Manchester United has, in recent seasons, been by far the most successful club in the Premiership, but this season things have changed. During the week I read an article about the team. The author, a football pundit, was highly critical of several players. In his estimation they had failed and there was only thing for it in the ruthless world of professional football – they should go.
The background to this chapter lies in the description of how God's OT people failed dismally to fulfil their calling to be the "servant of the Lord". Israel's failure meant that the nation became an ineffective witness to nations. Instead of drawing others Israel himself stood in need of salvation. But what hope could there be for such a nation? Should they go too, thrown unto the scrap heap? Or is there something more hopeful in God's purposes?
Well, this evening, we come to consider what the LORD did with his failing people and we will find that it is full of encouragement for all of us who are only too aware of our own failures.
Isaiah ministered to the people of his day and to their particular circumstances. He addressed them at times with a specifically spiritual agenda and at others he spoke to them as a national or political entity. In the verses we are considering this evening the "salvation" or restoration that he promises is described in political terms.
The nation had got itself into such a mess that exile was looming on the horizon. This exile was at one and the same time a punishment and a disciplining process:
As a punishment it was extremely painful and humiliating.
As a disciplining process the exile was declared not to be final.
Israel had to learn that their actions were not without consequences. Turning away from the LORD and trying to do things their way was leading inexorably to a temporary removal from the Promised Land where the Lord had promised to meet with his people. This special, chosen people had to learn that with privilege came responsibility. They would learn this through the hardship that exile represented. The NT has a verse that describes this sort of combination of factors in the life of the believer:
Rom.8:28 "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
And indeed Is.43 is a chapter full of good things that the LORD amazingly promised to do for his failed people. The people might well be spiritually deaf and blind, they might well be suffering the consequences of their sins, yet still the LORD was able and willing to deal graciously with them – because grace depends upon the giver and is never merited by the recipient!
So things look up for Israel right at the outset of this chapter. Yes, their failures have been and remained striking but God had not given up on them!
God Gathers His People
Most of our English Bibles begin the chapter with the word "But". After the description of failure in ch.42 this immediately suggests something more hopeful is about to be revealed.
Israel's failure is met and more than matched by the LORD's own declarations of what he will do in favour of his people. He begins by reminding them of how he stands in relation to them:
v.1 "I formed you, I created you" – the words are addressed to the nation using the joint name of Jacob and Israel. The two names (which are used together frequently in chs.40-
v.1 "Fear not…" after the revelation of such failure in ch.42 and the prospect of such an horrific exile the people had cause to be fearful – but not when God intervenes on their behalf!
v.1 Distinguishing love and grace is specifically shown to this people:
I have redeemed you
I have called you by name
You are mine
The LORD proceeded to assure them of his presence:
v.2 "I will be with you."
Can there ever be any greater blessing than? From the perspective of the Bible the answer must be no. This is what we might call the "Immanuel principle". Throughout the pages of the OT the presence of God was the highest of blessings and in the NT the coming of the Messiah is described in identical terms – "they shall call his name Immanuel, which means, God with us."
The effect of this accompaniment is not to ensure that the people never encounter any problems in their lives – there is no prosperity gospel here – but that they will be kept safe and preserved through the trials and tribulations through which they must inevitably pass.
v.2 "when you pass through the waters… through the rivers… through the fire... the flame"
And this God is our God!
Do not imagine then that becoming a Christian is like being granted some kind of diplomatic immunity which will free you from ever encountering another problem ever again. And when you do encounter such problems don't imagine that this proves that you're not a Christian or that Christianity has failed for you.
The LORD's way is most usually to accompany his people in their difficulties and to sustain through them. How we should rejoice in that!
v.3 Once again the love the LORD has for his people is described as a distinguishing love – in other words he does things for his people that he simply does not do for others.
v.4 Why is it that the LORD will treat his people in this special highly privileged manner? It is because he considers them to be precious in his sight! When he considers his people the LORD thinks of them as valuable – it is not that he has found something of worth in them but that his very choice of them has attributed value to them.
Don't think that God loves you because somehow you're worth it! God loves you because he freely chose to love you and his loving of you is what makes your life precious to him!
Why does the LORD take such a personal interest in his people?
v.4 "Because you are precious in my eyes, and honoured, and I love you."
Isaiah goes on to explain how this will all work out practically in the life of the nation. Remember, the looming disaster for Israel was that of exile – salvation comes to Israel in terms of her national restoration to the land. The people scattered away from the Promised Land would be brought home. The assurance is given that none of those chosen by God will remain captive.
