Chapter Intro

This chapter presents the Lord as the One who both acts and speaks: his actions are accompanied by an interpretative word, which summons the hears to respond.  The idols can neither act nor speak; but the Lord predicts future events and brings them to pass in due course, v5, and invites belief, vv17-19, and action, v20f.

There is a clear contrast here between the faithfulness of God and the unfaithfulness of his people.

This chapter links with the previous chapters in several ways, with several repeated or contrasting phrases and ideas.  ‘The key elements in the prophet’s scandalous vision of Yahweh’s purpose are all now on the table.  The prophet has named Cyrus and Babylon and portrayed the fall of Babylon’s gods and of the city itself.  All that is to be said about these matters will have been said by the end of chapter 48.  There will be no more reference to Babylon and Cyrus, no more asserting that Yahweh alone is God, no more overt arguing with the Judean community – indeed little more reference to Jacob-Israel.  The sermon now looks for a response.’ (Goldingay)

Chapter 47 deals with the failures of Babylon; the present chapter with those of Israel.  ‘With the idols eliminated (Isa 44:24-46:13) and the political power of Babylon shattered (ch 47), there remains the principal obstacle to the new exodus, Israel itself’ (R. Lack, cited by Goldingay).

‘The audience has already heard of God’s unhappiness with Babylon (chaps. 46–47), but now Israel is condemned; so in reality it is not that different from Babylon. It, too, will suffer if the people do not listen and respond to what God has said. In the light of all these many failures, if Israel has any real hope for the future, it is primarily due to the nature of her God, who ultimately does what he plans for his own glory and for his own name’s sake (48:11).’ (Smith, NAC)

Stubborn Israel, 1-21Isa 48:1 “Listen to this, O house of Jacob, you who are called by the name of Israel and come from the line of Judah, you who take oaths in the name of the LORD and invoke the God of Israel– but not in truth or righteousness–

“Listen” – Words of hearing and listening occur ten times in this chapter.

They have the right name and the right breeding.  They talk readily of the Lord and the holy city.  But, in reality, they are hypocrites (vv1,4,8) and idolaters, v5.  ‘Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel’, Rom 9:6.

Matthew Henry comments on ‘how high their profession of religion soared, what a fair show they made in the flesh and how far they went towards heaven, what a good livery they wore and what a good face they put upon a very bad heart.’

These people ‘had the right birthright, were part of the right social or ethnic group, and were associated with the right God, but unfortunately none of these right connections mattered because they did not have a profound impact on their lives (cf. 1:10–17). God has never been greatly impressed with good actors who can play their part, repeat all the right lines, or pretend that they know and deeply love him. His truth will unmask the fraud in every person’s life.’ (Smith, NAC)

From the line of Judah – lit, ‘from the waters of Judah’.  The underlying text is problematic.  It is clear enough, however, that the reference is to the children of Judah.

Barnes: ‘The idea is, that Judah was the fountain, or origin of the people who were then exiled in Babylon. The ten tribes had revolted, and had been carried away, and the name of Benjamin had been absorbed in that of Judah, and this had become the common name of the nation. Perhaps Judah is mentioned here with honor as the fountain of the nation, because it was from him that the Messiah was to descend Genesis 49:10 : and this mention of his name would serve to bring that promise to view, and would be an assurance that the nation would not be destroyed, nor the power finally depart until He should come.’

But not in truth or righteousness – ‘All our religious professions avail nothing further than they are made in truth and righteousness. If we be not sincere in them, we do but take the name of the Lord our God in vain.’ (MHC)

Isa 48:2 you who call yourselves citizens of the holy city and rely on the God of Israel– the LORD Almighty is his name:

Cf. Mt 3:9.

The Lord Almighty is his name – ‘The object of the prophet in here mentioning his holy name is, probably, to show them the guilt of their conduct. He was Yahweh, the source of all existence. He was the God of all the hosts of heaven, and all the armies on earth. How wicked, therefore, it was to come before him in a false and hypocritical manner, and while they were professedly worshipping him, to be really offering their hearts to idols, and to be characteristically inclined to relapse into idolatry!’ (Barnes)

Isa 48:3 I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.

Here is a familiar theme in this section of Isaiah: the Lord predicted certain events in the past, which have unfailingly come to pass; how then can his people continue in neglect and disbelief of his word?

Prophecy and prediction

Biblical prophecy is more than “fore-telling”: two-thirds of its inscripturated form involves “forth-telling,” that is, setting the truth, justice, mercy, and righteousness of God against the backdrop of every form of denial of the same. Thus, to speak prophetically was to speak boldly against every form of moral, ethical, political, economic, and religious disenfranchisement observed in a culture that was intent on building its own pyramid of values vis-à-vis God’s established system of truth and ethics.

However, prediction was by no means absent from the prophetic message. The prophets were conscious of contributing to the ongoing plan of God’s ancient, but constantly renewed promise. They announced God’s coming kingdom and the awful day of the Lord when God’s wrath would be poured out on all ungodliness. In the meantime, before that eschatological moment, there would be a number of divine in-breakings on the historical scene in which the fall of cities such as Samaria, Damascus, Nineveh, Jerusalem, and Babylon would serve as harbingers or foreshadowings of God’s final intrusion into the historical scene at the end of history. Thus each minijudgment on the nations or empires of past and present history were earnests and downpayments on God’s final day of coming onto the historic scene to end it in one severe judgment and blast of victory. So said all the prophets. And in so saying they exhibited the fact that all their messages were organically related to each other; they were progressively building on one another. And, being focused distinctly on God, they were preeminently theocentric in their organization.

