The mighty salvation of God. 43:14-28
In his prophecy, Isaiah reveals the coming redemption of Israel in the midst of their Babylonian bondage. The people may be in exile, yet God keeps his promises. In fact, God's character demands that he keep his promises. So, there will be forgiveness of sins, there will be mercy, a new redemption and wilderness escape, 42:18-44:23. In our passage for study, Isaiah speaks of both redemption from Babylon via a new exodus, 43:14-21, and of the forgiveness of sins, 43:22-28 (44:23).
v14-15. The prophecy (a word from the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel) speaks of Israel's enemy Babylon. The Babylonians may well have served as God's hand of chastisement upon Israel, yet their own destruction is assured. They may pride themselves in the river Euphrates and their mighty ships, yet the day will come when all this will serve as but a way of escape in the face of invasion.
v16-17. Referring to the events of the Exodus, and in particular, the crossing of the Red sea, Israel is reminded that God's sovereign care for his people will serve to carry them through the surging troubles of life. As for Israel's enemies, they will face destruction - be "snuffed out".
v18-20b. Yet, Israel must not be locked into the events of the Egyptian Exodus. Israel's view must not be of the past, but rather of her coming escape from the bondage of the Babylonians. God's people must look to the future. The Lord is setting a "way", a pathway for redemption from bondage to springs of life-giving water. This redemption for Israel will inevitably lead to harmony in the world; the creation will no longer "groan".
v20c-21. The sovereign intention of the Lord to gather a people to himself (his "chosen" to "proclaim my praise") is the reason behind the sweep of international world events which presently engulf Israel. Thus, Israel can look with confidence beyond the present.
v22-24. Although, at first glance, it seems Israel is condemned for failing to fulfill her cultic obligations, Israel's real sin is far more serious. In their cultic rituals God's people have failed to "call upon" the Lord. Their worship is outward show without inward substance and therefore, it has failed to get through to God. Their rituals have "burdened" the Lord. Divorced from spiritual substance they have used the cult to manipulate (enslave) the Lord for blessing. Their constant zeal for their religious system is a weariness to the Lord. The sacrificial system only worked for those who, having faced defeat in their struggle to live a life worthy of the Lord, now seek mercy and forgiveness. In itself, sacrifice is nothing more than a symbol of repentance.
v25-28. Although the Lord is "burdened", yet will he forgive the people's sins. God's nature is to not even remember the sins of his people. Why God is merciful is not explained, nor are we told how mercy can function beside holiness. Nor is there any mention of a basis for God's mercy, particularly as Israel is anything but innocent. When it comes to the people of Israel, the sins of the fathers are easy to see.
Worship in spirit and truth|
The woman of Samaria thought she could engage Jesus in an argument on the right place to worship God - is it the temple at Jerusalem, or Mount Gerizim? Jesus' concern was for the coming day when "the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth."
Isaiah makes the point that Israel's zealous religiosity is a worship that fails to "call upon" the Lord, a worship that burdens him, and wearies him. Today we are faced with the temptation of addressing declining church attendance by means of a marketed-entertainment-outreach-service-model. We are tempted to make our preaching issue-centred, interest-centred. We ask, is it relevant, rather than is it what God wants said? We are tempted to move from substance toward relaxed informality. We ask, is it relevant, rather than does it access the "still small voice of God"? We are tempted to sing popular choruses rather than hymns of praise - love songs rather than theology. We ask, does it touch our emotions rather than does it touch God?
In response the Lord says:
i] "You have not called upon me." As the cultic frenzy of Israel failed to reach God, so too does much of our "pop" worship. The emotions are stirred, even satisfied, yet the divine is often not accessed. When believers adjust to a post modernist society, stressing subjective experience over objective reality, we may be satisfied, but is God satisfied?
ii] "You have burdened me with your sins." Israel's stress on cultic ritual, rather than spiritual and moral commitment, sought to manipulate God's blessings. Today, we face a similar danger. We are tempted to believe that our church-meeting technology (the way we do church) has the power to access God's blessings, both for the salvation of the lost and the nurture of believers.
iii] "You wearied me with your offenses." As Israel chose the soft path of religious fervor, rather than a "broken and contrite heart", so too does Western Christianity face the loss of a justification theology in worship. It is easier to market celebration than confession.
The Lord says "listen to what I say."
Consider the above three points in a church-life situation.
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