I mentioned a few days ago that many consider the second half of this book a collection of visions from Isaiah’s prophetic successors. One reason for this is that the past five chapters have served as a 150-year bridge between the stories of Hezekiah and Judah and those of Cyrus and Persia… Just six decades after Hezekiah, Babylon earned its first defeat of Assyria’s army. In 612 B.C., Nineveh fell, and three years later, the Assyrian empire was no more.
From reading 2 Kings you know that Judah had chafed under Babylon’s dominance, even allying, again, with Egypt, in an attempt to withstand them. In 2 Kings 25 we read that Jerusalem, under Zedekiah, withheld tribute, was besieged, and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. But less than fifty years later, Isaiah’s promises about Babylon’s demise would be fulfilled. Cyrus, commander of the Medes and the Persians, would make Babylon’s expansive rule a brief one.
Today’s oracles are addressed to Cyrus himself, to Babylon, and to Israel, the house of Jacob. The LORD calls Cyrus “His anointed, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him, and to loose the belt of king… I will go before you,” the LORD promises, “and level the exalted places… I will give you treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places…” This seems an odd promise – though not an unprecedented one – for the LORD to make to the ruler of Persia.
The LORD’s twofold purpose is soon made clear, however. This gift to Cyrus is given first “that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” Second, Cyrus is lifted up “For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen…” The LORD asserts both that the Israel story is not over, and Cyrus did not accomplish this either by his own hand or with the help of other gods.
To Babylon, the LORD is equally clear about both their successes and their eventual demise: “I was angry with my people; I profaned my heritage; I gave them into your hand; you showed them no mercy.” He first reminds Babylon, and Israel, that Babylon’s gods “stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity.” He then tells Babylon that its security is fleeting, ill-placed: “But evil shall come upon you, which you will not know how to charm away; disaster shall fall upon you, for which you will not be able to atone; and ruin shall come upon you suddenly, of which you know nothing.”
This is important: Babylon was simply the tool with which the LORD punished Israel. They say in their heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me” (which is exactly how the LORD had described Himself), and, however useful at one time, they will be delivered up for their sins. They hold no special place in the LORD’s heart; that is reserved specially for Israel.
Our verse for this week is 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Isaiah 45 through 48. Now let’s read it!
Isaiah 45 - 48
45:1 Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
that gates may not be closed:
“I will go before you
and level the exalted places,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
I will give you the treasures of darkness
and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the LORD,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the LORD, who does all these things.
“Shower, O heavens, from above,
and let the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;
let the earth cause them both to sprout;
I the LORD have created it.
“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”
Thus says the LORD,
the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:
“Ask me of things to come;
will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?
I made the earth
and created man on it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host.
I have stirred him up in righteousness,
and I will make all his ways level;
he shall build my city
and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,”
says the LORD of hosts.
Thus says the LORD:
“The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush,
and the Sabeans, men of stature,
shall come over to you and be yours;
they shall follow you;
they shall come over in chains and bow down to you.
They will plead with you, saying:
‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other,
no god besides him.’”
Truly, you are a God who hides himself,
O God of Israel, the Savior.
All of them are put to shame and confounded;
the makers of idols go in confusion together.
But Israel is saved by the LORD
with everlasting salvation;
you shall not be put to shame or confounded
to all eternity.
For thus says the LORD,
who created the heavens
(he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it;
he did not create it empty,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the LORD, and there is no other.
I did not speak in secret,
in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
‘Seek me in vain.’
I the LORD speak the truth;
I declare what is right.
“Assemble yourselves and come;
draw near together,
you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge
who carry about their wooden idols,
and keep on praying to a god
that cannot save.
Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the LORD?
And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
“Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;
to him shall come and be ashamed
all who were incensed against him.
In the LORD all the offspring of Israel
shall be justified and shall glory.”
46:1 Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;
their idols are on beasts and livestock;
these things you carry are borne
as burdens on weary beasts.
They stoop; they bow down together;
they cannot save the burden,
but themselves go into captivity.
“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.
“To whom will you liken me and make me equal,
and compare me, that we may be alike?
Those who lavish gold from the purse,
and weigh out silver in the scales,
hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;
then they fall down and worship!
