Reasons for Rejoicing
Mind and memory are of central importance in the Bible and this goes a long way to explain why the Bible tells us again and again just who the LORD is, just what he has done for his people, and just what promises he has made to them.
The trouble is that very few (if any) of us has perfect recall. It is not easy to think and we are perhaps naturally a bit on the lazy side. We like to imagine that we will just react the right way when the time comes and so with a laissez-
Have you ever been to a committee meeting? An important thing has to be settled at the very outset: who is going to take the minutes? We need to have an accurate account recorded of our discussions and sadly our memories are not always that reliable so we have someone take minutes. These can later be consulted so that we can follow through on the decisions we've taken and appropriate action can be taken.
God wants us to record things too. Not simply that we might take spiritual minutes as it were but that at a later stage we might recall those some things and act appropriately ourselves.
When we look carefully at the Bible we find that it has a lot to say about remembering:
1. God remembers things and people, we even find him promising not to call things to remembrance:
People – Noah, Abraham, Rachel, Hannah etc.
His people's sin (Jer.31:4)
2. Men ask God to remember or not to remember certain things:
Samson, Hezekiah, Nehemiah – all ask to be remembered "Remember me…" 3x in Neh.13.
What he had promised
His tender mercies and steadfast love
Not my sins, iniquity
3. Men want other men to remember – what this means is that they want others to take something into account:
Joseph asked the butler to remember him
4. God wants men to remember him or the promises he has made to them – he sometimes gave them things which would help to jog the memory eg. special days, feasts and festivals, fringes, Lord's Supper (NT), an older generation who could be asked:
That he was the Lord and it had been him who had taken the initiative with them
The condition from which he had delivered them
What he had done for them
What he had done to their enemies
How he had led them
Their past wrong-
The discipline/punishment associated with sin
Our memories are faulty: sometimes we remember and sometimes we don't. And sometimes forget what we should remember while calling to mind things better forgotten: the cucumbers of Egypt, for example!
So the LORD calls upon his people to remember. He does not thereby intend us to live forever in the past – as he told his people in Isaiah's day he was about to do a new thing. The failures of the past were not to dominate their lives forever but would be eclipsed by the future blessings he would most certainly pour upon them. The scale and scope of those blessings are difficult to envisage because they involve new heavens and a new earth, new birth, new life, new creation!
So then the past was to serve as their guide as they marched into the future. The lessons of the past would give them a solid assurance about that future! Human forgetfulness would not stop God working but would deprive his people of much of that joy and peace in believing which could and should be theirs!
The Past assures the Future
Here at the end of Isaiah 44 the LORD calls upon his people to remember a number of truths. It is important for us to realise that he says this just after finishing ridiculing idolatry. The simple fact is that we can all so easily pay too much attention to the false gods of human creation and doing so we will lose sight of the truths that we really ought to be calling to mind!
The first thing that the LORD says is found in v.21 where he declares that Jacob belongs to him. He says to Jacob
"You are my servant".
He then repeats this with a little more insistence:
"Israel you are my servant!"
Despite all the wrong paths the people may have taken they still belong to him and owe him their service.
But the next word he has to speak is so encouraging. While men may fashion idols with their hands the LORD has fashioned his people and promises that he will never, no never, forget them. Considering then what God has done for them in the past the people of God can look forward to a bright future. We will return to this future oriented outlook shortly.
But for the moment in case the people of God begin to worry that they have failed and abandoned God so significantly that they can no longer count on having been fashioned by him, the LORD goes on to address the very failure of their sins and transgressions. Yes, a problem to them, one about which they could not do anything – but not a problem to him! He goes on to explain:
The Redemption that Reconciles
Yes, the LORD knew all about their failures but he had already acted in order to do what was necessary to resolve the problem. They had their transgressions? He was the One who had blotted them out. They had their sins? He caused them to disappear like the mist. Both sins and transgressions were intractable problems for men and women but they were easily dealt with by the LORD even if the cost to him of doing so would reveal itself to be very great indeed! In the Scriptures the ideas lying behind mist and clouds is that of something that is easily solved.
