God promises comfort to his people
This chapter begins the second half of the Book of Isaiah.
- In Chapters 1 to 39, God warns his people about judgement for *sins. In these chapters, Assyria is the enemy. Isaiah himself is living during the events of this period.
- In Chapters 40 to 66, God promises comfort to his people. (The word ‘comfort’ appears 13 times.) In these chapters, Babylon is the enemy. God’s people are prisoners in Babylon. The chapters refer to the situation two centuries after Isaiah’s time. But unlike in chapters 1 to 39, Isaiah does not mention any actual events from the history of that period.
Words to encourage
v1 Give comfort, yes, give comfort to my people! This is what your God says. v2 Speak gently to the people who had been inhabitants of *Jerusalem. Tell them that their time of hard labour is over. God has forgiven them. The people from Judah have received double for all their *sins.
The *Lord’s words are to ‘my people’. They are the *Lord’s own special people. They belong to him by a personal *covenant (see Exodus chapter 24).
Enemies had ruined *Jerusalem 70 years earlier. But now the people will be able to build it again (see Isaiah 44:28).
- The final words of this verse may seem to mean ‘double punishment’. However, this would be neither ‘comfort’ (verse 1) nor *justice (see Genesis 18:25).
- The word ‘double’ has two meanings (in the original language, as well as in English). ‘Double’ can mean ‘twice as much’, as in ‘double punishment’. But ‘double’ can also mean to ‘fold in two’ (see Exodus 26:9). For example, if I fold a piece of paper in two, I double it. Isaiah is using this second meaning here.
- The verse refers to an ancient custom. If poor people were quite unable to pay a debt, they could become slaves (see 2 Kings 4:1). There were no national funds to help them. But there was one thing that a poor person could do. He could fix the final demand (bill) for the money in a public place. He hoped that some generous rich person would fold the demand in two. That is, that he would double it. Then he signed his name on the back of the demand (like a modern cheque). That meant that he would kindly pay the poor man’s debt. And everybody knew it.
- So God forgives his people because of his great kindness. They could not earn their freedom by their hard labour. But God himself acts to rescue them.
Prepare the way for God
v3 Listen! Someone is shouting: ‘Clear a way through the desert for the *Lord! Prepare a straight road through the desert for our God. v4 Fill every valley with soil. Make the hills level like a plain. Make rough ground smooth. v5 Then everybody will see the *Lord’s great *glory. The *Lord himself has promised this.’
The *New Testament declares John the *Baptist to be the person who is shouting (see Matthew 3:3 and John 1:23). Of course, John’s message was not about freedom from Babylon. He lived several centuries after the *Jews returned from Babylon. But John’s message was similar. His message was about the arrival of the *Messiah. And the *Messiah would bring about freedom from *sin (verse 2).
The *Lord’s road is to be straight and level. And it is to be free from blocks in the way. When the road is ready, the *Lord will definitely arrive. He will be able to travel without difficulty or problems.
- The arrival of the *Lord to come to his people’s aid (see Judges 5:4-5; Psalm 68:7-8) combines with a word picture. It was an ancient custom to construct special ways for the arrival of an important visitor. Or for the gods (that is, *idols) to use as people carried the gods’ images in a procession.
The *Lord promises that all nations will see him in his great *glory. This is the subject of Psalms 95 to 100 in particular.
God’s word lasts always
v6 Listen! Someone is shouting, ‘Announce a message in public!’ I replied, ‘What message shall I announce?’ The answer came: ‘Declare that all *human beings are like grass. Like wild flowers that last only a short time. v7 Grass becomes brown and flowers fall. Because the *Lord sends a hot wind to blow on them. Truly, people are no stronger than grass. v8 Grass becomes brown and flowers fall. But God’s promises always remain true.’
*Human beings come and go. Their words and actions are never enough.
Only God’s words and actions are always permanent and always perfect.
The *Lord himself leads his people
v9 People in *Jerusalem, climb a high mountain and announce the good news! Shout loudly, people in *Zion! Call out the good news! Do not be afraid to speak! Tell the inhabitants of the towns in Judah, ‘Look, your God is coming!’
v10 Yes, God the Master is coming to rule with immense power. He is bringing with him the people whom he has rescued. v11 The *Lord will look after his people, like someone who looks after sheep. He will pick up the young sheep that have just been born. He will carry them close to his heart. And he will gently lead their mothers.
The *Lord is coming to *Jerusalem (verses 3-5). He comes as far more powerful than any nation’s king. He is bringing with him the people that he has rescued from a foreign country. Although the *Lord is so powerful, he is very tender (gentle) towards his special people.
The phrase ‘do not be afraid’ appears nine more times in the later chapters (see Isaiah 41:10; 41:13; 41:14; 43:1; 43:5; 44:2; 44:8; 51:7; 54:4). Each time the words are to encourage God’s servant to do some task. The servant is not to worry whether he will be capable. God’s power will help him.
The *Lord looks after his people like someone who looks after sheep. The Bible often uses this description, for example: Psalm 23; Zechariah 11:7; John 10:11.
Nobody can be like the *Lord God
v12 No *human being can measure the seas in the cup (centre) of his hand. But God can. No *human being can measure the sky by the width of his hand. But God can. No *human being can put all the dust of the earth into a box. But God can. No *human being can weigh mountains or even hills. But God can.
v13 Nobody can understand the mind of the *Lord. No *human being can teach God anything. v14 God did not gain his knowledge from any *human being. No *human being taught God wisdom in how to live rightly. No *human being helped him to understand everything.
v15 To God, even powerful nations seem as small as a little water in a bucket. To God, great nations weigh no more than a little dust.
v16 Even the vast forests in Lebanon cannot provide enough trees to be fuel for God’s *altar. Nor are there enough animals to burn as a worthwhile gift to God. v17 To God, all the nations together amount to less than nothing.
v18 There is nobody who is like God. And no *human being can describe what God is like. v19 God is not like an *idol that a workman shapes. A worker in metals covers the *idol with gold. And he makes silver chains for it. v20 If somebody cannot afford gold or silver, he chooses a piece of hard wood. Then he looks for a skilful worker to make an *idol that will not fall down.
The greatness of God is very different from anything that exists. Anyway, God himself created everything (see the Book of Job, chapter 38).
God is completely self-sufficient. In other words, he does not depend on anyone else.
Neither the political power nor the military power of the greatest of nations means anything to God.
A man may try to make his own god. But an *idol cannot live. And it has no possible use. Its maker even has to fix it firmly in position. Otherwise it will fall.
- The *Lord God is spirit. He is not like the physical things that exist in this world. So any effort to represent him by means of a model is stupid. But it is also dangerous. *Idols of any kind turn one’s attention away from God himself.
- For Isaiah’s opinion about people who are foolish enough to trust in *idols, see Isaiah 44:9-20.
God rules the world
v21 You must surely know. You must surely have heard. Someone must surely have told you from ancient times. You must surely understand who made the earth in the beginning. v22 It is God who lives above the skies. In God’s sight the inhabitants of the earth seem as tiny as insects. God stretched out the heavens as one stretches a curtain. God spread the heavens like a tent in which to live. v23 God reduces the great rulers in the world to nothing. He makes the leaders of the nations to be like empty boxes. v24 They are like young plants that one has set out in the ground. They have hardly any roots yet. So when the *Lord sends a hot wind, the plants quickly become dry. They die, and the wind blows them away. v25 Nobody is like the Holy God. v26 Look up at the sky! God created all the stars that you see. It is God who leads them all out like an army. And he knows exactly how many stars there are. Because God’s power is so great, not one of them is ever missing.
It was God who created the world. And God created all that is in the world (see Genesis chapter 1).
Nothing in human society is as temporary as political power. God can take it away in a moment.
Nothing can ever compare with God’s power (verse 12); his wisdom (verses 13-14); his greatness (verses 15-17); his control (verses 22-23); his authority (verse 24); or his *holiness (verse 25).
To give honour to the stars in the heavens was of great importance in *Babylonian life. The practice became attractive to God’s people. They could see the bright stars. They could not see the *Lord.
- God created the stars. He remembers them all by name. So the God of Israel will certainly remember his own special people.
