Isaiah (Part 54): Transition of the Messiahs -2 (Ch 48b)
Isaiah 48:12-16 divides into three specific addresses. The first (verses 12-13) calls to Jacob and Israel to listen to God. The call is singular addressing the group as a nation rather than individuals among that nation. It is interesting and telling that God addresses the nation as both Jacob and Israel—the two names given to the patriarch. Jacob means deceiver, and God’s intention here, no doubt, is to emphasize that although the nation was called through covenant to be God’s servant and declare his glory, their approach had been ritualistic without heart involvement, and thus they failed in their purpose. However, God also calls the nation Israel, the name meaning striving or working with God. We learned in the previous few verses how God could still consider the nation as working with him. The nation would produce the One who would work with God as the true Servant and, therefore, the true Israel.
In verses 12b-13, God informs the nation again of something he has mentioned over and over through this greater section (chs 40-48) in which God’s control is emphasized. God says he creates and he controls. He reminds them of this in relation to the rescue that takes place, both the one just seen accomplished through Cyrus and the greater, ultimate rescue planned for the world. God is not repeating the fact of his control for no good purpose. He has constantly emphasized his control at the same time that he says his Servant would accomplish the rescue. He places these two thoughts together so frequently (“I will rescue; my Servant will rescue”), I believe, so that his people would finally see the merging of the thoughts. God will rescue because God will be the Servant. And we certainly know this to be true from our New Covenant perspective. But this merging of the idea is also just as certainly begun in the Old Testament. It is in the OT that we are introduced to the creative power of God working through his Word. Psalm 33:6 and 9 tell us this:
The heavens were made by the word of the Lord, and all the stars, by the breath of His mouth. For He spoke, and it came into being; He commanded, and it came into existence.
The NT picks right up with this same thought as John remarks in his Gospel (John 1:1-3):
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.
And then we are specifically told of the merger in John 1:14a: “The Word became flesh.” And Hebrews makes it even plainer: “God … made the universe through [the Son]. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory …, sustaining all things by His powerful word.”
So we see this same discussion of the Servant in Isaiah. God created by his Word, who is his Servant. God will rescue by his Word (45:23). God will rescue by his Servant (42:1). And God’s rescuer is the true Israel (45:25). It is interesting to note Isaiah 45:25 for what it implies. The verse reads, “All the descendants of Israel will be justified and find glory through the Lord.” This statement could not possibly be true if we insist on the physical nation as being the true Israel. All descendants of the nation were not justified and will not find glory through the Lord. But in understanding that the true Israel is the one of that nation who was the only Covenant-Keeper, those who descended from Him (all those of faith) will be justified and will find glory.
The next address is in 48:14-15. God calls the individuals of the nation to assemble and listen. Then he sweeps his arm over them asking, “Who among these has declared these things?” (Many modern translations have attempted to interpret this question for us by replacing “these” or “them” with “idols” or “gods.” Although God did in chapters past compare himself with the know-nothing idols, he is not doing that here.) God asks who has declared God’s glory. Remember, that was the point of the Servant. Jacob, the nation, was supposed to be that servant. But Jacob failed, and the sweep of God’s arm over the people reveals no one who can answer as being someone who has declared God’s glory. No one except for the true Servant, the true Israel. This scene is almost exactly the same as the one we see in Revelation 5 as the angel cries out, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” There too we find silence at first. But the answer there is the same as in Isaiah. The Word—the Servant, Israel—is the one has declared God’s glory, and so God continues, “The Lord loves him!”
Many commentators seem to want to identify this person who the Lord loves as Cyrus, mainly because of the rest of verse 14, which identifies this person whom the Lord loves as the one who defeated Babylon and the Chaldeans. But placing Cyrus here is contextually backwards. Not only that, but never does the Bible speak of God’s love for someone outside covenant relationship. Remember God’s oft-repeated emphasis. It is God that saves by the Word of his power. Thus, seeing the Word—the true Israel Servant—here as the one who actually defeated Babylon is a much more satisfying picture.
The final address is in verse 16. Again we hear a call to approach and listen. Quotation marks are not inspired additions to the text. Many translations attempt more interpretation for us by having ending quotes right in the middle of this verse. They do that because it does seem difficult at first to understand the unity of the personal pronouns. At the beginning of the verse we think it is God speaking, calling to the people again to “approach me.” But by the end of the verse we read the speaker saying that the Lord God “has sent me.” If the Lord God was speaking at the beginning, how could the Lord God send the Lord God? This is why translators insert those ending quotes. They argue that the first part of the verse is the Lord God speaking, and in the second part it is Isaiah interrupting the passage to let everyone know that God told him to write this. That is a bad way to handle this verse. Isaiah does not suddenly insert himself in the flow.
In the first address (verses 12-13), we learned that the Servant—the true Israel—would arise from the nation. In the second address (verses 14-15), that Servant was identified—pointed out, as it were. In this third address (verse 16), the Servant now stands and speaks. It is the Servant’s voice we hear from the verse’s start saying, “Approach Me.” It is the Servant—the Word—who says, “I have not spoken in secret.” It is the Servant—the Creator Word—who says, “From the time anything existed, I was there.” And it is the Servant—the Word made flesh—who says, “And now the Lord God has sent me.”
The final mini-section of this chapter, which is also the final part of the whole 40-48 section, is the call that defines the Servant’s mission to bring rescue, peace, and joy to those of faith. Drawing on Israel’s entire history as the picture of what ultimate rescue and redemption is all about, God provides a chiastic structure to this message. Verses 18-19 dismiss the failed nation from continuing covenant relationship. “If only you had paid attention to my commands” rings out as a death knell. We are told that if the nation had paid attention, they would have received peace, had descendants as sand, and not been cut off. But they did not pay attention, and therefore they would not receive peace, their descendants would not enjoy blessing, and they, as a covenant people, would be eliminated.
But then the focus turns to those of the rescue. “Leave Babylon, flee from the Chaldeans!” This is the same cry first made by God to Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees and follow him to, as Hebrews puts it, “the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” This is also the same cry that we hear John write of in Revelation. Babylon represents the worldly antichrist spirit of exaltation of self. God redeems as faith looks to him. The faithful will be redeemed, and they will be cared for (as Israel was cared for coming from Egypt). But, as verse 22 concludes, the unfaithful will never have peace.