Therefore, the predictive sections of biblical prophecy exhibit certain key characteristics:

  1. they are not isolated sayings, but are organically related to the whole of prophecy;
  2. they plainly foretell things to come rather than being clothed in such abstruse terminology that they could be proven true even if the opposite of what they appear to say happens;
  3. they are designed to be predictions and are not accidental or unwitting predictions;
  4. they are written and published before the event, so that it could not be said that it was a matter of human sagacity that determined this would take place;
  5. they are fulfilled in accordance with the original utterance, unless expressly attached to a condition; and
  6. they do not work out their own fulfillment, but stand as a verbal witness until the event takes place.

Walter C. Kaiser, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.

‘Prediction seems to belong to the very idea of the prophetic office. We may see this in Deut 18:9ff.: Israel, entering the land of Canaan, is not only warned about the abominations of the Canaanite cults, such as infant sacrifice, but also about Canaanite religious practitioners, such as diviners. Certainly these men were concerned with what we call ‘fortune-telling’; they offered to probe the future by one means or another. For Israel, instead of all these, there will be a prophet whom the Lord will raise up from among their brethren. This prophet, speaking in the name of the Lord, is to be judged by the accuracy of his forecasts (v. 22)—a clear proof that Israel expected prophetic prediction, and that it belonged to the notion of prophecy.’ (J.P. Baker, NBD)

Fulfillment of prophecy is mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:22, and Micaiah uses this to test his message against his opponents, 1 Kings 22:28.  Isa 30:8, Jer 28:9 and Eze 33:33 also stress this criterion.

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“I foretold…I acted” – Here, as always in Isaiah, God’s fore-knowledge goes hand-in-hand with his fore-ordination.  On other occasions, the argument from prophecy has been directed at the heathen and their impotent idols; now it is directed against the Lord’s own people.

With regard to God’s previous promises and fulfilments, we think, with Calvin, of the promise of progeny to Abraham, Gen 15:13f, and of the land to Moses.

‘The very calamities they were now groaning under in Babylon God did from the beginning declare to them by Moses, as the certain consequences of their apostasy from God, Lev. 26:31, etc.; Deu. 28:36, etc.; 29:28. He also declared to them their return to God, and to their own land again, Deu. 30:4, etc.; Lev. 26:44, 45.’ (MHC)

Isa 48:4 For I knew how stubborn you were; the sinews of your neck were iron, your forehead was bronze.

To the accusation of hypocrisy, v1, is added that of stubbornness.  Israel would have refused to believe that God had fulfilled his will unless he had broadcast his intentions beforehand.

The sinews of your neck were iron, your forehead was bronze – In your obstinacy, you could not turn your head to look in and turn to a new direction, and any appeals that were made to you simply bounced off your hard and insensible skulls.

Isa 48:5 Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My idols did them; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’

‘My idols did them’ – They attributed the works of the living God to their lifeless idols.  In what ways do we do the same, with our modern idolatries?

Calvin asks why idols are mentioned, since the Jews professed worship of one God: ‘The answer is that they had been corrupted by associating with the Gentiles and had degenerated into superstitions to such an extent that they had entirely forgotten God.’

Isa 48:6 You have heard these things; look at them all. Will you not admit them? “From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you.

“Will you not admit them?” – ‘Will you not own that the Lord is the true God, the only true God, that he has the knowledge and power which no creature has and which none of the gods of the nations can pretend to? Will you not own that your God has been a good God to you? Declare this to his honour, and your own shame, who have dealt so deceitfully with him and preferred others before him.’ (MHC)

“I will tell you of new things” – Just as the Lord has predicted and brought to fulfilment past events, so he has now predicted, and will bring into effect, release from the Babylonian captivity.

Some have detected an apparent contradiction between this statement and that in v16 (“I have not spoken in secret”).  But the problem is more apparent than real.  The Lord has predicted future events in sufficient detail to demonstrate his power, over against the powerlessness of the idols.  But for mortals to be given full disclosure of future events would be disastrous.

Isa 48:7 They are created now, and not long ago; you have not heard of them before today. So you cannot say, ‘Yes, I knew of them.’

Isa 48:8 You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ear has not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth.

To the accusations of hypocrisy and stubbornness is added that of treachery.  The did not only neglect God’s word; they also perverted it, ascribing his words and deeds to speechless, lifeless, idols.  So had their forefathers done after the Exodus, Ex 32:4.

The accusation of treachery had previously been made against Assyria, Isa 33;1.  ‘Israel, with a vocation to make the world like itself, rather allowed the world to squeeze it into its own mould (Rom 12:1–2).’ (Motyer)

“A rebel from birth” – ‘It is as natural for fallen man to sin, as it is to breathe.’ (Flavel)

Isa 48:9 For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to cut you off.