The *Lord gives strength
v27 The descendants (later family) of Jacob should not continue to complain. The people in Israel should not continue to feel sorry for themselves. In fact, the *Lord does see when his people suffer unfairly. v28 You must surely know this. You must surely have heard that the *Lord has always been God. It was he who created the world and everything in it. God never gets tired. He never wears himself out. No *human being can fully (completely) understand God’s ways. v29 God gives strength to anyone who feels weak. He gives new energy to those who have worn themselves out. v30 Even young people may feel weak, when they get very tired. Even young people may fall down because they have worn themselves out completely. v31 But those people who put their trust in the *Lord will gain new strength. Like great *eagles, they will rise high, as if they had wings. If they run, they will not get tired. If they walk, they will not become weak.
Sometimes God’s people suppose that he has left them. They think that he does not still care about them. It is still a common experience. But it is not true. In fact, God continues to care about his people when they suffer. And he will bring comfort and aid.
Both God’s patience and his perfect knowledge are greater than *human beings can ever imagine.
God’s own strength is without limit. He is always ready to give new energy to weak and tired people who trust him.
God’s gift of new energy will help his people to a better knowledge of his ways.
Know who really controls events
v1 God speaks: ‘You people in distant nations, be silent! Listen to me. Collect your evidence. Then prepare what you want to say, as if in a court. You will have your opportunity to speak. Then together we can calmly reach a decision about who controls the events through history.
v2 Who is it that has brought a man from the east? That man wins battles wherever he goes. It is God the *Lord who allows him to overcome many nations. And to walk over kings. And to reduce many armies to dust. That man’s weapons (military arms) scatter armies like so much straw that the wind blows away. v3 He pursues their armies, but he himself is never in any danger. He travels at such speed. One could say that his feet never seem to touch the ground.
v4 There is only one who has made all this to happen. The one who has decided the events through history. The same one who has always been calling people to his service. I, the *Lord, was there at the beginning. I, the *Lord, will be there at the end.’
v5 People who live even in distant nations are greatly afraid. The whole world trembles at what is happening. v6 So people gather together and tell each other to be brave. v7 But they also hurry to make a new *idol. One worker is skilled to use wood. He encourages the worker who is skilled to use gold. One worker hammers the metal flat. He encourages his partner who shapes it on the *anvil. One worker tells the other worker that he has done a good job. And he uses nails so that the *idol will not fall down.
A court of law is where witnesses give evidence. Before it is possible to reach a decision, the facts of the matter must be clear. Each person whom the decision may affect has an opportunity to speak without interruption.
- In ancient times, the ‘court’ was not a building. The common place to decide legal questions, among other activities, was the open area inside the city’s main gate (for examples, see Genesis 23:10; Deuteronomy 21:19; Ruth 4:1; Job 29:7). This was the only space in a city where people could meet. Houses were much too close together. Streets were mere paths.
- The older citizens would give any necessary advice from their experience. Everybody respected their wisdom.
- There is great danger and people are afraid. The basic question that is needing an answer on this anxious occasion is: ‘Who controls the events through history?’
The crisis is about a foreign army commander who is winning battle after battle. The officer’s name does not appear until the last verse of chapter 44. His army is overcoming every country in the area.
The *Lord declares that he is responsible for that foreigner’s appearance at such a time. The *Lord is using him to carry out a task for him. It is merely one event in the *Lord’s great plan that controls all of history.
- The use of the words ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ often appear in passages about the *Lord’s control of all history (see Isaiah 40:21; 44:6; 46:10; 48:12). His control is total.
Isaiah mentions the reaction of other nations to the crisis. The *idols that the nations had were clearly without any power whatever. The nations’ only solution was to make new *idols!
- Isaiah wants to show his people that human effort will never be sufficient. Not even if people encourage each other. Nor if they hope that new home-made *idols will protect them.
- For Isaiah’s opinion about people who are foolish enough to trust in *idols, see Isaiah 44:9-20.
Do not be afraid
v8 But you Israel, you are my servant. You are the people that I chose. You are the family of Abraham, my friend. v9 You are the people that I rescued from distant countries. I called you from the furthest parts of the earth. You are still my servants. You are the people that I chose. I have never given you up. v10 Do not be afraid. I will be with you. Let nothing frighten you, because I am your God. I will give you strength. I will help you. v11 Yes, any who oppose you will be ashamed. They will completely fail. Any who attack you will come to nothing. (In other words, their efforts will be hopeless.) They will just disappear. v12 You may search for those who oppose you. But you will not be able to find any. Those who fight against you will be as nothing. They will vanish. v13 Because I, the *Lord your God, give you power. It is I who tells you never to be afraid. I myself will be there to help you.
God calls Abraham his ‘friend’ (see 2 Chronicles 20:7 and James 2:23).
- In the original language, ‘friend’ is ‘one who loves me’. Anyone who loves God is a member of God’s family. And God himself considers that person to be his friend.
Friends help friends. God’s people help God when they answer his call to do something for him.
Similarly, God is ready to give his friends the strength that they need at any time.
God will help you
v14 So do not be afraid, Israel, small and weak as you are. I, the *Lord, will help you. I am the Holy God of Israel. It is I who saves you. v15 I will make you like a new *threshing-sledge that has sharp teeth (that is, nails). With it you will beat the mountains and you will reduce them to dust. You will make the hills like bits of grass. v16 You will throw the bits into the air for the wind to carry away. And the storm will scatter them. But you will be happy because the *Lord is your God. You will have pride because the Holy God is Israel’s God.
God’s immense power is available for his people. They do not need to be afraid of anything.
The picture in words repeats the promise of Isaiah 28:27-29.
God will provide
v17 Days may come when my poor people have no water to drink. Their tongues are dry. But I am their *Lord. I will provide for them. The God of Israel will never fail to satisfy them. v18 I will cause rivers to appear on bare hills where nothing was able to grow. I will make water to spring up in the valleys. The desert will become a pool of water. And dry ground will produce sources of water. v19 Now there will be water where once was only desert. Now I, the *Lord, will plant all kinds of lovely and useful trees. And vast forests will develop. v20 People will see what is happening. And they will understand that the *Lord himself has done it by his great power. The Holy God of Israel has brought it all about.
The *Lord turns desert into garden (Psalm 84:5-7). In Isaiah 42:15, the *Lord turns garden into desert.
- The *Lord will cause extraordinary changes in the world. Only the *Lord, Israel’s God, can do such things. The people in Israel know that God created everything. So all things and all people are under his control.
False gods have no power
v21 The *Lord is the King of Israel. He tells the gods of the nations to produce their evidence, as in a court of law. v22 ‘Let these gods come here. Let them tell us what will happen in the future. And let them tell us the meaning of past events. Then we can consider what they say. Or let the gods announce future events, so that we can know what to expect. v23 Tell us what will happen in the future. Then we shall know whether you really are gods. Do anything you like! Do it, whether it is something good or something bad. Then we shall be able to see how clever you are. v24 You do not even exist! So you cannot do anything. Anyone who chooses to respect you fills me with disgust.
v25 I have called a man from the north. He has come from the east. He knows me. He will walk heavily on rulers, as a maker of pots walks on his *clay. v26 Not one of you gods was able to announce these events before they happened. None of you spoke about them. Nobody warned us. Otherwise, we could say, “That one was right.” v27 I, the *Lord, am the first to announce that my people are coming home. I am sending someone to bring the good news to the inhabitants of *Jerusalem who remained there. v28 But when I looked at the gods, none of them had anything to say. None of them could answer my questions. v29 Truly, all these gods have no use whatever. They can do absolutely nothing. They are completely without any sort of power.’
No *idols can announce what is going to happen. That is something that only the *Lord God can do.
- See my note on Isaiah 44:9-20.
The *Old Testament calls several people ‘the *Lord’s servant’. Moses is one example (see Exodus 14:31). In the Book of Isaiah various people are called ‘the *Lord’s servant’ (see Isaiah 20:3; 22:20; 37:35). Sometimes Israel, as a group of people, is also called ‘the *Lord’s servant’ (see Isaiah 41:8; 44:21). In general, the name means someone that God calls to do something for him.
