice of the heart as evidenced in verse 24’s “extras” of sweet cane, silver, and the fat of the sacrifices. They have, rather, burdened God with their sin.
In verse 25, God is intent on making known that it was not their action that is being rewarded with forgiveness of trespasses. He states that it is for his own sake that he sweeps away their sin. Again, we must remember what God’s purpose is. He is not saying that he is ignoring the people and doing something for some completely internal desire. His purpose is relationship. Therefore, sweeping away sin for his own sake has everything to do with relationship.