The preceding complaints of Israel’s hypocrisy, stubbornness and treachery might well lead the Lord to say, “Why do I bother?  Why deliver my people when what they deserve is judgment?”  As modern Christians, we might expect any positive answer to these question to be explained in terms of God’s love.  That would not, of course, be incorrect.  But against the dark background of human unfaithfulness, it is the Lord’s faithfulness that stands out: his commitment to his people arises out of his own glorious character (‘for my own name’s sake’, v9), it leads him to test and refine his people, v10, and is utterly resolute, v11.

Barnes puts it well: ‘‘If the character of the nation is such, it might be said, ‘why should God desire to restore them again to their own land? If their sins have been so great as to make these heavy judgments proper, why not suffer them to remain under the infliction of the deserved judgment? Why should God interpose? why raise up Cyrus? why overthrow Babylon? why conduct them across a pathless wilderness, and provide for them in a sandy desert?’ To this the answer is, that it was not on their account. It was not because they were deserving of his favor, nor was it primarily and mainly in order that they might be happy. It was on his own account – in order to show his covenant faithfulness; his fidelity to the promises made to their fathers, his mercy, his compassion, his readiness to pardon, and his unchanging love. And this is the reason why he ‘defers his anger,’ in relation to any of the children of people. His own glory, and not their happiness, is the main object in view.’

For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath – just as he did in response to Moses’ pleading, Ex 32:11-14 and Num 14:11-19.  Cf. 1 Sam 12:22; Psa 79:9; 106:8; Jer 14:7, 21; Eze 20:9ff; The word used for ‘delay’ was used of muzzling an animal in order to restrain it.  ‘Restrain’, then, might be a better word.

Barnes: learn hence:

  1. That God acts with reference to his own glory, in order to manifest his own perfections, and to secure his praise.
  2. That the reason why the wicked are not cut off sooner in their transgressions is, that He may show his forbearance, and secure praise by long-suffering.
  3. That the reason why the righteous are kept amidst their frequent failures in duty, their unfaithfulness, and their many imperfections, is, that God may get glory by showing his covenant fidelity.
  4. That it is one evidence of piety – and one that is indispensable – that there should be a willingness thai God should secure his own glory in his own way, and that there should be a constant desire that his praise should be promoted, whatever may befall his creatures.

We have here a strong statement concerning the Lord’s covenant faithfulness.  This aspect receives strong emphasis in the teaching of Tom Wright: ‘The exile served as a symbol of Israel’s recapitulation of the sin of Adam and Eve, corresponding to their expulsion from Eden after their disobedience. At this point of exile, with the covenant tested to the limit, the Psalms go back to creation in their appeal to God to fulfil his ‘righteousness’ (Psalm 74, for example). Similarly, Isaiah 40–55, with the additional message that the path to covenant renewal will somehow come through the suffering of God’s ‘servant’. The book of Daniel also reflects this theme, indicating Israel’s eventual vindication after suffering at the hands of pagans.’ (Summarised by Kurt, Tom Wright for Everyone, ch. 3).

Isa 48:10 See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.

I have refined you, though not as silver – Silver is refined in the crucible until no dross remains.  If the Lord had refined Israel like that, nothing would have remained.

The furnace of affliction harks back to Egypt, Deut 4:20; 1 King 8:51, although in the present context it could refer to Babylon.

Isa 48:11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.

“I will not yield my glory to another” – Cf. Isa 42:8.  ‘God will give temporal blessings to his children, such as wisdom, riches, honour; he will give them spiritual blessings, he will give them grace, he will give them his love, he will give them heaven; but his essential glory he will not give to another. King Pharaoh parted with a ring off his finger to Joseph, and a gold chain, but he would not part with his throne. Gen 41:40. “Only in the throne will I be greater than thou.” So God will do much for his people; he will give them the inheritance; he will put some of Christ’s glory, as mediator, upon them; but his essential glory he will not part with; “in the throne he will be greater.”‘ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity)

The argument here is that although the Lord had good reason to lose patience with his people, he would not allow his reputation (his ‘name’) to suffer the indignity that would arise from the nations being allowed to think that he was not capable of saving his people.

God will not share his glory with idols, nor with anything else that has been formed by human hands or by the human imagination.

Glorifying God

According to C.H. Spurgeon, Thomas Watson ‘was one of the most concise, racy, illustrative, and suggestive’ of the Puritans.  ‘There is a happy union of sound doctrine, heart-searching experience and practical wisdom throughout all his works, and his Body of Divinity is, beyond all the rest, useful to the student and the minister.’  What follows is a precis of what Watson has to say on glorifying God:-

Everything has an end, or purpose; man’s chief end is to glorify God, 1 Cor 10:31.  This has respect to all the persons of the Trinity: the Father who gave us life; the Son who who gave his life for us; and the Spirit, who produces new life in us.

What is God’s Glory?

1.  God has an intrinsic, essential glory.  This is as essential to the Godhead, as light is to the sun, cf Acts 7:2.  God is most jealous of his glory: he may give us many things, wisdom, honour, riches, and all the riches of his grace; but he will not give his glory, Isa 48:11.

2.  God has an ascribed glory, which his creatures labour to bring to him, 1 Chron 16:29; 1 Cor 6:20.  We glorify God when we lift up his name in the world, and magnify him in the eyes of others, Phil 1:20.