They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it,
they set it in its place, and it stands there;
it cannot move from its place.
If one cries to it, it does not answer
or save him from his trouble.
“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.
“Listen to me, you stubborn of heart,
you who are far from righteousness:
I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
for Israel my glory.”
47:1 Come down and sit in the dust,
O virgin daughter of Babylon;
sit on the ground without a throne,
O daughter of the Chaldeans!
For you shall no more be called
tender and delicate.
Take the millstones and grind flour,
put off your veil,
strip off your robe, uncover your legs,
pass through the rivers.
Your nakedness shall be uncovered,
and your disgrace shall be seen.
I will take vengeance,
and I will spare no one.
Our Redeemer—the LORD of hosts is his name—
is the Holy One of Israel.
Sit in silence, and go into darkness,
O daughter of the Chaldeans;
for you shall no more be called
the mistress of kingdoms.
I was angry with my people;
I profaned my heritage;
I gave them into your hand;
you showed them no mercy;
on the aged you made your yoke exceedingly heavy.
You said, “I shall be mistress forever,”
so that you did not lay these things to heart
or remember their end.
Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures,
who sit securely,
who say in your heart,
“I am, and there is no one besides me;
I shall not sit as a widow
or know the loss of children”:
These two things shall come to you
in a moment, in one day;
the loss of children and widowhood
shall come upon you in full measure,
in spite of your many sorceries
and the great power of your enchantments.
You felt secure in your wickedness;
you said, “No one sees me”;
your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray,
and you said in your heart,
“I am, and there is no one besides me.”
But evil shall come upon you,
which you will not know how to charm away;
disaster shall fall upon you,
for which you will not be able to atone;
and ruin shall come upon you suddenly,
of which you know nothing.
Stand fast in your enchantments
and your many sorceries,
with which you have labored from your youth;
perhaps you may be able to succeed;
perhaps you may inspire terror.
You are wearied with your many counsels;
let them stand forth and save you,
those who divide the heavens,
who gaze at the stars,
who at the new moons make known
what shall come upon you.
Behold, they are like stubble;
the fire consumes them;
they cannot deliver themselves
from the power of the flame.
No coal for warming oneself is this,
no fire to sit before!
Such to you are those with whom you have labored,
who have done business with you from your youth;
they wander about, each in his own direction;
there is no one to save you.
48:1 Hear this, O house of Jacob,
who are called by the name of Israel,
and who came from the waters of Judah,
who swear by the name of the LORD
and confess the God of Israel,
but not in truth or right.
For they call themselves after the holy city,
and stay themselves on the God of Israel;
the LORD of hosts is his name.
“The former things I declared of old;
they went out from my mouth, and I announced them;
then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.
Because I know that you are obstinate,
and your neck is an iron sinew
and your forehead brass,
I declared them to you from of old,
before they came to pass I announced them to you,
lest you should say, ‘My idol did them,
my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’
“You have heard; now see all this;
and will you not declare it?
From this time forth I announce to you new things,
hidden things that you have not known.
They are created now, not long ago;
before today you have never heard of them,
lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’
You have never heard, you have never known,
from of old your ear has not been opened.
For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously,
and that from before birth you were called a rebel.
“For my name's sake I defer my anger;
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
“Listen to me, O Jacob,
and Israel, whom I called!
I am he; I am the first,
and I am the last.
My hand laid the foundation of the earth,
and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I call to them,
they stand forth together.
“Assemble, all of you, and listen!
Who among them has declared these things?
The LORD loves him;
he shall perform his purpose on Babylon,
and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans.
I, even I, have spoken and called him;
I have brought him, and he will prosper in his way.
Draw near to me, hear this:
from the beginning I have not spoken in secret,
from the time it came to be I have been there.”
And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and his Spirit.
Thus says the LORD,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the LORD your God,
who teaches you to profit,
who leads you in the way you should go.
Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!
Then your peace would have been like a river,
and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;
your offspring would have been like the sand,
and your descendants like its grains;
their name would never be cut off
or destroyed from before me.”
Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea,
declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it,
send it out to the end of the earth;
say, “The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob!”
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 the water gushed out.
“There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.”