- But in certain passages in Isaiah chapters 40 to 55, the name ‘the *Lord’s Servant’ has a very special meaning. These particular passages are Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13 to 53:12. These four passages are often called ‘the Servant Songs’ (see my notes below on verse 1).
The *Lord’s servant
v1 The *Lord speaks: ‘See, here is my Servant. I support him. I have chosen him. He pleases me. I have put my Spirit on him. He will establish fair judgement among the nations. v2 He will not shout or cry out. He will not make loud speeches in the streets. v3 He will not break a thin stick. Nor will he put out a lamp that gives only a little light. He will make sure that judgements are always true. v4 My Servant will not lose hope or courage. He will make the world a place of fair judgements. And distant nations will wait hopefully for him to teach them.’
v5 It is God the *Lord who created the heavens. He created them so that they hang like a curtain. It is God the *Lord who created the earth. And he created all that it produces. He gave the breath of life to all who live upon the earth. Now this is what the *Lord says to his Servant: v6 ‘I am the *Lord. I have called you, my Servant, to bring *justice to the world. I have given you the power to carry out this task. I have appointed you to be my *covenant with the nations. And to be as a light for the nations. v7 This is so that you can make blind people able to see. And so that you can free prisoners. And so that you can bring people out of the darkness in which they were living. v8 I alone am the *Lord. That is my name. I do not permit the honour that belongs to me to go to anyone else. Or to go to some home-made *idol. v9 In the past, I announced that various things would happen. Look! Those events really have happened. Now I am announcing some new events. I am telling you about them before they happen.’
In Isaiah 41:21-29, the *Lord has discussed *idols. He declares that they have no life in them. They have no use for anything. They have no value whatever (see Psalm 135:15-18).
- But now, in the first verse of chapter 42, the *Lord discusses ‘my Servant’. The *Lord’s Servant is to perform a world-wide service for all nations. The special Servant will declare the *Lord’s remedy for every person’s most important desires. People from every nation need a strong base for their lives. Every *human being needs this. It is essential for a worthwhile life.
- The name of this special Servant does not appear in these passages.
- The *New Testament considers that the Servant Songs are about Jesus (see Matthew 12:17-21; John 1:29).
- The basic idea of ‘support’ is that God will hold a person’s hand firmly. That action gives strength and confidence. God will not let the task be too much for that person’s strength.
Isaiah uses pictures in words to show the Servant’s quiet kindness and care for all weak people (see Matthew 12:20-21).
Difficulties will not disturb the Servant’s determination to help other people.
The word ‘*justice’ has much more than a legal meaning. Rather, it has the meaning of ‘right order’. To establish right order is the work of the *Lord God who creates all things (see Genesis 1:1-2).
- The Servant’s work is world-wide. It is not only for the benefit of the people from Israel.
The *New Testament considers that these words are about Jesus (see Matthew 11:5).
The *Lord alone controls events. Therefore he alone can announce what will happen.
A song to praise God
v10 Tell the whole world to sing a new song to the *Lord. Tell those who sail the seas to join in the song. And tell those who live in distant places to join in too. v11 Let people who live in the deserts and in the cities sing aloud to praise God. Let the people in Kedar praise him. Let the inhabitants of the city called Sela shout for joy from the tops of the mountains. v12 Let the inhabitants of distant nations praise the *Lord. Let them give him great honour.
The declaration of a ‘new song’ (to praise God) is always because of a new display of God’s goodness (see Psalm 40:2-3; Revelation 5:9).
- The *Lord is not only the God of the people from Israel. He is everybody’s God.
Kedar and Sela were cities in the country called Edom.
- Relations between the nations called Israel and Edom were never good (see my note on Isaiah 34:5). So it is wonderful that even these two nations can share in the universal joy at the *Lord’s victory (success in battle).
God will help his people
v13 The *Lord marches into battle like a fierce champion. Like an angry soldier he shouts loudly as he charges into the fight. He shows no fear whatever. He will overcome his enemies. v14‘For a long time I have been silent’, says God. ‘I have been still. I have not acted. But now I shall cry out like a woman as she gives birth. As if I were struggling for air. v15 I shall destroy mountains and hills. I shall cause all their trees and plants to be so dry that they die. I shall reduce their rivers to mere pools. Then I shall dry up the pools. v16 But I shall never leave my people. I shall lead those who are blind along new ways. I shall take them by paths that they have never travelled before. I shall turn their darkness to light. And I shall make the rough places smooth. All this is what I shall do for them. I shall never leave them. v17 But all who put their trust in any sort of *idol as their god will be completely ashamed.’
God is like a brave officer who charges into battle with his soldiers.
God’s people suffered many years as prisoners in a foreign country. God seemed to be doing nothing to help them. But God must choose the moment to act.
When God does act, it will be plainly his work. Nothing will be able to stand in his way. The bushes and trees in the forest will not delay his arrival. Even the broadest river could not delay his progress.
Some people cannot benefit from the promises in verse 16. They are the people that choose to trust home-made *idols.
Israel fails to learn
v18 The *Lord says: ‘Listen, you people of mine who have been so deaf. Look carefully, you people of mine who have been so blind. Pay close attention to my words. v19 Nobody is more blind than my servant called Israel. Nobody is more deaf than Israel, which ought to carry my message to the world. v20 Israel sees many events. But he does not understand their meaning. His ears are open. But he does not really listen to the words of God’s laws.’
v21 It was the *Lord’s intention, because of his own *righteousness, to make his law great and honourable. v22 But the people in Israel did not obey God’s law. His directions would have made life so good. So Israel’s enemies have robbed them of liberty and land. Now God’s people are having to live in a foreign country. It is as if their life is in a deep hole or in a prison. They cannot escape. There is nobody to come to their rescue. v23 Someone among you people from Israel needs to listen. From now on, someone must pay proper attention. v24 It was surely the *Lord who handed over the people from Israel. He handed them over to their enemies, who acted like robbers. Because it is the *Lord whose law we (the people from Israel) have not obeyed. We have not followed his way. We have not obeyed his instructions. v25 So the *Lord showed his anger by the way that he made Israel suffer the results of war. It was as if God’s anger was like a fierce fire. The fire burned the people in Israel. But they still did not learn their lesson.
God appointed Isaiah to be his special messenger (a servant who carries a message) to the people in Israel. But, at the same time, God warned Isaiah that the people would not listen (see Isaiah 6:9-10).
God had chosen the people in Israel to be his witnesses. He wanted them to obey his law (directions) and so to live happy lives. Then other nations would want to leave their *idols and decide to follow the *Lord’s directions.
But the people in Israel refused to obey the *Lord. So he punished them severely. The *Lord allowed a powerful enemy to take them to Babylon as prisoners.
Chapter 42 reminded the people from Israel that they had totally neglected to obey God’s instructions. Their punishment was that they would be prisoners in Babylon. For many years they would be far from their own land.
- However, their miserable situation will now change.
God will rescue his people
v1 But now, people from Israel, listen to the *Lord’s words to you. He who created you says, ‘Do not be afraid of the future.’ He who formed you as a nation says, ‘I will defend you. I have called you by name. So you belong to me. v2 Whenever you cross deep waters, I shall be with you. Whenever you cross rivers, you will not drown. Whenever you go through fire, the flames will not burn you. The flames will not even hurt you. v3 Truly, I am the *Lord your God, the Holy God of Israel. It is I who saves you. I caused the nation called Egypt to let you go free. And I caused the nations called Cush and Seba to give you your liberty. v4 You are very precious to me and I love you. Therefore I place you above other nations. I consider your life to be more valuable than the life of other nations. v5 So do not be afraid. I am with you. I will bring back your people from the east. I will gather them from the west. v6 I will order the nations in the north to free you. And I will order nations in the south to let you go home. They must send back my sons and my daughters from the most distant parts of the earth. v7 They are my own people. They are called by my name. I created them and I formed them to bring me honour.’
In Israel’s culture, to call someone by name was more than a convenient method to refer to that person. It meant to establish a close relationship with them. So God can say, ‘You are mine.’ His people belong to him by *covenant.
