Isaiah has prophesied that Israel has two needs to be delivered from: national slavery as they will be carried away into Babylonian captivity and spiritual sinfulness. From Isaiah 44:24 to Isaiah 48:22 God is announcing how he is going to save Israel from Babylonian captivity. Then in chapter 49 God will begin to describe in details how he is going to save Israel, and the world, from its sins. God is going to show that all the earth can trust in his promises by predicting exactly how Israel will be delivered from the Babylonians. Learning about God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness of his word will encourage us to rely on the promises of God for us today.
The Strength of God’s Word (44:24-28)
God begins by calling for the people to believe in his words. He is calling for people to trust in him and his declarations. In verse 24 God says that he is the Lord. He validates his divinity, wisdom, and might in verses 24-25. He is the Lord and he made all things. He alone stretched out the heavens. He stretched out the earth by himself. He frustrates liars and makes diviners look like fools. He makes the wise and the knowledgeable look foolish. In verse 26 God says that he “confirms the word of his servant and fulfills the counsel of his messengers.” When God’s prophets speak, those words come true. When God’s servant make a declaration, those words happen by the power of God. Even when the declarations are seemingly impossible, God says that he will make it happen because he is the Lord. Now God will go ahead and make some seemingly impossible declarations for that time.
The first declaration is in verse 26. Jerusalem will be inhabited and cities of Judah will be rebuilt. God is going to raise up the ruins of these destroyed cities. The nation of Judah and the capital city of Jerusalem will have been laid to waste and ruins by the Babylonians. But it is not over for the nation. God says that Jerusalem will be inhabited and the cities rebuilt. Further, God says that he will dry up the rivers. This image has a picture of when Israel was in Egyptian slavery and God dried up the Red Sea so that the people could be set free. But this may also refer to the means of Babylon’s demise. The great city of Babylon sat on the Euphrates River. When the Persian army came against Babylon, the army diverted the Euphrates River so they could climb under the walls and attack the city. God may be describing the means of Babylon’s fall. Finally, God says it will be Cyrus that he will use for the fulfillment of these declarations. Cyrus will fulfill God’s purposes. Cyrus will say that Jerusalem will be rebuilt and that the temple will be rebuilt.
The last date we were given concerning when Isaiah is prophesying is around 701 BC. What is amazing is that the Persian conquest of Babylon took place in 539 BC, approximately 160 years later. God predicted the fall of a world empire, names the conqueror, and describes the decrees this conqueror will give. I will challenge anyone to perform the same kind of powerful declaration today that God accomplishes in the scriptures. This is what true prophecy looks like. Please predict who the world power will be in the year 2174. Name the new world power that will conquer that nation. Name the conqueror who will lead the victory. Name the decrees he will make when the conqueror begins his rule. It is staggering prophecy. Skeptics may ask how we know that these things truly happen. The Cyrus Cylinder was an amazing archeological find, detailing Cyrus and his conquest over Babylon and his subsequent decrees. God knows the future. God knows what is happening and will happen on this earth. God’s plan will be achieved and humans will be made to look foolish. Listen to the first words of the book of Ezra about what historically occurred.
1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:1–3 ESV)
Cyrus, God’s Shepherd (45:1-7)
God now speaks directly to Cyrus, as if he were alive, about what he will cause Cyrus to do. Why is God doing this? Why is God raising up Cyrus to destroy Babylon? Verse 4 says that God is doing this for his people. God has called Cyrus by name even though Cyrus does not know the Lord so that he will set Israel free. The world is supposed to know this truth so that they will know that there is one Lord and there is no other. God rules. Notice verse 7. God makes well-being and calamity. God is watching over all the affairs of the earth. Nothing on earth is outside of his power or his control.
Do Not Contend With God (45:8-13)
Here is the issue: as God’s people we may not like how God operates in the world. We think that God should do things differently. One can imagine how Israel did not like the idea of their deliverance coming at the hands of a Persian conqueror. They did not want to go into Babylonian captivity and remain their for 70 years. In the same way people today often complain about how God rules in this world or operates in their lives. Worse, we will even resist the Lord in our lives because of various life circumstances. Listen to what God says about this in verses 9-10.
Does the clay speak back to the potter? Can the clay tell the potter that the potter does not know what he is doing? Can the clay tell the potter that it does not like what the potter is making? In the same way, verse 10 says that the parents cannot be questioned either. Here is the point: the potter has every right to form the clay in any manner the potter sees fit. The clay does not talk back to the potter. The child does not talk back to the parent. Listen to verse 11: “Will you command me concerning my children or the work of my hands?” We must come to a critical truth: to love God means we must let him be God. We cannot tell God the way it is or the way it is supposed to be. When we insist that God do things our way, then we are not allowing God to be our God. It’s an obvious reality yet a concept that is so easily neglected. Everything God does is right. He is our God and therefore we yield to him. God does not do things according to human wisdom. God acts in his wisdom which defies human wisdom requiring us to put our faith in him.
The Message of Salvation (45:14-25)
An important shift in the message takes place in verse 14. Notice in verse 14 we are told that the wealth of the nations are going to be Israel’s. People will follow Israel and come over in their chains and bow down. So we must ask if God is speaking about the something that happened after the Babylonian captivity to the physical nation of Israel. Do we see this happen in history? I believe the answer is no. Rather, God is looking to the new Israel that will arise after the captivity, not the physical nation. There are a number of reasons to understand that the new, spiritual Israel is what God has in view. First, as we noted, physical Israel never experienced this. Second, this message is given again in Isaiah 60 which is in the context of the future glory of Israel with the Christ. Third, Paul refers to this text in 1 Corinthians 14:24. Paul describes the lives of the Christians in Corinth and the worship of the Corinthian church will cause the outsiders to come in and worship God. What Paul says sounds just like Isaiah’s message in verse 14.
24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24–25 ESV)
Therefore, we will look at this text as referring to the future, glorious Israel, the people of God, when Christ comes. Notice what the world will see in Israel, the true people of God. They are going to look at God’s people and declare, “Surely God is in you” and “There is no other god.” People will see us and that will cause them to worship God, just as Paul instructed the Corinthians. God promises that his people will experience salvation (45:17). God has not called for people to seek him for no reason (45:19).
The salvation offer would not be limited to physical Israel. The whole world would be given the opportunity to seek the Lord and receive salvation. This is the message of verses 20-25. God calls to them to turn to the Lord for salvation (45:22). What a picture! The salvation of the Jews was to cause the Gentiles to desire the same salvation. God promises that all who come to him will be saved and belong to Israel. “In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory” (45:25). The cycle continues. God’s people glorying in the Lord will cause others to know that there is no other god. They will put away their idols and seek the Lord. We will tell people that righteousness and strength are only found in the Lord (45:24). The hope for the world is found in the Lord. This is a message the world needs to hear.
Let’s put these pieces together. God has proven to keep his word. When God says it, it happens because he rules over the earth, created the earth, and knows what is happening on the earth. The history of Cyrus, Babylon, and the release of Israel from captivity are the basis for our trust in the word of the Lord. Now God has promised that he will wipe out your sins and not remember them. God has promised that if we seek him, he will save us. God has promised that if we will not resist him but trust him, we will receive justification and strengthening. Our glory and our hope must be found in the Lord.