So we hear the LORD declaring that he has redeemed his people and because of that they can be invited, rather they can be commanded, to return. Do you see from what the LORD says that his act of redemption is a necessary precursor to reconciliation? Indeed the very fact of redemption is here presented to us as the motive for our conversion. The LORD is the One who always acts first, he is always the One who takes the initiative and does what sinful men and women can't do for themselves. Here is just one more way of talking about grace – the unmerited favour of God.
Rejoicing in the Redeemer
There is a bit of a break in the flow as the whole of creation is summoned to take part in acts of joyous divine worship.
As we consider this we should realise that the salvation of God's own people is no small or insignificant matter but rather something great and something about which to greatly rejoice.
The heavens are to join in – the heights – and so are the depths of the earth. Nothing is left out – these are designed to be marking opposite extremes and so to include everything in between. Mountains and forests are join in the singing too. Trees, which the foolish carpenter has tried to transform into idol, are allowed to find their true raison d'être in the worship of the One True Living God!
Surely, we can and must join in such joyful celebration!
And this is what Isaiah will come to later in his book:
Isa 55:12 "For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."
The position of God's people is truly a magnificent one – not only have they benefited from the salvation the LORD has secured for them through redemption but they are also to be granted a role in glorifying this Wonderful God – he will be glorified in the life of his people!!
The LORD is the Redeemer
Isaiah brings the chapter to a close by focusing thought once more upon the LORD who is the redeemer of his people. And in these verses he looks both ways – he looks back to the very beginning as God without the aid of anyone else made all that there is. He doesn't end however looking backwards but with confident expectation towards the future.
Isaiah emphasises the fact the LORD acted unaided, that he was the only one who was involved in creation. It was this great God alone who had been responsible for fashioning this people for himself (Isaiah uses the same words that were used to describe the way a craftsman made his idols to describe how the LORD made a living people.)
Idols and those who made them were all liars and deceivers and the LORD will have no truck with any of them. The LORD is resolutely opposed to all such deception and in manifesting his wisdom he frustrates the efforts of the liar, he makes fools of those who would seek to foretell the future by their magic arts, and he humbles the wisdom of the wise. In the NT Paul picks up the same line of thought in writing to the church Corinth:
Well that is all very easy to say the sceptic might reply but how can we be sure?
And Isaiah gives us the answer. This is something of an OT version of that question that posed to the sceptics of his day who questioned amongst themselves whether this man really had the necessary authority to forgive sins. Jesus responded with a question and you remember it don't you?
Isaiah's response pre-
I give my servants a word to declare. I send out my messengers to make known my plans. Oh yes, what I'm telling them to say might seem improbable at the moment, indeed it might seem to be totally impossible, but this is what I have told them to declare:
Jerusalem will be re-
The LORD had said many extraordinary things in the past and they had come to pass just as he had declared. Now he continues to reveal the future – after all he is the LORD the Sovereign Ruler over all that there is and what else should he do but rule?!
So he declares that his purposes will be fulfilled for his people by means of a foreign king called Cyrus. The LORD was not limited in any way – no local deity this God!
Now the people of Isaiah's day didn't live to see the fulfilment of the prophecy. He must have seemed so unlikely and yet they could have listened to Isaiah's words and taken great comfort from them because what the LORD had declared he would also bring about!
And so 150 or so years later a Persian King came and conquered great Babylon and guess what that king's name was – you've got it, he was called Cyrus and he commissioned the Israelites to return to the Land of Promise and once there to re-
What are we to make of this?
God is a great God and he will do exactly what he has promised to do, he has always done that and will always do that!
He had secured the salvation of his OT people and watched over them in most unpromising circumstances acting in a most improbable way – he does the same for his people through history – he does so for us today.
There is a difference though – we have more evidence to take into account and that evidence gives us all the more reason to trust him and look confidently towards the future. We're not looking for the rebuilding of some temple made out of wood and stone -
2 Cor.6:16 "What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
Such temples are not built by human efforts but by the Word of God. They are characterised by holy living and they are the means whereby we give God his due worship.
To God be the glory.