The *Lord is still able to save his people from dangerous situations. Centuries before, he helped them ‘to cross deep waters’ (the Red Sea; see Exodus chapter 14). And he helped them across a full river (the river called Jordan, when it was in flood; see Joshua chapter 3).
- All the people needed to do was to accept the benefits that the *Lord’s actions gave to them.
- God created all things. So God can control all things. His people can have confidence in that fact.
- Punishment is the result when people do not obey God. The punishment will seem like the action of fire (see Isaiah 33:11-14). But such severe punishment will be fair. It will not harm God’s people.
- Actual fire may also *threaten God’s people because they remain loyal to the *Lord. But the *Lord can even protect them from this kind of fire (see Daniel 3:25-27).
God reminds his people that he has saved them from their enemies in the past. He rescued them from Egypt (see Exodus 3:15). He rescued them from foreign countries like Cush and Seba (see Isaiah 11:11-12).
The reason for the *Lord’s action is because he has a special love for his special people.
Israel is the *Lord’s witness in the world
v8 God says: ‘Bring here the people who are blind. They are blind although their eyes are able to see. Bring here the people who are deaf. They are deaf although their ears are able to hear.v9 All the nations are here. Their people have gathered together. None of their gods were able to tell about events in the future. And their gods were unable to explain the meaning of those events. Otherwise, they could produce witnesses to prove that they did this. v10 People from Israel, you are my witnesses. You have seen what I have done,’ says the *Lord. ‘I have chosen you people to be my servant. This is so that you can learn to know me and to trust me. Because, apart from me, there has never been another real god. Nor will there ever be any other real god in the future. v11 I alone am the *Lord. I alone can rescue you in your present situation. And in the future. v12 I, the *Lord, announced what was going to happen. And it was I, the *Lord, who rescued you. It was not the work of some foreign god. And you are my witnesses,’ says the *Lord. v13 ‘I am God and I always shall be. Nobody can force me to give up my plan. None can change what I intend to do.’
These verses again use the picture in words of a court of law, as in Isaiah 41:1-20.
The *Lord tells people that believe in other gods to provide evidence of their gods’ knowledge about future events.
The people from Israel are the *Lord’s witnesses. They know that he alone has saved his people in the past. He alone can save them in the future. He alone has total control of their situation.
Escape from Babylon
v14 This is what the *Lord says. (He is the Holy God of Israel. He is your Rescuer.) ‘People from Israel, for your benefit I shall send someone with an army to attack Babylon. The army will destroy all that protects the city. Then what had once been shouts of joy by Babylon’s inhabitants will change to cries of despair. v15 I am the *Lord, your Holy God. I am he who created Israel as my people. I am Israel’s king.’
v16 Long ago the *Lord made a road through the sea for his people. He made a path for them through the deep waters. v17 Then the *Lord urged Egypt’s chariots and horses to pursue the *Israelites. But it was only so that the *Lord could destroy that great army in the sea. He ended their lives, as someone might put out a candle. v18 But do not think only of what happened long ago. Do not keep in your thoughts only events in the past. v19 ‘See! I am going to do something completely new. Even now it is beginning to happen. Surely you can see it. I am going to make a road for you through the desert. I am creating rivers in the bare (empty) country. v20 Even the wild animals that live in these dry places will give me honour. Because I am supplying water in the desert and rivers in bare places. So my people will be able to drink. They are the people whom I chose. v21 They are the people that I formed for myself. They will praise me in song.’
God again tells the people from Israel that he will rescue them from enemies.
God’s people are witnesses to how he rescued their families from Egypt in the past (see Exodus chapter 14; Psalm 77:19-20).
And in the future God’s people will be witnesses of his action to rescue them again. This time he will rescue them from Babylon.
On both occasions the *Lord shows his authority over both nature and *human beings.
Israel has neglected to obey God
v22 ‘But you, my own people, have not given me honour. In fact, you people from Israel have become tired of my service. v23 It was not for me that you burned sheep on my *altar as gifts. You did not give any honour to me when you offered *sacrifices. I have never asked for too many gifts from you. I have not tired you by constant demands for *incense. v24 You have never had to buy *incense to offer to me. You have never had to burn the fat of animals on my *altar to satisfy me. But your wicked deeds are like a heavy load that I must carry. You have tired me by all your evil actions.
v25 But I am still the *Lord your God. So I have completely wiped off all the record of your evil actions. I will never again remember your wicked deeds in the past. v26 Remind me. Explain why you were complaining. Tell me about it. And bring evidence to prove that you are right. v27 Your earliest relative practised evil deeds. Still today your leaders refuse to obey my laws.v28 Therefore, I no longer allow your priests to serve me in my *Temple. I am letting enemies destroy Israel as a nation. I am leaving my special people to suffer shame.’
In their hearts, the people did not have a right relationship with God.
It was not *sacrifices that God wanted. God intended *sacrifices to be a sign of new hearts and new lives. But the people did not have the right attitude about God’s service. So their actions in the *Temple did not please God. In fact, their actions offended him.
But the *Lord continued to consider Israel to be his special people. For that reason, he had completely forgiven them.
The *Lord had made Israel his special people. But they complained that the *Lord had now left them (see Isaiah 40:27). He had allowed an enemy to *seize his special people.
Your ‘first relative’ could possibly be Adam (see Genesis chapter 3). Or Abraham (see Genesis 12:18 and 20:9). But more probably the reference is to Jacob (see Genesis 46:3-7; Hosea 12:2-4).
‘Jacob’ was the original name of ‘Israel’ (see Genesis 35:10).
- However, Ezekiel uses a similar picture in words (Ezekiel 16:3). He is not referring to any particular *ancestor. Rather, he is explaining how God originally chose Israel. Across the world, nations were serving false gods. And the people were often very evil. But God chose one family out of those nations. And, in time, that family would become the nation called Israel.
The people from Israel refused to obey God. And the result was that they suffered a severe punishment. In 586 *BC, the powerful *Babylonian army destroyed *Jerusalem. The army took away most of the inhabitants to be prisoners in Babylon.
The connection between chapters 43 and 44 is similar to the connection between chapters 42 and 43.
- Chapter 42 ended with words that accused the people from Israel. Then chapter 43 began ‘But now…’, and it went on to describe the new situation. The people would soon be able to return to their own country.
- In the same way, chapter 43 ended with words that accused the people from Israel. Then chapter 44 begins ‘But now…’. This phrase begins a passage that will encourage God’s people. So God gives hope to his people.
God will *bless his people
v1 But now, Jacob my servant, listen. Hear, Israel, my people whom I have chosen. v2 The *Lord created you in the beginning. He formed you into the nation called Israel from birth. (That is, from the start of the nation.) He will continue to help you. Listen to what he says: ‘You must not be afraid, Jacob my servant, Jeshuran (Israel) whom I have chosen. And whom I love so deeply. v3 I pour water onto dry ground. And I create streams to flow in the desert. So I will pour my Spirit upon your children. And I will greatly *bless the future members of your family. v4They will grow like grass grows near water. And they will grow like green trees by a flowing river. v5 Some people will say that they belong to the *Lord. Some foreigners will say that their name is now Jacob. That is, that they have come to join the people from Israel. Some people will write on their hands that they belong to the *Lord. And other people will be proud to add the name of God’s people, Israel, to their own names.’
The names ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel’ appear together again in verse 5.
Jacob was a son of Isaac and Rebekah (see Genesis 25:20-26). God changed Jacob’s name to ‘Israel’ (see Genesis 32:28).
- Jacob became the father of 12 sons. Their families formed the 12 *tribes of Israel (see Genesis chapter 49).
The rare name ‘Jeshuran’ probably means ‘one whom I greatly love’. The name appears again only in Deuteronomy 32:15; 33:5 and 33:26.
- As in Isaiah 43:1, the *Lord reminds his special people that he created them.
Water is essential for life. People who live in a dry land like Israel understand this fact very well.
- Water, or its absence (lack), means the difference between life and death. To give water or not to give water is in the power of the God who creates it.
It is not only the special people of God who benefit from God’s activities. Other nations also will realise that the *Lord is the provider of all good things.