What is it to glorify God?

1.  Appreciation.  We glorify God when we set God highest in our thoughts, Psa 92:8, ‘But you, O Lord, are exalted for ever’.  We glorify him when we admire his attributes; his promises; the riches of his grace; his wisdom and power, and so on.

2.  Adoration.  Psa 29:2, ‘Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness’.  There is a civil worship which we give to persons of honour, Gen 23:7, ‘Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites;’ (for ‘piety is no enemy to courtesy’).  There is also a divine worship which we give to God as his royal prerogative, Neh 8:6, ‘Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!”  Then the bowed down and worshipped the Lord with the face to the ground.’ ‘This divine worship God is very jealous of; it is the apple of his eye, the pearl of his crown; which he guards, as he did the tree of life, with cherubims and a flaming sword, that no man may come near it to violate it.  Divine worship must be such as God himself has appointed, else it is offering strange fire, Lev 10:1, ‘Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord, contrary to his command;’ cf Ex 25:40.

3.  Affection.  God is glorifed when he is loved, Deut 6:5.  We may love another, because he has done us a good turn; we are to love God for himself, with delight, as our highest treasure.

4.  Subjection.  We glorify God when we dedicate ourselves to God, and stand ready to do his service, as the angels in heaven.

Why must we glorify God?

1.  Because he gives us our being, Psa 100:3.  We owe him our lives, our breath, our health, our food.  ‘Should we not live to him, seeing we live by him?’ Rom 11:36.

2.  Because he has made all things for his glory, Prov 16:4; Isa 43:21; 1 Pet 2:9.

3.  Because the glory of God has intrinsic value and excellence, it is worth more than heaven and earth; better these were lost, than God should lose one beam of his glory.

4.  Others bring glory to God, ‘and do we think to sit rent free?  Shall everything glorify God but man?’  Creatures below us glorify God, Psa 19:1; Isa 43:20.  Creatures above us glorify God, Heb 1:14.  God has honoured man more than the angels, having brought him redemption; ‘the angels are God’s friends, not his spouse.’

5.  All our hopes hang upon him, Psa 39:7; 62:5.  An obedient child will honour his parent, by expecting all he needs from him.

How may we glorify God?

1.  By aiming purely at his glory.  Thus did Christ, Jn 8:50.  We should not have an eye for our own glory, and the other for God’s, Mt 6:2.  Cyprian says, ‘Whom Satan cannot prevail against by intemperance, those he prevails against by pride and vainglory.’  We do this, (a) when we prefer God’s glory above all other things, above possessions, reputation, relations, Deut 33:9; (b) when we are content that God’s will should prevail, though it cross ours.  ‘Lord, I am content to be a loser, if thou be a gainer; to have less health, if I have more grace, and thou more glory’, cf Mt 26:39; Jn 12:28; (c) when we are content to be outshone by others in gifts and esteem, so that his glory may be increased, Phil 1:15.  ‘Let my candle go out, if the Sun of Righteousness may but shine.’

2.  By an ingenuous confession of sin; Josh 7:19; Lk 23:41.  ‘A humble confession exalts God.’  Contrast with Gen 3:12.  ‘Confession glorifies God, because it clears him; it acknowledges that he is holy and righteous, whatever he does,’ Neh 9:33.  See also Lk 15:18.

3.  By believing, Rom 4:20.  Unbelief affronts God, making him out to be a liar, 1 Jn 5:10.  Faith brings glory to God, Jn 3:33.  We honour a man if we put our entire trust in him; so with God, Dan 3:17.  ‘Faith knows there are no impossibilities with God, and will trust him where it cannot trace him.’

4.  By being tender of his glory.  A loving child will weep to see a disgrace done to his father.  See Psa 69:9.

5.  By being fruitful, Jn 15:8; Phil 1:11; Mt 5:16.

6.  By being contented in that state in which Providence has placed us, 2 Cor 11:23; Phil 4:13; Psa 16:5.

7.  By working out our own salvation.  ‘God has twisted together his glory and our good…Would it not be an encouragement to a subject, to hear his prince say to him, “You will honour and please me very much, if you will go to yonder mine of gold, and dig as much gold for yourself as you can carry away”?  So, for God to say, “Go to the ordinances, get as much grace as you can, dig out as much salvation as you can; and the more happiness you have, the more I shall count myself glorifed.”

8.  By living to God, 2 Cor 5:15.  ‘The Mammonist lives to his money, the Epicure lives to his belly; the design of a sinner’s life is to gratify lust, but we glorify God when we live to God.

9.  By walking cheerfully.

10. By standing up for his truths.

11. By praising him.

12. By being zealous for his name.

13. By having an eye to God in our natural and our civil actions, 1 Cor 10:31.

14. By labouring to draw others to God.  ‘It is a great way of glorifying God, when we break open the devils’ prison, and turn men from the power of Satan to God.’

15. When we suffer for God.

16. When we give God the glory of all that we do.

17. By a holy life.

(Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 7-18)

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A jealous God?

We regard jealousy as one of the ugliest and most destructive human attitudes.  How then can it be right to worship a Being who describes himself as a ‘jealous’ God?

