Friday, August 26, 2016

Reading Through Isaiah #5 (Chapters 40-48)

51wW9fXkBCL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_This week we move into the second major section (40-66) of the book of Isaiah, accompanied by Isaiah, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Terry R. Briley. The 2nd half of the book of Isaiah is mainly directed at the exiles in Babylon to give them hope of restoration and to warn them against the sins that caused the exile in the first place. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Isaiah 40 begins the second major section of Isaiah. This section is focused on the future throughout and reminds the people that God is still working his plan, that he began with creation, to rebuild the heavens and earth and restore His people. God is real and powerful, unlike the gods of the other nations, and he will send his "servant" who will be the agent of restoration and the fulfillment of the covenant promises. 40.1-11 provides the introduction to the section.

If the worship that is supposed to restore and sustain fellowship with God is itself sinful, how can the barrier of sin between God and his people be removed? The answer lies in God’s commitment to his purpose and in his creative power. The God who created the world will not cease to work until he has defeated sin, turned hearts to him, and established new heavens and a new earth. All that remains is for people to recognize the true nature and work of God and to respond to him in faith. Isaiah 40, 109

Isaiah now turns to comforting those who will be the exiles he has prophesied about to Hezekiah. The point of the exile is to cure Israel from trusting in idols and being self-sufficient. Real strength comes from God. Sometimes God removes His people's resources so they get to experience his real strength, comfort and presence. Even with the exile God is still overseeing His people and guarding his promise to preserve them (41). He will raise up a deliverer (Cyrus and the Persians) who will conquer the Babylonians and return Israel to their land. He will also change Israel's spiritual condition (42) so that they will fulfill his mission to be a light to the Gentiles. The "servant" is introduced in the chapter. This is Israel's role, but ultimately it will be accomplished as Jesus fulfills what Israel was supposed to do.

God’s goal, therefore, in exposing human weakness is to provide true strength and power to his people... Those who cling to God in faith, therefore, remembering his faithfulness, can exchange their limited strength for the limitless resources of God. Isaiah 40.30-31, 123

The heart of the chapter, however, reveals the purpose behind God’s actions on the international scene. No matter how threatening the actions of other nations might appear, God maintains his commitment to his people. He will protect them and cause the movements of history to work for their ultimate benefit. Isaiah 41, 123

The one who gives and sustains life guarantees the servant’s success because God’s plan to give light to the Gentiles in their blindness and freedom to the captives in the prison of darkness hinges on the work of the servant. In a sense God intends to create a new world through the work of the servant because the present order holds little hope of life for the Gentiles. Isaiah 42.5-7, 134

Israel's dire situation is not hopeless because of God's redeeming nature. Just as God redeemed Israel from Egypt, he will redeem them from exile in Babylon. The one who created a dry path in the sea can also create water in and a way through the desert. This 2nd exodus will be even greater because it will lead to a restoration of the entire world. We can believe this because God is the Creator. He is not an idol made by a human being. He is the one who made and understands human beings. He pronounces redemption and then does it, through Cyrus who's name is announced 150 years before the event. God the Creator can be trusted.

For the sake of his name (i.e., reputation), God will not allow his people to languish in exile but will return them to a position where they can fulfill his purpose for them. This basis for God’s actions does not invalidate the personal relationship he seeks with his people, but it does bring together his sovereignty (he will accomplish his will in spite of Israel’s sinfulness) and his grace (he extends favor to his people that they do not deserve). Isaiah 43.1-7, 142

God’s offer of pardon in verse 25 is not extended to a generation that has departed from a prevailing standard of faithfulness; it is offered to those who fit Israel’s historic profile. For God to maintain his faithfulness to such a people and to work through them to redeem the nations is truly an act of grace that overarches the entire Old Testament (and continues throughout the church age as well). Isaiah 43.25, 146

God has in fact glorified man in the order and nature of creation (cf. Psalm 8). When man seeks to become God, that glory turns into shame. God created man in his image, but in every form of idolatry man inevitably creates a god in his image. One of the marks of the inspiration of the Bible is the fact that the God it reveals stands apart from what he has made. He is not like a god that man would create. The Bible clearly prohibits worshiping the creation rather than the Creator, but approaching the Creator as if he possesses the limitations of the creation is equally serious. Isaiah 44, 153

Isaiah 45 focuses on the "mystery" of God. God reveals himself to us, but there are things about Him that are unrevealed or beyond us. This is why it is foolish to resist or rebel against him. If he wants to use a pagan like Cyrus to end Israel's exile, He is free to do that. What he has revealed is that He is a life-giver, sustainer and redeemer to those who trust him. That's enough to trust him on the stuff we do not understand.

Just as God created the world so that life will be sustained and revived, so he sustains and revives his people even if he does so through an agent like Cyrus. God’s goal is righteousness, or making things right. Isaiah 45.1-8, 162

The way God will do this is by having Cyrus defeat Babylon and give the order to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. God announcing this before it happens shows that it is part of his plan and he is setting the stage for the next phase of the plan in which Israel will take the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. Nevertheless both Babylon and Israel are responsible for their responses to God's work in their history. Babylon goes to devastating judgment because they wasted God's calling on enriching themselves. Israel needs to be careful so the same thing does not happen to them.

God will make things right by saving his people, but his people have distanced themselves from him and his work in their rejection of his methods. When God brings salvation to Zion his splendor will be manifest. Israel must take care or she will miss it due to the blindness of stubborn unbelief. Isaiah 46, 169–170

Babylon here is not merely the ancient city of that name, and the poem does not simply look forward to what was to happen to it in 539 when Cyrus conquered it. Like Jerusalem, with which it is contrasted, it is both a concrete historical reality and a symbol.… Babylon represents humankind organized in defiance of God—the kingdom of mere mortals, in contrast to the kingdom of God. In this sense, ‘Babylon’ is still with us, and still stands under the judgment of God. Isaiah 47.12-15, 174

The tragic tone of verses 17–19, against the backdrop of verses 9–11, illustrates the relationship between the unconditional and the conditional elements of the covenant relationship between God and his people. The unconditional element has to do with the accomplishment of God’s redemptive purpose through his people. The fulfillment of this purpose depends on the character of God, and he will do whatever is necessary to bring it about. The conditional element has to do with the degree of blessing the covenant people enjoy in the process of fulfilling God’s purpose. Israel has forfeited a large measure of that blessing, but God’s ongoing faithfulness will redeem his people again and give them a fresh opportunity to be both blessed and a blessing. Isaiah 48, 182–183

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