There is only one God
v6 The *Lord is Israel’s King and Rescuer. He is the *Lord of Heaven’s Forces. This is what the *Lord declares: ‘I am the First and the Last. I was there in the beginning. I will be there at the end. Apart from me, no god exists. v7 There is none like me. Let any who would claim to be like me prove it. Let them produce their evidence. Nobody else from ancient times has ever announced what is going to happen in the future. Let them come forward now and make known the future. v8 Do not worry. Do not be afraid. I announced to you long ago what would happen. You are witnesses of what I said. There is no God other than me. There is no other Rock (place of security). That is, there is no other firm foundation (base) for people to trust. If there were, I would certainly know about it.’
The *Lord identifies himself by several titles.
- The *Lord is Israel’s King. He expects his people to respect his rule.
- The *Lord is Israel’s Rescuer from trouble. But the *Lord will choose the moment to act (see Isaiah 41:14-16).
- The *Lord is Commander of Heaven’s Forces (Armies). Their immense power is totally different from any other force. This special name reminds the people of God that the *Lord commands complete power in every situation. The name, ‘Commander of Heaven’s Forces’, appears over 60 times in the Book of Isaiah.
- For ‘beginning’ and ‘end’, see my note on Isaiah 41:4.
God describes himself as a ‘Rock’. A rock is a firm place that provides security. It is a strong base for the construction of a building. In the same manner, God provides security for his people. They can trust him. They can depend on him.
*Idols have no value
v9 People who make *idols are wasting their time. *Idols do not have the slightest value. People who admire *idols are blind. Such people know nothing. Anyone could see that they are foolish. v10 It is stupid to make a god or a metal *idol. It provides no benefit whatever. v11 All who give honour to *idols will be ashamed in the end. People who make gods are themselves only human. So the one and only God says, ‘Let them all come in front of me. Suddenly they will tremble with fear. And they will realise how foolish they have been.’
v12 A workman who is skilled to use metals first makes his tool sharp. Then he causes a piece of metal to become soft in the fire. After that he uses a hammer with his strong arm to shape the metal. But if he gets hungry in his labour, he will become tired. And if he drinks no water, he will become weak.
Isaiah laughs at foolish people who are serious about *idols.
Someone makes an *idol to be his god. But all that he is doing is to make a god to suit his desires. He wants a god that he can control. That shows that he has lost all sense of reality. The one real God can never be under anyone’s control.
- To realise suddenly that God is actually present with them, scares them greatly (see Hebrews 10:31).
The task requires much labour. It wears out even a strong man. And it is all for nothing worthwhile!
*Idols have no life
v13 Another workman is skilled to use wood. He makes an outline of a human figure on a block of wood. He marks the wood with a tool. Then he shapes the wood to look like an attractive person. The *idol is to stand in someone’s home. v14 This workman had cut down some suitable tree that grows large in the forest. The rain had helped it to grow very tall and strong. (Wood from the tree can serve more than one purpose.)
v15 Wood is useful as fuel. A person can make a fire with wood to keep himself warm. Or he can cook food on the fire. And he can also use some wood to make an *idol that he will serve as his god. v16 So with some of the wood he makes a fire to cook meat to eat. And the fire warms him. So he can say that it makes him feel good. v17 What remains of the wood he makes into an *idol to be his god. Then he bends his head to give it honour. And he prays to his wooden god. He asks it to save him from some trouble.
v18 Such a person is so stupid. He has no intelligence. He cannot see what is in front of his eyes. He cannot understand what he is doing. v19 He does not have enough sense to realise what he has done with the wood. He burned half the wood in the fire. He baked bread and he cooked meat on the coals. With the wood that remained he made an awful *idol. Then he bends his head to give honour to a block of wood! v20 His actions are really stupid. It is as if he tried to catch ashes to eat. And the wind is blowing the ashes away. His foolish ideas have so gripped him that now he cannot escape from them. He does not even consider that the wooden *idol in his hand is a completely false god.
Isaiah continues to laugh at foolish people who are serious about *idols.
To ‘feel good’ is the limit of this person’s purpose in life.
Food and warmth have made this person feel comfortable. But occasionally he thinks that there may be something missing from his life. So he makes himself a god to fill the space.
His sense of reality has vanished.
Israel is the *Lord’s servant
v21 The *Lord speaks to the people in Israel: ‘Always remember that I shaped you as a nation to be my special servant. Therefore, Israel, I shall never forget you. v22 I have forgiven your evil deeds. They were like a mere cloud that blew away in the wind. And I have removed from my mind all those occasions when you did not obey my laws. Like the mist, they have disappeared. Return to me, because I have made your relationship with me right again.’
v23 Shout for joy, you heavens, because of what the *Lord has done. Shout, you earth, even in your deepest places. Sing loudly for joy, you mountains, however high you are. Sing with every tree in the forest. Sing, because the *Lord has rescued the families of Jacob. Yes, he has shown his *glory in Israel.
The people in Israel have shaped a dead piece of wood. Then they have called it their god!
- But the *Lord has shaped the people in Israel. In other words, he designed them to be his special nation. He intends his people to be witnesses. By their behaviour they are to show that the *Lord is the God of every nation. He is alive. He is active. He is in total control.
The *Lord has freely decided to forgive his people’s *sins. He gives them a new start again. He has removed their evil deeds completely out of his mind (see Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 8:12).
- Now they can act as witnesses to all the nations. And their message will be clear, because their behaviour supports their words.
Isaiah tells all that the *Lord has created to praise him. The state of Israel’s relationship with God affects everything else.
The *Lord controls history
v24 People from Israel, it is the *Lord who rescues you from foreign countries. The *Lord says, ‘I created you in the beginning. I am the *Lord who made everything. I alone established the heavens. I alone created the earth. There was nobody else with me. v25 Some people think that they know the future. But I will confuse their words, which are mere lies. Those people try to guess future events. I prove that they are mere fools. I destroy the wisdom of wise men. I make their advice into nonsense.
v26 But I, the *Lord, bring about the words that my servant Isaiah speaks on my behalf. I will make sure that *Jerusalem will again be full of inhabitants. And that men will build again the towns in Judah. They will establish again the places that enemies ruined. v27 I command the deep sea to become dry. I cause your rivers to have no water. v28 And I, the *Lord, declare that Cyrus is to be the ruler of my people. He will complete all my plans. And he will call you to build *Jerusalem again. And he will encourage you to establish the *Temple again.’
Long ago, the *Lord rescued the *Israelites from Egypt (see Exodus chapter 24). That was the time when the *Lord established a *covenant with the * Israelites.
- The *Lord continues to control the events of history. He will now rescue his people from Babylon. His *covenant with his people is still in operation.
- The *Lord created the world originally. And only he can put it in order again when *human beings spoil it.
The *Lord names the foreign soldier whose army will bring about the *Lord’s purpose. So the *Lord shows that he knows about the future. Cyrus was not born until long after the time when Isaiah lived. Cyrus made the order to rebuild the *Temple about 200 years after Isaiah wrote these words (Ezra 1:1-2).
The *Lord appoints Cyrus
v1 The *Lord has chosen Cyrus as his champion. The *Lord has given power to Cyrus to overcome nation after nation. The *Lord is sending Cyrus to take the authority away from kings. The *Lord will open the gates of cities for Cyrus.
Now the *Lord speaks to Cyrus: v2 ‘I will march ahead of you to make the mountains level. As you attack cities, I will burst open their metal gates. I will completely destroy the bars of iron on the gates. v3 I will give you rich things that you did not expect to find. And valuable stores that people have hidden in secret places. In that way you will realise that I, the *Lord, Israel’s God, have called you by name to my service. v4 But I have appointed you for the benefit of Jacob my servant. That is, for my people called Israel whom I have chosen. Cyrus, I have called you by name and I have given you great honour. And I have done all this although you have not known me. v5 I am the *Lord, the God of Israel. Apart from me, no god exists. It is I, the *Lord, who have given you the strength for the task. I have done this although you do not recognise me. v6 I am doing this so that everybody in all the world may know me, the *Lord. And that there is no other god. v7 I form light and I create darkness. That is, everything in the natural world. I cause harmony and I bring about disagreements. That is, everything in human relationships. I, the *Lord, do all these things. v8 Tell the heavens to send justice (fair judgements) like rain from the sky. The earth will be ready to receive it. And cause freedom and justice (fair judgements) to grow like plants. I am the *Lord who will make all this to happen.’