To many non-believers, it’s a no-brainer.  The very idea of divine jealousy shows just how bankrupt the Christian concept of God is.  James Kirk Wall, for instance, while describing himself as someone who ‘aspires to be patient and respectful’, cannot restrain himself from labelling the idea of a jealous God ‘insane’:-

The Second Commandment declares that god is a jealous god. How can this insanity be ignored? Would the sole creator of life and billions of galaxies really need a bunch of gnats stroking his ego? Is it more likely that a jealous god created jealous men, or jealous men created a jealous god? I have to go with the latter. Of all the madness in the Bible, a jealous god has to be the most absurd.

Another sceptic describes the notion of divine jealousy ‘truly pathological’.  Why does the God of the Bible demand exclusive allegiance?  Why is his ego so brittle?  If he dislikes idols so much why doesn’t he just set fire to them?  Why is his nature so unattractively infantile?

Yes, God is ‘jealous’

Let’s be clear that the Bible does describe God as ‘jealous’.  There’s no getting away from it.  James Kirk Wall is quite right to draw attention to the Second Commandment, in which God describes himself as ‘a jealous God’ (Exodus 20:5).  Shortly afterwards, God said to Moses, ‘the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14).  There are further references to God’s jealousy in the Pentateuch There are references to it elsewhere in the Pentateuch (Num 25:11; Deut 4:24; 6:15; 29:20; 32:16, 21), in the historical books (Josh 24:19; 1 Kings 14:22), in the prophets (Ezek 8:3–5; 16:38, 42; 23:25; 36:5–7; 38:19; 39:25; Joel 2:18; Nahum 1:2; Zeph 1:18; 3:8; Zech 1:14; 8:2), and in the Psalms (Psa 78:58; 79:5).  It is repeatedly presented as motive for divine action, whether in wrath or mercy.

The idea of God’s jealousy is also present in the teaching of the New Testament, as in 1 Corinthians 10:22 and James 4:5.

It’s an anthroporphism

Let’s be clear too that to for God to be described as ‘jealous’ is for him to be described anthropomorphically.  It is just the same when references are made to God’s ‘arm’ or ‘hand’, or ‘anger’, or joy’, and so on.  There are descriptions of God drawn from our experience and language as human beings.  This is not to say that we are creating God in our own image, but rather that God is accommodating himself to our limited knowledge and understanding.

Of course, anthropomorphic descriptions have their limitations.  Something will be lost when the infinite is described in terms of the finite; the perfect in terms of the imperfect.  We should not jump to the conclusion that God’s jealousy is like ours in every respect.

Two kinds of jealousy

But even human jealousy is not always wrong.  We can, in fact, readily distinguish between two forms of human jealousy.  There is jealousy ‘of’ and jealous ‘for’: and they are very different.

The first form of jealousy is (as J.I. Packer says) the expression of the attitude: ‘I want what you’ve got, and I hate you because I haven’t got it.”  This attitude is destructively malicious.  Jealousy of another man’s success, or his popularity, or his wife, that’s a bad thing, and can do great harm.

There is a second kind of jealousy.  Take a businesswoman of considerable honesty and integrity.  She has built up a good reputation, and is trusted by her many customers.  Now, suppose malicious rumours begin to spread about her and her business dealings.  And suppose, in response to those rumours, customers begins to desert her, and even friends start to give her the cold shoulder.  Because she is ‘jealous’ of her good name, it would be entirely right and proper for her to act to protect it.

This second kind of jealousy – jealousy ‘for’ – also manifests itself in a strong commitment to others.  Take a man and woman who have promised lifelong faithfulness to one another in marriage.  They would be right to guard that commitment ‘jealously’ (as we sometime say), and to resent all rivals and threats to that commitment.  In fact, it would be wrong of them not to do so.  More positively, they will seek to build and nurture the relationship.  That kind of jealousy is a positive virtue.  When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘I feel a divine jealousy for you’, he meant that he felt strongly protective of them and concerned about their spiritual well-being (2 Cor 11:2).

A jealous God

God’s jealousy is of this second kind.  In fact, how much more is it right for God, in all his divine perfections, to be protective of his name than it is for us, with all our imperfections, to be protective of ours.  He is the one true and living God: he will not share his glory with another.  He vindicates his holy name and nature by judging sin.

Again, there is a positive side to this divine jealousy.  He has committed himself in covenant love to his people.  In Scripture, this commitment is often expressed in terms of his marriage to his people (another anthropomorphism).  Just as a faithful husband will brook no rivals for his wife’s affections, so God will not stand by while his people worship dumb and lifeless idols.  When his people fail on their side of the commitment (as they so often do) God remains faithful, and he provides for their ransom and redemption, calling his people to love, serve and praise.  So, whether in judgment or in mercy, God acts out of jealousy for his holy name (Eze 39:25).  ‘For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another’ (Isa 42:8; 48:11).

John Stott says:-

It is written that Yahweh, ‘whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God’. Now jealousy is the resentment of rivals, and whether it is good or evil depends on whether the rival has any business to be there. To be jealous of someone who threatens to outshine us in beauty, brains or sport is sinful, because we cannot claim a monopoly of talent in those areas. If, on the other hand, a third party enters a marriage, the jealousy of the injured person, who is being displaced, is righteous, because the intruder has no right to be there. It is the same with God, who says, ‘I am the Lord, the is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols’. Our Creator and Redeemer has a right to our exclusive allegiance, and is ‘jealous’ if we transfer it to anyone or anything else.

