Good morning! Today’s passage from Isaiah 43-46 brings us the promise once again of God’s salvation despite major hardships. This classic text captures well the hopeful spirit of Second Isaiah, and connects it to that other major theme of this book, idolatry.
I feel like I could read Isaiah 43:1-2 every day for the rest of the year, and that would capture the promise of faith for all time. “Do not fear”, Isaiah writes in this arresting command, all the more powerful because fear has such a hold on human beings from ancient Israel to the present. Fear is essentially an idol, which commands and controls behavior far more than it should. But God’s presence, Isaiah says, effectively displaces fear with the promise: “I will be with you”. Where Israel stands rebuked is its failure to call on God for help, or to be faithful in sacrifices (a symbol of relationship and dedication).
Chapter 44 contrasts the blessings that God provides to the blind stupor that is all idols can muster. Divine blessings look as tangible as water for the thirsty, and as ineffable as the divine presence among both longtime Hebrew descendants and those newer to the faith. So in the face of all these good things, Isaiah asks, why worship idols?? The writer enjoys the incomprehensible mental gymnastics required when part of the wood for these idols is carved and divinized, while the other part is used for everyday firewood. This is where the Israelite custom of having “no graven images” of God really sets the Hebrews apart from their contemporaries.
Exhibit A for the influence of this divine power is Cyrus, the Persian king who defeats Babylon and is described here as God’s instrument. Our jaws should drop when chapter 45 opens up with “thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus”! This is the first time in the Bible (at least that I can recall) where the term for a holy king, “anointed”, is applied to a foreign ruler. It must have sounded treasonous to at least some in Isaiah’s audience. This is the same word that means “messiah” and that will be extended to Jesus. Nevertheless, despite the scandal of the idea, Isaiah writes that God adopts Cyrus (“I surname you”) as a tool of God’s purpose with Israel. By contrast, Babylon is captive to idols, and reliance on them will be Babylon’s downfall eventually. Chapter 46 exhorts Israel to remain loyal to the God of heaven and earth, because the act of creating an idol with human hands and then worshipping that creation is preposterous. Only God can—and will—save the people. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Isaiah 47-50. Thanks for reading!