As we listen to Isaiah speaking to the people of God in his day we learn something of what it means to belong to God. In these few verses we hear concerning God's people that:
they are sons and daughters of God v.6 – relationship and belonging
they bear his name v.7 – ownership and privileged status
they are formed and made by him v.7 – they are the result of his handiwork – grace not works is evident
redeemed or ransomed vv.1,3 – a price has been paid to rescue them, to purchase the freedom in which they stand.
they are created for his glory v.7 – high calling and purpose
The Calling of God's People
We have already taken careful note of the fact that Israel had failed to fulfil the function of being LORD's Servant – because of Israel's failure expectation is further focused upon the Messiah to come who would not fail. The NT presents us with the arrival, the ministry and the success of this Messiah in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Does that mean that Israel having failed could not expect to enjoy any further role in God's plans?
Well Isaiah doesn't seem to think so. Failure to fulfil one purpose does not mean that there was nothing left for Israel.
I need to make myself clear at this point. I am not thinking about the nation that today bears the name of Israel and consequently I am not venturing on the somewhat vexed questions concerning future events as seen from our contemporary position.
Isaiah was addressing the nation of his day. This nation had failed in his day but was also promised restoration again in his day (or at least very shortly after it) in the return from exile in Babylon. While Israel would not be restored in such a way as to be able to fulfil the task that only the Messiah would be able to fulfil, the nation would nevertheless enjoy a renewed life with the LORD. It is to these blessings that I want to draw your attention.
These renewed blessings are indeed the shared lot of all of God's people. Here they are specifically accorded to a people who had forfeited any claim to them – this people were by nature spiritually blind and spiritually deaf (v.8). This is yet one more way in which the Bible emphasises the free grace of God. He showers upon men and women blessings that they simply do not deserve.
The blessings involved include the following:
to be renewed witnesses for the LORD
to have further occasion to be the servant of the LORD
to know God
to believe God
I wonder do we all recognise these to be blessings.
I wonder how much we are entering into these blessings, how much we are valuing them, and how much we are enjoying them.
The people of Israel were called to enter into a deeper understanding of just who the LORD their God was and to come to a fuller appreciation of what it was that he would did and would do for his people.
Isaiah details out some of what is in view. As we think about this we must take care that we don't just read what he has to say as though he was providing us with a doctrinal checklist. Isaiah expected the people not merely to know the truth but to embrace it and to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the God who was taking such care to reveal himself!
The LORD is eternal
The LORD is the only God there is and the only Saviour
v.12 "and I am God."
Because of this it follows that any other "gods" will be foreign (or strange) gods utterly unable to do anything against the One True Living God:
v.12+13 "I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and I am God. Also henceforth, I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?"
Because of who he is, because he is this type of irresistible God, he is able to deliver his people from the grip of the most powerful nation of their day. He had, of course, done this centuries before when he freed Israel from slavery in Egypt. In Isaiah's day he would do a similar thing in delivering his people from Babylon v.14.
Indeed the succeeding verses (vv.16-
It is interesting that when the Messiah came he secured a further deliverance for the people of God. This time the deliverance would not take place in geographical terms, the liberation of a displaced people, but from the spiritual bondage to sin and death. At that significant moment during his ministry when Jesus was transfigured and discussed with Moses and Elijah his ministry and in particular his departure out of the world it is both interesting and relevant to note that the word used in Greek to describe his departure is the word exodus!
Throughout this section in Isaiah emphasis has been laid, not on Israel, but on the greatness of the LORD. He is:
the only God
the only Saviour
the Holy One of Israel
the Creator of Israel
his people's King
Such a great God is certainly worth knowing, worth believing and worth trusting! That is the thrust of Isaiah's message here – and how important it is to do just that!
Failure did not spell the loss of everything for God's people – there was still hope and it was hope grounded not upon the shaky foundations of the people's ability to put things right by themselves. No, it was a sure and certain hope based squarely upon the exalted God who continued to deal with his people in grace.
Would this people heed the encouragements being held out to them? Would they respond to such overtures of love?
But perhaps the bigger question is "Will we?"
It is good to know what has happened to God's people in the past. It is good to know what God taught them about himself as they advanced haltingly through history. But mere head knowledge will not help us, we must realise why these things are written down in the Bible for us:
Rom.15:4 "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."
Bible truth is to be practical in its effect. Will you trust this great and gracious LORD and will you live to his glory?
May the LORD bless his word to all of us.