The *Lord is directing all the actions of Cyrus that benefit God’s people.
Twice we read that the *Lord calls Cyrus ‘by name’. This emphasises the fact that the *Lord can announce perfectly the details of some future event. No ‘god’ (*idol) can do that.
- Isaiah writes as if the *Lord is speaking to Cyrus personally. This is a literary form of words in the original language. Today we would say that the *Lord put thoughts in the mind of Cyrus to do certain actions.
Cyrus himself will not be aware that he is merely the *Lord’s agent to bring about God’s purposes.
These are impressive ways to say that nothing can ever be outside God’s plan and purpose.
*Woe to people who do not agree with God’s actions
v9 *Woe to anyone who argues with God who created him. That is like a pot that argues with its maker. The *clay cannot argue with the person who shapes it. The *clay cannot order that person to explain what he is doing. Nor can the pot complain because it has no handle. v10 *Woe to anyone who does not approve of the way that he was born. v11 It is the *Lord, the Holy God of Israel, who shapes the future. It is out of the question for anybody to tell God what he ought to do about his people. v12 ‘I am the *Lord, who made the earth. I am the *Lord, who created people to live in it. It was my hands that established the heavens. And it was I who put sun and moon and stars in their places. v13 It is I who have urged the foreigner Cyrus to put things right among the nations. And I will make his path straight. He will repair my city *Jerusalem. He will send home my people who are in foreign countries. And he will do all this freely and without any payment.’ That is what the *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies) says.
Cyrus was not a *Jew. The *Jews did not think that their God could use a foreigner to benefit God’s special people.
God made all that exists. So he has the right to do with it whatever he wishes.
God has the right to use anyone to carry out his purposes.
The *Lord alone is God
v14 This is what the *Lord says to the people from Israel: ‘The wealth of Egypt and Cush will be yours. The tall men from Seba will serve you as slaves. They will follow you with chains on their arms and legs. They will understand that they belong to you. They will agree that God is with you. And they will agree that he alone is God. There is no other.’
v15 Truly, God of Israel, it is you who rescues us. But you hide yourself. In other words, you have no form (natural body) that we can see. v16 All who make *idols will be ashamed. They wander about in total confusion. v17 But the *Lord will always be there to rescue Israel. So you, who are his people, will never know shame or confusion.
At different times, the *Israelites have been in the power of the three countries called Egypt and Cush and Seba (see my note on Isaiah 43:3). Now the result of the *Lord’s actions is that the *Israelites have exchanged places with their enemies.
God hides himself. That is, *human beings cannot see him.
People who give honour to home-made *idols can certainly see them. But that is no benefit whatever, because the *idols themselves are without life.
There is none like the *Lord
v18 God the *Lord created the heavens and he formed the earth. But he did not make the world to be a empty place of confusion. He established the world for people to live in. He declares that he is the *Lord. There is no other god. v19 ‘I, the *Lord, have not spoken in secret, as if to hide my purpose in darkness. I did not tell the people from Israel to look for me in an empty place of confusion. I am the *Lord. I speak the truth. And I declare things that you can trust.’
This was God’s purpose when he created the world. He created it to be a beautiful place that produced much fruit (see Genesis 1:1-2).
God’s purpose was not a secret. Nor did God hide his purpose in darkness.
- God cares about his people at all times.
God is the *Lord of all that exists
v20 ‘Gather together! Come here, you people who remain alive. People who are still carrying their wooden *idols with them understand nothing whatever. They pray to gods that cannot save them. v21 Come, bring your evidence as if to a court. Discuss the matter with each other. No *idols told you that these events would happen in the future. It was I, the *Lord God, who arranged to rescue my people by means of Cyrus. No other real god exists, none whatever. v22 Turn to me now and let me rescue you, you people in all the world! Because I, the *Lord, am the only God that there is. v23 I am making a serious promise. I will not change it. I promise by all that I am. Every person in the world will come and kneel in front of me. They will all promise to be loyal to me. v24 They will declare that only by me can anyone find success and power. But all that are still angry with me will suffer shame. v25 All people who belong to Israel will find their success and delight in the *Lord.’
The *Lord does not want to punish people who have made *idols. He wants to save people. That is, he wants to rescue them from the effects of their wrong behaviour. But first, they must turn to him.
This was the form of words that God used for his serious promise to Abraham (see Genesis 22:16).
Those who accept God’s invitation to come to him will then understand the real purpose of their lives. But people who still refuse God’s offer will suffer the loss of everything.
The end for Babylon’s gods
v1 The chief gods of Babylon were called Bel (or Marduk) and Nebo (Bel’s son). The *Babylonians once proudly carried their gods’ images in happy processions. Now those images lie flat on their backs. The *idols are merely a heavy load for tired animals to try to carry to safety. v2 The gods bend down. They pray together. But they cannot rescue the load of images. Instead, the gods themselves become prisoners.
To make *idols in the beginning is hard work (see Isaiah 44:12). To have enemies who force you to carry your *idols to foreign countries, is also hard work. No *idol of a god can move by itself. Neither can it help. It has no life.
- The *Babylonians had to make images of their own gods. And then the *Babylonians had to carry the *idols. The gods could not carry the *Babylonians.
- For Isaiah’s opinion about people who are foolish enough to trust in *idols, see Isaiah 44:9-20.
God will look after his people
v3 ‘Listen to me, you people from Jacob’s family, you people from Israel who are alive today. I, the *Lord, have carried you from before you were born. And I have supported you since your birth as a nation. v4 I will be the one who carries you. Even when you grow old and your hair is white. I created you and I will support you. I will carry you and I will rescue you.’
God reminds his special people that he was ‘carrying’ (looking after) them even before their birth (see Exodus 19:4). He will continue to do so all their lives.
Babylon’s gods cannot do anything
v5 ‘None is like me. None is equal to me. You cannot compare me with anyone else. v6 Rich people freely spend large sums of gold from their bags. They weigh much silver for payment. They hire a skilled worker and he shapes the metal into the image of a god. Then they humbly bend in front of their new *idol. They even *worship it. v7 They lift it upon their shoulders to carry it. Then they set it up in its place. And there it stands. It cannot move. If anyone prays to it, it cannot answer. Neither can it do anything to save them from trouble.’
An *idol can be very expensive to make. But its maker has completely wasted his money. No *idol can ever do anything to help its owner.
God’s plans never fail
v8 ‘Remember this, you people who do not obey God’s laws. Think carefully about what I am saying. v9 Think of all that I did for you long ago. I alone am God. There is no other god. I am God. There is none like me. v10 From the beginning I announced what the end would be. I announced what would happen in the future. I declared that my plans would never fail. And that I would do all that I intended to do. v11 I am calling a man (Cyrus) from the east. He comes from a distant country to do what I intend. He will attack like some powerful bird that suddenly dives from the sky. I have spoken and I will cause it to happen. I have made my plans and Cyrus will carry out my purpose.’
God’s people must learn from the variety of methods that the *Lord used in the past.
The *Lord has a great plan for history that includes both the past and the future. Isaiah 14:24-27 refers to the rise (success) and fall (defeat) of Assyria. Isaiah 19:12-17 refers to the defeat of Egypt and Tyre. Now, Isaiah 46:10-11 refers to the rise of Cyrus and the power of Persia.
- But through the whole Book of Isaiah, Israel and *Zion are much more important in God’s great plan for history. God knows what he is doing. He controls what happens. The *Lord’s people can completely trust him for their future.
The fact that Cyrus happened to be a foreigner makes no difference.
The *Lord chooses the person who will carry out his purposes. The *Lord chooses the tool for the job.
