The sinfulness of people is the proof of God. This statement sounds counterintuitive but it is true. God proves that he is God by his grace to sinners. Grace was never an afterthought or a plan B in the mind of God. The obvious expectation of God is to ferociously judge transgressors. Historically false gods did such. An angry volcano god wipes out the inhabitants of the island. An angry rain god would not let in rain and the people would suffer from a lack of food and crops. These concepts come from the mind of man. False gods vengefully destroy disobedient people. For God to welcome sinners into a relationship with him through his grace is staggering. The scriptures teach us that the throne of God is a throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). Christianity stands completely different from world religions because only God would save sinners. God draws people to himself. This shows the God of the scriptures to be alive and true for no one human could conjure or invent such amazing grace.
Unfortunately, God’s people sometimes place on the true and living God the characteristics of these false gods that are invented by humans. In Isaiah 48 we learn more about God and his purposes. What God shows about himself is amazing and sets him apart from all creation.
Our Stubbornness (48:1-8)
As we have grown accustom to read in Isaiah’s prophecy, God begins by describing the wretched condition of his people. The first two verses speak of a terrible evil. The people claim to be the people of God, Israel, and take oaths by the name of the Lord and confess the Lord, but they do not do so in truth or righteousness. They consider themselves to be God’s people, but they do not live up to their name as Israel nor live up to their confession in God. The people think their name is enough. Notice in verse 2 that they have put their hope in Jerusalem, naming themselves after the holy city. This is a fascinating charge. The people think they have put their hope in the Lord and believe they are confessing his name, but in truth they are not.
We must stop and think about what our Lord is declaring. Claiming to go to the right church does not mean that we are justified by God. These people claimed the city of Jerusalem as their holy city, yet God condemned them. Claiming to be a Christian does not mean that we are justified by God. These people claimed to be God’s people also, yet God condemned them. Faith is far more than a name or a claim. I find verse 2 the most jarring declaration. They think that they rely or lean (“stay”; ESV) on God. They believe that are relying on him. The truth is that they are stubborn and obstinate, failing to listen and rely on the Lord (48:4). The declaration must cause us to look in ourselves and consider if we are really depending on God, clinging to his name, and seeking him completely. Are we really listening to God? Do we want to hear what God says? In seeking the will of the Lord do we long to do what he says? These are important questions that we must always ask of our heart to make sure we have not slipped into claiming to be a follower but we are not following him at all.
God is so concerned about showing their condition because God is acting on their behalf and he knows that his people will attribute the works of God to their false idols (48:5). How easy it is to fall into this trap! How many times will something good happen in our lives and we fail to attribute it to God? We forgot to attribute our prosperity to God. We fail to attribute our health to God. We fail to attribute our spirituality to God. We fail to attribute our jobs to God. We have the tendency to look to our own hands as believe that we have done it. God says that he was caring for Israel. Therefore to prove it to them, he says that he will declare future events and future blessings specifically so they will not attribute those blessings to anyone else but God. God says that he is working in your life. Do not give that glory to another. Do not give that glory to yourself. Do not attribute the works of God to yourself or to others. But we deal treacherously with the Lord and act rebelliously, never giving to God the glory he deserves in this world and in our lives (48:8).
Amazing Grace (48:9-11)
So what will God do for people who refuse to acknowledge his glory and refuse to trust in the Lord and follow him? What will God do with people who like to claim to belong to the Lord but do not? Will God strike them down like false gods that we see in world religions. No, God shows grace. Verses 9-11 reveal what God will do. God will show amazing grace for his own purposes. Israel would not be sent into destruction as it deserved, but would be sent to captivity for purification. God would allow a limited punishment against his people so that they would be purified. God does not fully punish people for the sake of his own glory. God put limits on Israel’s punishment and suffering, though the full wrath of God was deserved. God wanted to refine his people so that they could belong to him. God gives his people another opportunity to belong to him.