Our response

If God has, in this sense, jealous regard for his own name (i.e. his reputation and his character), then our proper response is to be zealous for those things too.  In this regard, we follow the supreme example of the Lord Jesus, John 2:17.

Recall that the watchword of the Protestant Reformation was not simply Deo Gloria (to God be glory), but Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be glory).

All this applies to us in a number of vital ways:-

Love: J.C. Ryle has finely written:

If we love a person, we are jealous about his name and honor. We do not like to hear him spoken against, without speaking up for him and defending him. We feel bound to maintain his interests and his reputation. We regard the person who treats him ill with almost as much disfavor as if he had ill–treated us. Well, it is just so between the true Christian and Christ! The true Christian regards with a godly jealousy all efforts to disparage his Master’s word, or name, or church, or day. He will confess Him before princes, if need be, and be sensitive of the least dishonor put upon Him. He will not hold his peace, and suffer his Master’s cause to be put to shame, without testifying against it. And why is all this? Simply because he loves Him.

Worship: is our primary concern to make our worship acceptable to those who come along to our services, or to make it pleasing to God?

Evangelism: what are our motives: obedience to the great commission? Concern for the ultimate destiny of the lost? To what extent are we motivated by a concern that God ‘s name is not being glorified in our homes, in our schools, colleges and universities, in our workplaces, in our neighbourhoods; a concern that men and women ‘have worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator’ (Rom 1:18-32), and we long that his name should be honoured and glorified?

Unity: in Jn 17 Jesus brings together the glory of the Father and the Son with the unity of believers. This is because without a motive derived from the former we shall never achieve the latter. ‘Unless our entire motivation is set on fire by an overwhelming desire for the glory of God—all wills bowing in the same direction, all hearts burning with the same flame, all minds united by the same obedience—we shall never know the unity for which Jesus prays.’ (Eric Alexander)

J.I. Packer, Knowing God
Eric Alexander, ‘The Missing Motive’, TableTalk, Feb 2010
J. C. Ryle, Holiness.
John Stott, The Message of Acts, p278.

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Israel freed, 12-22A major section (chapters 40-48) is drawing to a close.

There are some now-familiar themes in this passage: Israel as God’s chosen people (v12), the Lord as beginning and end (v13) and as Creator (v13).  The Lord’s ability to foretell the future, as over against the impotence of the idols (v14), the calling of Cyrus (v15), the Servant of the Lord (v16), the Lord as Redeemer of his people (v17), a reminder of why his people are in such dire straights (v18f), an announcement of the end of their exile (v20), and a recollection of his earlier deliverance at the time of the exodus (v21).

Isa 48:12 “Listen to me, O Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last.

“Listen to me” – Repeated at v14 and v16, marking the divisions in this section of the poem.  And then, in v18, the Lord says, in effect, ‘If only you had listened…’

“Israel, whom I have called” – God’s people may have been unfaithful to their calling, v1, but the God who has called them is still faithful.

“I am he” – This statement contrasts with the proud boast of Babylon in Isa 47:8,10.

I am the first and I am the last – cf. Isa 41:4; 44:6.  The Lord is sovereign over all of history, from its beginning to its end.

‘As first the Lord was not under any external compulsion to do what he did (either in the creation of the world or in the calling of Israel); as last he stands at the end unchallenged by any force that might have tried to oppose him, bringing to triumphant conclusion (for the world and for Israel) what he started (Phil. 1:6).’ (Motyer)

‘After all his outspokenness he can still affirm both his call (v12) and his love, and give the liberating command, Leave Babylon (v20).’ (NBC)

Isa 48:13 My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together.

From the laying down of the deepest foundations of the earth, to the spreading out of the vast heavens, the Lord is sovereign over all of his creation; and not just in its origin, but in its continuation.

When I summon them – the Lord only has to speak the word, and the earth and heavens must obey.  Such God can summon Cyrus, and he will carry out God’s will.

‘All these factors are intended to exalt God in the eyes of the Israelites. If the words of God’s mouth are this powerful and his hands are this skilled, surely the Hebrew audience can listen to what he has to say.’ (Smith, NAC)

Isa 48:14 “Come together, all of you, and listen: Which of the idols has foretold these things? The Lord’s chosen ally will carry out his purpose against Babylon; his arm will be against the Babylonians.

The Lord of the cosmos, v13, is also Lord of history.

Come together, all of you, and listen – This challenge to the nations and their dumb and lifeless idols echoes that in Isa 41.

Which of the idols has foretold these things – the things that have been foretold concerning Cyrus, Isa 41:2, 25; 44:28–45:5; 45:13; 46:11.

‘This is an appeal similar to that which God has often made, that he alone can predict future events. None of the astrologers, soothsayers, or diviners of Babylon had been able to foretell the expedition and the conquests of Cyrus, and the capture of the city. If they had been able to foresee the danger, they might have guarded against it, and the city might have been saved.’ (Barnes)

The Lord’s chosen ally will carry out his purpose against Babylon – this makes it clear, for the first time, that Cyrus will be God’s agent in bringing down Babylon.

