Isaiah (Part 50): Rescue Revelation Assured - 2 (Ch 43b-44a)
Verses 26 through 28 of Isaiah 43 complete this mini-section that actually started back with verse 14. This whole section (14-28) emphasizes that the rescue of Jacob (Judah or Israel) will be by God without any contribution toward that rescue by Jacob. In these last verses of the section, God invites Jacob to argue against him if they believe they actually contributed something. But no reply is forthcoming. God seals his point by closing the only possible defense that the Jews may have raised. They could have said, “But we are children of our father Abraham, and Abraham was a righteous man.” But God trounces that argument immediately in verse 27 by saying that even Abraham (their “first father”) sinned. “All your leaders sinned,” he goes on, and thus, the purging in captivity was just.
Notice, however, in this sequence that initially God gave revelation in 14-21 about his rescue. Next, in verses 21-24, God speaks of the unfaithfulness of the Jews. But in verse 25, he announces that he will rescue anyway. Does this not conflict with the faith electionist’s revelation-response idea? According to faith electionism, a response of faith to God’s revelation results in God moving toward the person with additional enlightenment. A response of resistance or rebellion to God’s revelation results in God moving away. We see this pattern shown definitively in Romans 1. So why is that pattern not evident here in Isaiah 43?
First, the revelation-response pattern of faith electionism is not that cut-and-dried. Obviously, if God moved away at every resistance to revelation, no one would ever be saved. Our depravity encourages sinful resistance at almost every turn. But God’s expansive foreknowledge and understanding of each individual allows him to touch the soul in revelation and response in unimaginable times and ways. Therefore, we cannot discount faith electionism because it is not readily apparent in every situation.
Still, that is not the problem here. We must remember that God uses Israel, the nation, as a picture of his eternal covenanted people. In metaphor and analogy we must be careful to limit our thoughts to the intent of the pictured point. God is here discussing his rescue, but specifically he is focusing (in chapters 40-48) on the fact that rescue is by him alone. Even in this mini-section of 43:14-28, the thrust is that rescue is all of God without any contribution by Judah (or Jacob). Verses 21-24 do not depict a denial of faith as much as they do a denial of purposed activity, and this feeds in to God’s point. The Jews have not contributed to their rescue: God does it all (verse 25).
The sweeping away of transgression actually would seem to have the normal revelation-response formula. The capture of Judah by Babylon is actually part of God’s revelation to the Jews. We see in other passages outside Isaiah (for instance in Daniel) that Judah as a nation (particularly its national leaders like Daniel) did see God’s hand in the capture and their need for rescue by God. They believed God, responding in faith to his revelation/enlightenment. God then moved toward them in mercy, sweeping their sin away. Note that the sweeping away of sin is not removing individual sin. The picture presented is that of the nation, and therefore it is the national sin removed from Jacob.
Speaking of the national sin of Jacob may trigger in our minds the question of how an individual received eternal rescue—salvation—under the old covenant. Remember first that everyone—even OT saints—come in to the New Covenant. Anyone who is saved is saved through what Christ accomplished in his death and resurrection. And through his death and resurrection, Jesus initiated the New Covenant. Thus, OT saints become part of New Covenant salvation.
So how does one receive salvation now? Ephesians 2:8-9 explains, “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.” This passage teaches the same thing as our Isaiah passage: Salvation is all of God. We don’t contribute to the rescue. We are “saved by grace,” and that salvation “is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift.” In fact, the entire Ephesians passage in chapter 2:1-10 is intent on making this point.
But verse 8 also mentions that faith is the vehicle or condition by which God applies his saving grace. So, what must we have faith in? The answer, I believe, is in three parts having to do with God’s pursuit, God’s purpose, and God’s power.
God’s Pursuit: God rescues through Jesus.
God’s Purpose: God rescues for relationship.
God’s Power: God is the only rescuer.
Belief in these three principles is the faith condition for rescue. Some people may want to include a statement about recognizing your sin. But believing that God rescues means that we believe we need rescue. Some people may want to add a statement about Jesus being God. But believing that God is the only rescuer coupled with the fact that God rescues through Jesus makes evident the fact that Jesus is God. Some people may want to add a statement about Jesus being Lord. But believing that God rescues for relationship holds an understanding of belief that God and Jesus are Lord (although our actions may at times seem to push against it).
In Old Testament times, obviously the full revelation of Jesus as Messiah Savior was not yet apparent. Thus, Old Testament saints would still believe the same three statements except that the “through” part of God’s Pursuit would not be clear yet. They would believe that God would rescue. As progressive revelation was given, they would believe that God would rescue through a coming Messiah. Now that Christ has come we have the specificity in that belief to know that God rescues through Jesus.
Looking back at Isaiah 42-43, we had discussed the section labeled “Rescue Revelation Shown” in the context of three chiasms. The major (central) points of the three chiasms were the following:
1. God magnified his instruction (truth) that God rescues.
2. God gave Egypt/nations for Judah.
3. There is no other god/rescuer.
Notice that these three chiastic conclusions align with God’s Pursuit, God’s Purpose (in relationship), and God’s Power.
As we return to our Isaiah study, we find that the first five verses of chapter 44 provide our next mini-section. The first mini-section was 43:14-28 “Rescue is by God; it is not by Jacob.” Isaiah 44:1-5 may be called “Rescue is for Jacob; it is for God’s chosen.” Here God is concerned that realizing their utter sin and helplessness, the Jews may despair. God encourages them saying, “Do not fear; Jacob is My servant; I have chosen Jeshurun” (44:2b). The name Jacob means deceiver. But God says this deceiver still is his servant, and God will turn him into Jeshurun, which means upright one.
We notice a change of sense from Jacob as a covenant nation to the Jews’ individual relationships with God. God pours out his Spirit on the people, and they individually declare for themselves that they belong to God.
The third mini-section of the Rescue Revelation Assurance is in 44:6-20. We may call this mini-section “Rescue is by God; there is no other.” The first three of these verses declare God to be the only rescuer based on his transcendent control: “I am the first and I am the last.” Verses 9 through 20 provide a head-shaking description of the short-sightedness of people who carve idols out of the earth’s material and then bow down to them. Of striking poignancy is verse 19: “No one reflects, no one has the perception or insight to say, ‘I burned half of [the log] in the fire, I also baked bread on its coals, I roasted meat and ate. I will make something detestable with the rest of it, and I will bow down to a block of wood.’”
Verse 18 mentions that God has shut the eyes and understanding of these people. God shuts minds or hardens hearts by giving revelation to those who refuse to accept it. With every resistance the heart is hardened and the mind becomes more impervious.