God will save *Jerusalem
v12 ‘Listen carefully to what I am saying, you people with hard hearts. You cannot believe that you will have freedom in your own country again. You do not understand my plan. v13 The day when I rescue you is very near. It is not an event in some distant future. I will rescue *Jerusalem. That is, I will cause men to build again the city and my *Temple in it. And I will bring my *glory to Israel. That is, my people will reflect my beautiful purposes in the world.’
Israel’s ‘hard hearts’ refers to the fact that the people were not willing to accept a foreigner as God’s agent (see Isaiah 45:9-13).
This short chapter is severe in the manner that it warns the proud *Babylonians. Isaiah probably does not expect that the inhabitants of Babylon will actually hear this list of *Babylonian crimes.
- But Isaiah also knows that God created every *human being. And he gave a conscience to each one. A person can refuse to listen to God’s voice in his conscience. As time goes on, it becomes harder to hear God’s voice. For example, to take some little thing that is not yours seems not to matter. But you are stealing. And it can soon become a bad habit.
- The *Lord has told Isaiah what his intentions are about the wicked lives of the *Babylonians.
*Woe to Babylon!
v1 The *Lord declares to Babylon: ‘For so long you never suffered defeat. But now you must leave your throne (royal seat) and sit in the dust. You sat like a queen. Now you must sit in the dirt. Nobody will ever again think of you as a beautiful young woman. Your face was once soft and gentle. v2 Now you will have to work as a slave. You will have to turn heavy *millstones. You will have to reduce grain to flour. You will have to strip the veil (cover) from your face. You will have to lift your skirt. You will have to make your legs bare to cross streams. v3 You inhabitants of Babylon will be ashamed when other people see you naked.
My special people will have *satisfaction for the times when enemies were so cruel to them. I will make sure of that. And nobody will stop me.’
v4 The *Lord is the Commander of Heaven’s Forces. He will free us! He is the Holy God of Israel!
By 900 *BC, Babylon was already famous among the nations as a most beautiful city. This was well before Nebuchadnezzar developed the city still more, 300 years later (see Daniel 4:29-30).
- The city’s unusual beauty was the reason why people thought of Babylon as a ‘beautiful young woman’. So in this chapter, the *Lord speaks to the inhabitants of Babylon as one speaks to a woman. ‘You’ means the city, its inhabitants and especially the powerful forces that controlled it.
- The city was beautiful. But enemies will destroy the city completely. It will never be beautiful again.
The inhabitants of Babylon had been very cruel to their slaves.
But now the inhabitants of Babylon will themselves become slaves. And they will suffer the same shame that they caused for their former slaves.
The Book of Isaiah emphasises the *Lord’s special name, ‘Commander of Heaven’s Forces’, over 60 times (see my note on Isaiah 44:6).
This verse is the reply of the people from Israel. They are glad because God will rescue them from Babylon.
Babylon is guilty
v5 The *Lord says to Babylon: ‘Sit in silence in the darkness of a foreign prison. Never again will anybody call you the “*Mistress of many nations”. v6 I was angry with my people called Israel. I acted as if they did not still belong to me. So I handed them over to you, Babylon. But you were cruel. You showed them no pity. You made even old people to carry heavy loads. v7Babylon, you thought that you would always be a great political power. So you did not give proper consideration to what these events meant. Nor did you think about what might happen in the future.’
‘Sit in silence’ means that the *Babylonians can never again give orders to other people. ‘Prison’ signals that the *Babylonians will also lose their liberty.
- The *Babylonian *empire was a collection of states that the *Babylonians had taken by force over many years.
- ‘*Mistress’ usually means a female ruler over domestic affairs. Or, as here, it is the female word for a leader over an *empire.
- Babylon is therefore like a gentle woman of beauty. But Babylon is also like a powerful political ruler with complete authority.
God used Babylon to punish his special people. But Babylon’s actions were much worse than God intended. So now God will punish Babylon for its great cruelty.
Babylon’s sudden defeat
v8 ‘So now, listen to me. You love your life of luxury and pleasure. You think to yourself that all is well. You feel safe. You have security. You even consider yourself to be as great as God. You never thought that you would be a widow. Nor that you would suffer the loss of your children. v9 But suddenly and in a moment, both of these losses will happen. You will lose both your husband and your children. Even if you use all your magic, you will lose everything. v10 You felt such security as you carried out your wicked activities. You thought that nobody could see your evil deeds. But your wisdom and knowledge led you the wrong way. They made you a complete fool. You told yourself that you were God. You alone controlled events. There was none like you. How totally wrong you were! v11 A sudden attack will surprise you and it will destroy everything. And you will not be able to avoid it by your magic. You will suffer great trouble. And you will not find any protection.’
These verses continue to refer to Babylon as a woman.
The people in Babylon were living well. They had no thought that anything could change. And they had no thought for anyone else.
The loss of children probably refers to their death in battle. Or that they would become prisoners in a foreign country.
- A widow had to depend upon her children for financial help. There were no state funds. To lose her children too would cause hopeless despair for her.
- The loss of the young soldiers from Babylon would cause the total defeat of the whole city. Babylon would become like a weak widow who has nobody to assist her.
In the Bible, ‘fool’ often means someone who has no thought about God (see Psalm 14:1 and Luke 12:13-21).
No help for Babylon
v12 ‘Of course, you may decide to carry on with your black (wicked) magic. You may continue to use evil practices. You have depended on them all your life. You may even hope that one day they might possibly help you to avoid trouble. Or perhaps you think that you could use them to frighten other people. v13 The vast quantity of advice that you receive has worn you out. Some comes from those who study the sky. Some comes from those who look for the future in the stars. And some comes from those who announce month by month what to expect. Let all these people rise and rescue you! v14 Look, they are no better than straw that the fire burns. They cannot rescue even themselves from the flames. They provide neither coals to warm anybody, nor a pleasant fire to sit near. v15 People like that will not help you. All your life you have paid them for their advice. But now they are no use to you. In this emergency they only want to save themselves. None of them will stay to try to save you.’
All through the ages, people have believed in *astrology. Even modern newspapers and magazines regularly include ‘What the stars tell us’.
But the press often confuses readers. Different papers do not agree on ‘what the stars tell us’!
- God forbids the practice of *astrology (see Deuteronomy 4:19).
Straw burns fiercely for a very short time. Such a fire is not useful; it has no good purpose.
Israel’s empty religion
v1 The *Lord says, ‘Listen to this, you family of Jacob. You are called “Israel”. You come from the *tribe called “Judah”. You make solemn (serious) promises in the name of the *Lord God of Israel. But you do not do so truly or sincerely. You do not really mean what you say. v2 You call yourselves citizens of the holy city, that is, *Jerusalem. You even declare that you put your trust in the *Lord God of Israel, whose name is “Commander of Heaven’s Forces”. You are lying.’
The people received their new name from the *Lord (see Genesis 32:28). Therefore they ought to be true to him.
But the people’s behaviour does not match their word.
- The Book of Isaiah emphasises the *Lord’s special name ‘Commander of Heaven’s Forces’, over 60 times. See my note on Isaiah 44:6.
The *Lord has announced what will happen
v3 ‘Long ago I declared that certain events would happen. I made known the future by my words. Then suddenly I acted. That proved my words to be true. v4 I did this because I knew your attitudes. You had firmly fixed your thoughts on your own opinions. Your neck seems as stiff as a bar of iron! Your head seems as hard as the hardest metal! v5 That is why long ago I told you about these future events. Before they happened, I announced them to you. So you could not say that your *idols had caused those events. Or that your wooden images or metal gods had made the events happen.’
The ‘certain events’ included such incidents as the promise to Abraham of land and a vast family (see Genesis 13:15-16). And the rescue of the people from Egypt (see Exodus 3:8).
- God’s action may have seemed ‘sudden’ to *human beings. But here the word ‘sudden’ simply means ‘God saw that the time was right. And at that moment, he acted.’
The *Lord uses a powerful picture in words. The people were totally unwilling to change their opinions. So the *Lord says that their heads and necks were like metal. It is very difficult to bend metal, because it is too firm. And the people had such firm opinions that nobody could change their minds.
Much popular religion in Israel believed that *idols controlled events. The *Lord is denying that this is true. Only he can say what will happen in the future. Only he can announce events before they happen. No *idol has ever done that.