Ally – the underlying word is translated ‘friend’ in Isa 41:8.

Motyer points out an interesting anticipation of a reference to Marduk on the Cyrus Cylinder, where he is described as one who ‘called Cyrus…went at his side like a friend’.  But, remarks Motyer, Marduk was wise only after the event, whereas Isaiah predicted how a greater ‘ally’ would superintend the whole plant.

His arm will be against the Babylonians – ‘This phrase indicates that it is God’s arm that will accomplish his pleasure, even though an earthly ruler will accomplish God’s will on earth.’ (Smith, NAC)

Once again (cf. Isa 41:21-24 etc.) the argument from prediction and fulfilment is prominent.

Isa 48:15 I, even I, have spoken; yes, I have called him. I will bring him, and he will succeed in his mission.

Isa 48:16 “Come near me and listen to this: “From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there.” And now the Sovereign LORD has sent me, with his Spirit.

The Lord himself has been addressing his people; now there is an abrupt change of speaker.  Some commentators think that the prophet is imagining the response by Cyrus.  Others (including Goldingay) think it is the prophet himself, claiming divine inspiration for his message.  But still others think it is the Servant of the Lord (cf. Isa 42:1; 49:1-6; 50:4; 61:1).

The Sovereign Lord has sent me, with his Spirit – Whereas some commentators, including Young and Motyer, identify the ‘me’ as the Servant, others, such as Calvin and Oswalt, think that the prophet is referring to himself.

Since Jesus will see himself as the Servant, we may have here ‘a remarkable glimpse, from afar, of the Trinity’ (NBC).  ‘Perhaps he is introduced here because Cyrus’s work is simply a harbinger of the much greater deliverance he would bring to God’s people.’ (EBC)

Why does the Servant ‘step from the shadows’ (Motyer) at this point?  The Lord is the ruler of creation, v13, and of history (as seen in the rise of Cyrus), v14f; and the coming of the Servant is that to which creation points and in which history reaches its climax.

Does this verse witness to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity?  Charles Simeon introduced his sermon on this verse with the following wise comment: ‘So mysterious and important a doctrine as that of a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead ought not to be founded on any grounds which are not clear, strong, adequate, convincing. But it may be illustrated from passages on which we could not altogether venture to establish it. Such is the passage which I have now brought before you.’ (Horae Homileticae).

Isa 48:17 This is what the LORD says– your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.

Motyer remarks that the thought of peace brackets vv17-22 – the peace that might have been (v18), and the peace that cannot be (v22).

Redeemer – the Lord is so called ten times in chapters 40-55, six of these being linked with his title as ‘the Holy One of Israel’.  Wonder that ‘the Holy One’ should embrace his wayward people as their Next of Kin.

‘Whatever help he brings to his people (Isa 41:8), whatever rescue he effects (Isa 43:14), whatever victory he wins (Isa 47:4)—whatever burden he takes from them and loads on to himself—he remains the Holy One’ (Motyer).  And this disparity between the Lord’s holiness and his people’s disobedience must be taken into account, and will be highlighted in v22.

Isa 48:18 If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.  Isa 48:19 Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be cut off nor destroyed from before me.”

If only… – ‘They are extraordinary words for a God to utter.  The book called Isaiah often portrays Yahweh as a God of huge power.  Indeed, this very section has done so.  when Yahweh speaks, the very heavens stand at attention (v13).  When Yahweh decides to do something, it happens.  Yet Yahweh’s relationship with Jacob-Israel is the exception to this rule.  Other peoples may occasionally resist Yahweh’s purpose, through they then soon pay the penalty (as the previous chapter declared). The people of God (Israel or the church) is able to continue resisting God over the centuries with some degree of impunity.  It does lose in the short term, failing to find the promises to Abraham fulfilled in its life (v19a).  Indeed Yahweh looks over the precipice of its ultimate destruction, and invites Jacob-Israel to do so (v19b).  But we have again and again heard how impossible it would be for Yahweh to go back on the commitment to achieving a purpose in the world through this people.  We heard this most recently in verses 9-11, in all their toughness.  this commitment to Jacob-Israel reduces Yahweh to an “if only” before its recalcitrance, like that of parents angry and grieved at their (adult) children’s waywardness and theit consequent unhappiness, but unable to force them to live the way the parents would wish, and unable to cease being parents.’ (Goldingay)

These verses wistfully ponder what might have been: peace, flowing like a river; righteousness, mighty as the crashing waves; covenant blessings, described in terms of numberless descendants; security in a life lived in God’s favour.  Cf. Psa 81:13-16.

It is late, but, in the faithfulness of God, not too late.

‘Obedience promises, first, peace, all-round well-being—Godward, manward, selfward (Isa 9:6; 26:3, 12; 32:17)—and that peace is as a constant, full reality, a river (Isa 66:12), not a seasonal stream; and, secondly, righteousness, here a life conformed to what is right before God.’ (Motyer)

Your peace would have been… – ‘O what peace we often forfeit!’  In bidding farewell to peace, they were bidding farewell ‘to all health of soul and society’ (NBC).

