Isaiah 43–44. God Loves Israel.
Key Notes: Twelve good words about Israel. A satire on the idol-maker. His witnesses. God blots out sin for His own sake.
In these chapters, we see Isaiah addressing an Israel that is loved and honored, and an Israel that is still infatuated with idols. It is as if Isaiah stands in our diagram on the border between Israel of the flesh (Servant C.) and the Israel of God (Servant A. ), and looks up to Servant B. and down to Servant A. An‘93 annotated Bible (P. Schaff) titles chapter 43 as "God comforts His church". If on our diagram we stand Isaiah at the border, looking up and down, that does not seem far-fetched.
43:1–7 In contrast to the Israel of 42:25 that is set on fire and burned, Israel of 43:2 will pass through fire and flood and not be destroyed. God who created, formed and called Israel, declares Israel precious, honored and loved, created for His glory.
Giving Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba (Egypt collectively) for Israel may refer to Egypt's first-born sons that perished at the Exodus when Israel won its freedom.
When God says He will gather them from the four corners of the globe, we are not to think of the return from Babylon in 516BC when the exiles were all in Middle East, but of the return from the second dispersion after 70AD (i.e.’47), when they were truly dispersed over the world.
But there is also a far-distant fulfilment that Jesus prophesies:
"...and He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matt.24:31)
43:8–13 God calls the nations together in judgment to hear Servant Israel witness to the existence , salvation and sovereign power of God. Is this a time of literal judgment as in Matt.25:31, when all the nations are judged? In Matthew 25, judgment is based on caring for the poor brethren of Christ, an apparently different criterion.
43:14–21 God, who brought Israel through the Red Sea will do something new, making streams in the desert so that Israel may praise Him. There are other references in Isaiah to the desert blossoming (35:1,2,6; 51:3), but perhaps more importantly, Israel as a nation blessing the world with "fruit".
43:22–28 Israel of the flesh is weary of God, and God is wearied of her sins. But God will blot out Israel's sins for His own sake, although He has previously punished their fathers severely.
44:1–5 Israel / Jacob is God's servant. Jeshurun is a diminutive, a pet name meaning "Upright One" in Hebrew and translated "Beloved" in Greek. God will pour out His Spirit upon their descendents, and they will flourish like grass at the water's edge. They will write the name of God on their hand. (We can too.)
44:6–20 God, King of Israel, Redeemer, JHWH Sabaoth, the First and Last is the only God. The gods of the Greeks (Zeus, Hera, Mercury, Poseidon, Aphrodite and Mars, etc.) are nothing and those who make their images are nothing.
Isaiah satirizes idolatry. The idol-maker sweats and gets hungry making his casting. The carpenter makes the statue of a beautiful human being from a tree. The tree has been carefully cultivated, perhaps a cypress. Part of it is fuel to warm the body and cook the food. It goes to ashes. The rest is made into an idol to be worshiped and prayed to for deliverance. The deluded idolater does not see that he is enmeshed in lies, feeding on ashes.
Isaiah has no time for the breath-taking beauty of Greek statuary that compels worship even today, nor of the demonic powers that lurk behind them.
44:21–23 He gives a final reminder to Israel that it is God's servant, not to be forgotten, but forgiven, and redeemed. God will be glorified in Israel.
God has many good things to say about Israelites in these chapters. They are:
created and formed 43:1,7; 44:21
called 43:1,7 and chosen 43:20
redeemed 43:1,14; 44:6, 22, 23
forgiven; sins forgotten, blotted out 43:25 and swept away 44:22
to be Spirit-filled 44:3
honored, loved, precious 43:4
guaranteed to survive 43:3,14,21; 44:19
not to be forgotten 44:21
not to be afraid 43:1,5; 44:8
God's witnesses 43:10,12; 44:8
God's servants 43:10; 44:1,2,21
This is a quite complete description of salvation as we know it.
God is "coming on strong" in these chapters. What would our reaction be? When God pursues, we tend to run away. Sometimes we run to exhaustion, and give in only when we have nothing left to resist with. But God waits to be gracious to us (30:18). He waits for us to write on our hand, "I am the Lord's".
Blotting out Israel's sins "for My own sake" has made some concerned that there is forgiveness without sacrifice or penalty. "For My own sake" means that God saves based on something within His own nature. Our attempt to explain the Cross ends here: the mystery of substitutionary atonement comes from within God. We would not have done things that way. He has chosen to save us in a way that could not be imagined.
And God's call is clear, they are to be His witnesses. What should they say?
That He is God, JHWH, the One who Is. There is no one like Him (44:7) and no one beside Him. (44:8). He has declared the future from ancient times. (44:7). What He has determined cannot be prevented. (43:13). He will break the yoke of Babylon. (43:14). Israel was created for God's glory (43:7) and to declare His praise. 43:21
Did Israel do the job? Is Israel doing the job?
Israel failed to be God's servant.
Then God in Christ became Israel's servant. Phil.2:5–9
Matt.28:18 reminds us that Jesus has transmitted the command to be His witnesses to the disciples. On us has fallen the mantle that Israel discarded.
Our message might start where Isaiah's did, declaring God's goodness to a world that is agnostic or atheistic.