I want us to consider how this is to change our worldview. When we look around at all the evil in our country and the evil in this world, we are supposed to see the glory of God in that evil. How? We are seeing the grace of God on display as he desires for every person to repent and come back to him. God does not immediately punish a person for sin for his own glory, to show the amazing love and grace of God. This is the only reason you and I are not dead yet. Every person could experience what Nadab and Abihu experienced. Rebel against God and die. Instead, people continue to live in evil and wickedness and it shows the glory of God. The people did not merit this grace. God did this because that is what makes our God who he is.
Friends, how often we fail at this moment of crisis in our own lives. God limits Satan and allows the terrible things that happen in this world so that we would be refined for his glory. God allows these things so that we will stop dealing with our God treacherously and stop rebelling against him. God is trying to purify us. This is how much God loves us. He does not wipe us out for our hypocrisy. Rather, he prepares us through difficulty so that we can found to the praise of his glory. We need refining and God is exalted through that refining. Do not give up on God when going through difficulties. Recognize that this difficulty is another moment for refining and it is a blessing so that we can be reconciled to God.
God’s Appeal (48:12-22)
God calls for all people to trust in his sovereignty. God always sees his purposes through to completion. God will do what he sets out to do and nothing will stop him. God is the eternal God and sees everything through (48:12). This is the hope we have in the powerful God we serve. If he has the power to lay the foundations of the world and stretch out the heavens and the skies, then he has the power to accomplish all that he desires (48:13). What can God not accomplish?
God tells Israel that he is sending a servant who will deliver them (48:14-16). God’s servant will set Israel free from Babylonian slavery. Cyrus was identified by name as God’s servant in Isaiah 44:28-45:1. Cyrus will accomplish God’s purpose. Israel must not be in despair for nothing will stop God’s plan. Cyrus is anointed by the Lord to be their deliverer. God will set the people free. He will be their God and he will be their teacher, showing them the way they ought to go (48:17). Because of the people’s sins they had lost out of so many of God’s blessings. They could have enjoyed continuing peace and righteousness (48:18). They would have enjoyed being God’s people who were like the sands of sea, just as God had promised to Abraham (48:19). Their sins kept them from being an enduring people who would never be cut off (48:19). Cyrus will cause the people to go out from Babylon with joy because God has redeemed his people (48:20). A new exodus has come (48:21).
Do you hear the echo of what God is doing? In Isaiah 7 we saw an amazing echo of the power of God. Isaiah 7 promised a sign to King Ahaz to show that his people would be delivered from the Assyrians. A young women would have a child and before the child knew right or wrong, the people would be delivered (Isaiah 7:14-16). But we learn from Matthew that this prophecy was an echo of a greater event to come. Jesus would be born of a virgin and he would deliver the people from their sins. Isaiah 48 is an echo of an event to come. God is going to send a Servant, send with the Spirit of the Lord, anointed by God to set the people free from their enslavement to sin. He would be our Teacher and show us the way we are to live our lives.
This Servant will reverse all that we have ruined due to our sins. Because of our sins we lost the right to peace and righteousness. But Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He reverses our condition so that we can enjoy true peace and righteousness in him. Because of our sins we could not be called children of God. Our sins destroyed the relationship we could have with the Lord. But Jesus comes and through his atoning sacrifice Christians are the offspring that are like the sands of sea, innumerable to count. Listen to the amazing words of John from his gospel:
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11–13 ESV)
Finally, our sins mean that we must be cut off and be cast from the presence of the Lord. But Jesus reverses our condition and gives us an enduring name. Listen to the words of Jesus that he promised to his followers:
The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. (Revelation 3:12 ESV)
God sends us out of our slavery to sin through Jesus for the Lord has redeemed us through his blood (Ephesians 1:7). A new exodus has come leading us out of the domain of darkness and into the light of Christ’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13-14). What a glorious picture and what a glorious hope! But do not be deceived. Listen to the last words of this chapter: “There is no peace for the wicked” (48:22). We are not getting away with our sins. We will not have peace unless we give our lives to Christ. God is attempting to draw us to him. Let your hearts be refined and see the glory and grace of God working in your life. Give him the praise as you change your ways to be his servant.