River – flowing continuously (not fitfully, like a seasonal stream).

Waves – boundless, constantly rolling.

Your descendants would have been like the sand – If only they had listened, the promises made to Abraham (Gen 22:17; 32:13) would already have been realised.

‘Every sensitive teacher knows the pain of heart that comes when one pours oneself out for one’s students who prove to be unteachable. Israel proved to be like that (cf. v.8); and God expresses his deep concern for them, because they are themselves the losers.’ (EBC)

‘This should engage us (I might say, enrage us) against sin, that it has not only deprived us of the good things we have enjoyed, but prevented the good things God had in store for us. It will make the misery of the disobedient the more intolerable to think how happy they might have been.’ (MHC)

Isa 48:20 Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians! Announce this with shouts of joy and proclaim it. Send it out to the ends of the earth; say, “The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob.”

The people have failed their Lord, v18f; but he remains faithful.

Leave…flee! – This involves a turning away from Babylon’s worldview as well as a turning to the redemption that is now offered.  The call to flee implies that the people (many of whom had never seen their homeland) might reckon that their lot was better where they were.

This is the last time that Babylon is mentioned in Isaiah.

Leave (lit. ‘go out’) and flee are, says Motyer, exodus words (cf. Ex 12:41; 13:3; 14:5).

It was not inevitable that the people would relish the prospect of returning home from Babylon.  ‘They had followed the counsel of Jeremiah (Jer 29:4–7) and had houses, gardens, and families; and it would not be easy for them to pack up and go to the holy land. But that was where they belonged and where God had a work for them to do.’ (Wiersbe)

Isa 48:21 They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock; he split the rock and water gushed out.

The One who redeems his people (v20) also sustains them; the One who leads them into the wilderness also sustains them in the wilderness.

This sudden move from the future to the past picks up a familiar Isaiahan theme: what God has promised to do in the future is patterned on and guaranteed by what he has accomplished in the past.  ‘The people’s confidence in God as their Redeemer from Babylonia was to be based on his redeeming love demonstrated at the Exodus and his care of his people during their journey through the desert.’ (EBC)

He made water flow for them from the rock – cf. Ex 17:6; Num 20:11.

Isa 48:22 “There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.”

This verse, although seeming like an abrupt intrusion, is, in fact, the counterpart of v1.  In that verse, God’s people are represented as having all the outward appearances of true religion, but lacking true faith and obedience.  In the present verse, they are looking forward to returning to their God-given homeland, but if their hearts remain wicked they will experience no real and lasting peace.  ‘A change of address,’ says Motyer, ‘is not a change of heart.’

Peace has previously been offered, but spurned, v18; cf. Isa 57:21.  Let not the returned exiles say, ‘We are home; we are now at peace’, if their hearts are still unchanged.

Prior (BST) is convinced that ‘the wicked’ must be the unbelieving exiles themselves.  ‘And because this problem [of failing to listen to the Lord, v17f] is still unresolved, their return to the land will not bring the fullness of blessing they hope for.  They will spoil the next chapter in their history m, just as they have spoilt all the previous ones.’

‘No one among the exiles should think that they will be safe simply because they bear the name ‘Israel’. That does not make them immune from God’s judgment. The promised blessings only apply to those within Israel who seek the LORD in truth and righteousness (cf. Isa 48:1).’ (Harman)

“If a wicked man seems to have peace at death, it is not from the knowledge of his happiness, but from the ignorance of his danger.” (Thomas Watson)

‘The wicked, as a matter of sober truth and verity, have no permanent and substantial peace and joy.  They have none:

1. In the act of wickedness. Sin may be attended with the gratifications of bad passions, but in the act of sinning, as such, there can be no substantial happiness.
2. They have no solid, substantial, elevated peace in the business or the pleasures of life. This world can furnish no such joys as are derived from the hope of a life to come. Pleasures ‘pall upon the sense,’ riches take wings; disappointment comes; and the highest earthly and sensual pleasure leaves a sad sense of want – a feeling that there is something in the capacities and needs of the undying mind which has not been filled.
3. They have no peace of conscience; no deep and abiding conviction that they are right. They are often troubled; and there is nothing which this world can furnish which will give peace to a bosom that is agitated with a sense of the guilt of sin.
4. They have no peace on a deathbed. There may be stupidity, callousness, insensibility, freedom from much pain or alarm. But that is not peace, anymore than sterility is fruitfulness; or than death is life; or than the frost of winter is the verdure of spring; or than a desert is a fruitful field.
5. There is often in these circumstances the reverse of peace. There is not only no positive peace, but there is the opposite. There is often disappointment, care, anxiety, distress, deep alarm, and the awful apprehension of eternal wrath. There is no situation in life or death, where the sinner can certainly calculate on peace, or where he will be sure to find it. There is every probability that his mind will be often filled with alarm, and that his deathbed will be one of despair.
6. There is no peace to the wicked beyond the grave. “A sinner can have no peace at the judgment bar of God; he can have no peace in hell.” In all the future world there is no place where he can find repose; and whatever this life may be, even if it be a life of prosperity and external comfort, yet to him there will be no prosperity in the future world, and no external or internal peace there.’ (Barnes, emphasis added)

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