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By Christina M Wilson. Published previously at https://justonesmallvoice.com/witnesses-isaiah-devotional-2-15/.
Who Is God?
Where should the reader place their steady gaze in Isaiah? Upon the people of Israel or upon the God who made them? Isaiah 42:18-25 exposes Israel as a people blind, deaf, disobedient, and carried away into captivity.
Isaiah 42:18 Hear, ye deaf, and look up, ye blind, to see. 19 And who is blind, but my servants? and deaf, but they that rule over them? yea, the servants of God have been made blind.
… 25 So he brought upon them the fury of his wrath; and the war, and those that burnt round about them, prevailed against them; yet no one of them knew it, neither did they lay it to heart. (Septuagint, Brenton)
The very next set of verses focuses on God and displays his nature. (1)
- God created Israel and claims them (Isaiah 43:1).
- God is companion to Israel who miraculously protects them (Isaiah 43:2).
- God is Savior (Isaiah 43:3).
- God loves Israel and glorifies his precious people (Isaiah 43:4).
- God has not abandoned his people, but has stayed with them. He comforts and calls them. He calls their children from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. He’s given them his name. (Isaiah 43:5-7).
- God created Israel in and for his own glory (Isaiah 43:7) (2).
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (ESV)
And, as if to emphasize the point that God is the one to be worshiped, not his created people Israel, verse 8 refers back to his blind people. (See Isaiah 42:18-19 above).
8 and I have brought forth the blind people; for their eyes are alike blind, and they that have ears are deaf. (Septuagint, Brenton)
Christians need to be careful not to place Israel at the center of their theology. Israel is not to be worshiped as the central figure. That place belongs to God, who created them. Israel’s sin was to turn from God, to follow their own path. This path led them to worship idols, as all the other nations did. Messiah is God’s singular Servant, Israel. He alone is to be worshiped. Just as Christians should not worship the church, neither should they worship Israel. Christ should be the center of a Christian’s theology in both Old and New Testaments, not Christ’s Old Testament people, Israel.
Who Are Israel?
What then, is Israel’s purpose? Is it Israel’s purpose to be glorified in a “millennial” kingdom? Does all human history lead the world to that point? Isaiah clearly speaks out Israel’s purpose. Israel’s purpose is to witness to God.
10 Be ye my witnesses, and I too am a witness, saith the Lord God, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know, and believe, and understand that I am he: before me there was no other God, and after me there shall be none. (Septuagint, Brenton)
God declares Israel’s purpose in Isaiah 43:10-21. Israel’s purpose is to witness that God is God. He is the great “I Am.” He proclaims beforehand his salvation (Isaiah 43:12), he brings it about, and no one can reverse his plan, or “deliver out” of his hands (verse 13).
As proof, God in this passage announces that he will deliver his people from the clutches of Babylon. They will be destroyed. (This is the first mention by name of Babylon since chapter 40 began this new volume.) None of the gods of the nations can make these kinds of predictions and bring them about (Isaiah 43:9). God predicts Israel’s deliverance from Babylon. Afterwards, when this happens, Israel witnesses to God and his might by their having been brought out and returned to their own land. Yes, we can all cheer that Israel gets their reward. But our greatest cheering (praise) should be for God who did it. Indeed, God’s goal in chapter 43 is to win the heart of his own people over.
What Israel Are Not
Israel’s witness concerning God is not about themselves and any future glory they may or may not have. Israel’s witness is that God loves them and never abandons them. It is God who is the hero, not Israel. Almost like a repeat of Isaiah 42:18-25, God lays it out plainly to Israel how they have failed him (Isaiah 43:22-28).
They haven’t brought him sheep nor whole burnt offerings, nor sacrifices, frankincense, nor costly incense (verses 23-24). But what God really wants from them is their heart, their willful obedience. That they never gave him.
Isaiah 43:27 Your fathers first, and your princes have transgressed against me. 28 And the princes have defiled my sanctuaries: so I gave Jacob to enemies to destroy, and Israel to reproach. (Septuagint, Brenton)
A Peek Ahead
Yet God does not give up. His plan is dependent upon himself, not upon Israel. Chapter 44 flips back again to blessing. Before moving on to Isaiah 44 I’d like to spend a bit of time on how the Septuagint points to Christ in chapter 43. This, Lord willing, will happen in a future post.
1 Notice the inclusio. Isaiah 43:1-8 begin and end with God as creator. These verses are like the slices of bread that hold a sandwich together.
The poster accompanying this post illustrates just the first portion of Isaiah 43:2. The second half complements the first and should not be eliminated from it. The entire verse reads:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze (NIV).
This is a verse for all seasons and for all people. When I was still a child and not yet a Christian, I summed up my entire philosophical musings with the phrase, “All things are equal.” By this I meant that the experiences of a bird are bird-size, yet they fill that bird’s universe. The experiences of a mighty world leader are mighty-world-leader-size, yet they fill that leader’s universe. While small creatures may have what we might call small problems, yet they completely fill that small creature’s entire world. Large people have large problems, yet those problems can do no more than fill that large person’s entire world. In this sense, “All things are equal,” because everyone experiences their own lives to the maximum amount their lives can hold.
The point is that we should not compare our situations with the situations of others in a judgmental fashion. It makes no difference if we are judging ourselves or judging others. God does not do that. He judges each person according to their own size. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Palm 103:14, ESV). In other words, God does not judge us according to his own godly size; he judges us according to our own size. And we are creatures made of dust. In a parable Jesus told, a master speaks the same words to two people. One had invested and doubled five talents of money, and the other had invested and doubled two talents. Both received the identical commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master,” (Matthew 25). The master rewarded each according to their size. Yet for each, the reward was equally full, since no doubt it filled that person’s capacity.
Concerning difficulties, to a tiny ant, a trickle of rain water can present a formidable obstacle. To a long distance solo sailor, her obstacle might be a violent storm at sea. The ant should not think that her prayers and cries for help mean less to God than those of the brave sailor. And the brave sailor should not disdain the pleadings for mercy of the tiny ant. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” And in his very next breath, he told the crowd that we should all become like them (Luke 18:16-17).
No problem we will ever face is too big for God to handle, and no problem we will ever face is too small for God to care. God sees each of us for who we are. It does not matter to him if we are the Apostle Paul or if we are the poor widow who placed her last two cents into the synagogue offering. God loves all his children, and he will see us through it all.