Isaiah 42 has declared that God will send his servant who will save the people. He will establish justice and set the people free in a way that is unlike any ruler before. After declaring God’s intention to deliver his people, the rest of chapter 42 describes the current condition of the people. God wants to make a very important point: though Israel is God’s servant, Israel is not the servant that will redeem the world. Israel is not sufficient for the task.
Blind Israel (42:18-25)
God begins with human insufficiency. How often God wants us to see who we really are! God has to keep putting us in our place because we allow our pride and self-image to run wild. So God says that his people are the deaf and blind ones (42:18-19). Here is Israel, the people entrusted with the message of God and they are blind! They have a privileged position and yet they are deaf and blind. It is unbelievable. This is our problem. We look but we do not observe. We hear but we do not listen (42:20). We so easily do this when we read the scriptures and when we worship. We look but we are not seeing the glory of God in his words. We do not even see the true meaning of the scriptures’ teaching. God’s people are to be careful listeners and observers, looking into his word and listening to his teachings, so that we will see the glory of the Lord. This is what God is declaring through Isaiah: open your eyes and see what God is doing.
Listen to verse 21. The Lord was pleased to glorify, magnify, and exalt his law, making it glorious for his own righteousness. The law of the Lord was to be praised throughout the earth. He gave his law to reveal his own character of love and faithfulness to show what is good, right, and true. The purpose of God’s word is for us to praise him. The purpose of his words is so that we would desire him and see his faithfulness and glory. Further, Israel’s mission was to make God’s law glorious to the world by showing how beautiful it is to live according to his word. But Israel failed as the servant. Israel rejected the glorious law of God and its given purpose. Therefore, rather than showing the glory of God they themselves need deliverance. They are helpless due to their sinful ways.
I want us to consider that we may also be failing at this purpose. Do we show God’s words to be our delight? Is it our delight because we are desiring to read it? Is it our delight because we show the world that we want to obey it? Is it our delight because we show the world that listening to the word of God is our joy?
After describing this problem, notice that God asks if anyone is going to listen (42:23). Will they learn from their sinful ways and go a new path that the Lord directs? Or will they continue to see but not observe and hear but not listen? Unfortunately, humans typically do not learn and do not listen. Israel did not learn from its punishments and judgments (42:25). The Proverbs teach us that only fools do not listen. “Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his folly will not depart from him” (Proverbs 27:22 ESV). Will we learn from the error of Israel? Will we learn from our own errors?
God Is Your Savior (43:1-7)
So we are blind and return to our foolish ways repeatedly. What is God going to do? We have failed to be what God desires of us. God offers hope. Isaiah 43 begins, “But now,” indicating a contrast between the terrible judgment of sin now and the future grace that God gives. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (43:1). Though Israel was in difficult circumstances because of their sins, this judgment did not nullify God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises. Israel was going to suffer for their sins but this did not negate the faithfulness and loving kindness of God. Listen to this truth in verse 2.
Through flood and flames God will not let you be overwhelmed. God remains with us even when trials and suffering for sins comes against us. Now this is an important truth that is to establish our faith. Even when we are dealing with consequences for our foolish or sinful decisions, this does not mean that God has abandoned us. Further, when we are hit by waves, we do not have to be swallowed up by the waters of difficulty. Even when we are scorched by the flames of life, we do not have to be consumed because God is with us. Think about how powerful these words would have been for these people. They are going to be in Babylon, suffering as prisoners and exiles for their sins. Yet God is with them and they are not consumed.
The second truth we observe in Isaiah’s prophecy is the intensity of what God will do for his people. Look at verse 4. “Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you…” This is God’s stance toward his rebellious people. You are precious in my eyes and honored in my eyes. I love you. Therefore, because this is how God sees us, he will redeem his people. In the past God gave up Egypt to destruction to redeem Israel from slavery. God will pay again. No price is too high for God to pay for his own people. The price to be paid will be his own Son, which will be revealed in Isaiah 53.
There is a third critical truth to establish our faith. The Lord has not redeemed us for enjoying pleasures and luxuries. Rather, the Lord has redeemed us so that we are prepared to endure all kinds of evil. See how verse 1 and verse 2 work together. The Lord has redeemed you and calls you by name. So when you pass through waters and fire, you will not be overwhelmed or consumed. There is nothing too great or too difficult that you cannot endure because God is with you and has redeemed you (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 13:5-6). Therefore we have nothing to fear because the Lord is our God and Savior. We are his children, those who are called by his name, and God does not forsake his children.
No Other God (43:8-13)
God has done this for a simple purpose: to show all people throughout the world the Lord is the only God and there is no other Savior or Deliverer but him. Our false gods do not help. They do not deliver us. They do not save us. Our idols enslave us. God challenges all rivals. Glory belongs to the Lord and no other because only he is able to save. We have defied the true God and what does God do? God saves us to show his goodness. He is like no god or idol that humans create. This goodness is to cause us to stop and believe. God is not only good but he is the only goodness that can be experienced.
The New Exodus (43:14-21)
God now reveals what he is going to do. God tells the people that he will intervene against Babylon who God has caused to take them into slavery as punishment for their sins. God will intervene because he is the Redeemer, the Holy One, and the King (43:14-15). God recalls the victory of the first exodus, when God led Israel out of slavery from Egypt to the promised land (43:16-17). But after recalling that great act of salvation, God says not to remember that event in verse 18. Why? The point is that the people must not look to the past with such focus that they fail to see what God is able to do now to deliver. God can go before them and lead them again, but do it in an entirely different way. Just because he delivered one way in the past does not mean that this is the only way he delivers his people. Before he made a way through the sea (43:16). Now God will make a way through the desert (43:19). Nothing is too great of an obstacle for God. Nothing can hold God back from accomplishing his purposes. God will do something great again. The past confirms that God will do it but we must look forward to his acts of help and deliverance. God will help you through the waters and the fires in life. God will take away your sins no matter how significant or grave they are. God has come to save his people. Why is God reversing our fortunes and blessing us despite our sins? Look at verse 21. “The people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” Your salvation was accomplished by God so that you would tell the world how great God is. God keeps you from being destroyed by trials so that you will proclaim the glory of God. You were created for God’s glory (43:7). You were made to praise him and he has given you every reason to praise him.