The *Lord’s words came true
v6 ‘You heard what I announced. Then you saw what happened. What I said was true. You ought to agree with that! Now I am now going to tell you about some new events that will happen. These events were secrets that you did not know. v7 Only now am I making them happen. So you could not have known about them before today. And you could not pretend that you already knew about them.’
Of course, the phrases ‘you heard’ and ‘you saw’ refer to *ancestors before Isaiah’s day. But reports of what God had done in earlier centuries were well-known to Isaiah’s audience.
Only the *Lord could announce new events. Because it was he who was arranging them.
The *Lord protects his name
v8 ‘You have never listened to me. So I have never been able to trust you. v9 But because of my name, I will hold back my anger. And because of my honour, I will still be patient. I will not destroy you.
v10 An expert with metals wants silver that is pure. So he puts the silver into a very hot fire. This removes all that is not pure in the silver.’ This is a picture of God’s action when he allowed the people from Israel to suffer in Babylon. But God knew that he would find nothing good in his people. So he stopped the process, because otherwise it would have destroyed the nation called Israel completely. v11 ‘But because of my name, yes, because of my name, I will save you from my anger. I will not destroy you. Otherwise wicked people will declare that their gods have overcome me. I will not allow anybody or anything to have the honour that is mine and mine alone.’
To ‘listen’ to another means more than ‘to take in information’. To listen includes ‘to understand and to show clearly that you agree by your actions’.
In the Bible, the word ‘name’ does not merely mean the word that we may use to call someone. It also means that person’s honour, character and authority. So when the *Lord protects his name, he is acting to defend the honour of his most holy character.
The *Lord chose Israel to be his special people (see Genesis 32:28). They belong to him. His name links them to himself. That name associates the *Lord with the way that Israel behaves.
- But Israel’s behaviour is evil. Therefore Israel must suffer punishment by the *Lord. It is his name that they have damaged.
- But the *Lord puts a limit on the punishment. Otherwise the punishment would totally destroy the nation. Israel would not still exist. Then enemies could say that the *Lord was too weak to control his own people. Or they could say that other gods were stronger than the *Lord.
The *Lord chooses Cyrus
v12 ‘Listen to me, my people called Israel. Listen to me, you people that I have chosen. I alone am God. I, the *Lord, am the First. I was there at the beginning. I, the *Lord, am the Last. I shall be there at the end. v13 My own hands laid out the foundations (base) of the earth. And my right hand spread out the sky. When I spoke, they immediately began to exist.
v14 Come together, all of you, and listen. None of your *idols announced what Cyrus, my special helper, would do. I, the *Lord, have chosen him to attack the country called Babylon. He will do what I want him to do. v15 I, the *Lord, appointed him to carry out this task. And so he will succeed.’
Like other passages, this verse speaks of God as ‘beginning’ and ‘end’, or as ‘First’ and ‘Last’. Such phrases often appear in passages about the *Lord’s control of events, both in the past and the future. (See my note on Isaiah 41:4).
God created the world by his Word (see Genesis chapter 1, and John 1:1-2). And what God creates, he continues to control (see Isaiah 44:24-28).
When God calls someone to do some task for him, God also helps that person to carry out the task.
The *Lord’s plan for Israel
v16 ‘Come to me. Listen to what I am saying. In the past I did not use words that were unclear. I spoke plainly about events that would happen. At the right moment those events did happen. That was because I was there to make them happen.’
‘And now,’ says Isaiah, ‘the *Lord God has sent me to speak his message by his Spirit.’ v17 This is what the *Lord, your rescuer, the Holy God of Israel, says to you: ‘I am the *Lord, your God. I am your teacher. I teach you how to succeed. I am your guide. I shall guide you in the path by which you should go.’
The reference to future events repeats what the *Lord has just said (see my note on Isaiah 48:3).
This gives some details of the help that God will provide. The help will be completely sufficient. But it is necessary for people to accept the help that God offers.
Israel’s failure to obey God
v18 ‘If you had only listened to my commands, your life would have been like a full river. Such a river flows calmly. Your success would have been like the powerful waves of the sea. Nothing could have stopped you. v19 Your families would have been as many as the grains of sand along the shore. Their name would always have been in front of my eyes.’
Unfortunately, the people would not obey the *Lord’s instructions. The result was that the people lost a wonderful future. And instead of happiness, the people became miserable prisoners in a foreign country for many years.
The *Lord rescues his people
v20 Get away from Babylon! Go with great joy! Shout the news gladly for everybody to hear! The *Lord has rescued his people Israel! v21 There was no lack of water when he led them through the desert. He made water to pour from the rock for them. He split the rock and the water flowed. v22 But the *Lord warns those who continue their wicked behaviour. There will still be no safety for them.
Cyrus has already taken control of other territories. In these places, he found many people that earlier enemies had taken away from their own countries. Cyrus allowed them to return home.
- The *Lord tells his people that they must not delay. They are to return home when Cyrus gives them the opportunity.
The *Lord reminds his people how he looked after them in the past. He always supplied the things that they needed, even in the desert (see Exodus 17:1-7).
But God’s promises are not for people who refuse to give up their wicked behaviour.
altar ~ special table where priests burned animals as gifts to God.
ancestor ~ original father of later families.
anvil ~ heavy metal object on which a worker beats other metal flat.
astrology ~ the study of the stars to discover future events. The Bible forbids this practice (Deuteronomy 4:19).
Babylonian ~ a person from the country called Babylon; or anything that has a relationship with the country called Babylon.
Baptist ~ the man who used water as a Christian sign before Jesus began his public service.
BC ~ ‘Before Christ’ (for dates before the birth of Jesus Christ).
bless ~ to show great kindness.
clay ~ kind of earth that a potter uses. Clay is soft when it is wet. But it becomes hard when it is dry.
covenant ~ special personal agreement that the *Lord made with Israel (see Exodus chapter 24).
eagle ~ large bird whose powerful wings help it to fly very high.
empire ~ a group of many countries that a powerful king has taken by force.
glory ~ the splendid beauty and wonderful light of God’s most holy character.
holiness ~ the morally pure and perfect state.
human, human being ~ a person.
idol ~ home-made image of a god.
incense ~ substance to burn for its sweet smell to give honour to God.
Israelites ~ God’s special people, also called the ‘*Jews’. He freed them when they were slaves in Egypt. He gave them the land called Israel and Judah. But they had to leave that land as a punishment when they refused to obey God. However, God promised that he would free them again.
Jerusalem ~ at the time of David and Solomon, the capital of the country called Israel. During the time of Isaiah, Jerusalem was the capital of the country called Judah.
Jews ~ people who belong to the countries called Judah and Israel; people who belong to the 12 *tribes of Israel.
justice ~ fair decisions by a judge.
Lord ~ God’s personal name in the Bible. In the original language, God’s name ‘Lord’ means ‘head over all’ and ‘God always’.
Lord of Heaven’s Forces ~ special title to remind the people of God that he commands complete power in every situation.
Messiah ~ *Old Testament title for Christ.
millstones ~ two heavy flat stones; the worker turns one stone on top of the other stone to reduce grain to flour.
Mistress ~ a female ruler over domestic affairs; a female leader over an *empire.
New Testament ~ the final part of the Bible. It contains 27 books from the time of the first Christians.
Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible. It contains 39 books all from the time before Jesus was born.
righteousness ~ perfect *holiness.
sacrifice ~ a gift of value to God.
satisfaction ~ a glad or content feeling; the feeling that a person has when (for example) his enemy suffers punishment.
seize ~ to take a person as a prisoner or a slave.
sins ~ evil deeds.
Temple ~ special building in *Jerusalem where the *Jews praised God and offered him prayers and gifts.
threaten ~ to warn someone of pain if they do not obey.
threshing-sledge ~ a heavy wooden board with nails; the farmer used it to beat corn to separate grain from the stem.
tribe ~ group of the later family of one father.
woe ~ a very sad cry because much pain is to come.
worship ~ to praise God (or a false god) and to pray to him.
Zion ~ the mountain in *Jerusalem where God’s holy *Temple was.
© 2007 Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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