Isaiah Chapter 48: Israel Gets a Tongue-lashing

Mar 2nd, 2010 | By | Category: Isaiah, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Isaiah Chapter 48: Israel Gets a Tongue-lashing

Isa. 48:1 Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.

Chapter 48 was addressed to the nation of Israel, the progeny of Jacob. God was giving them a tongue-lashing. He was finding fault because the great majority were the nominal mass and thus were not really His people in the sense of loving Him with all their hearts.

Israel came forth “out of the waters [loins—RSV] of Judah.” While the word is literally “waters” in the Hebrew, the Revised Standard translators felt that God was speaking of the development from the male (rather than from the womb of the female) and thus properly used the word “loins.” Four women were identified with Jacob: Rachel and Leah (the two wives) and Bilhah and Zilpah (the two handmaids). However, the 12 children who were born of these women are called the sons of Jacob, the father, the one whom God dealt with.

Isa. 48:2 For they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel; The LORD of hosts is his name.

The people of Israel called themselves “the holy city,” that is, “Jerusalem.” The Temple there was the house of prayer—and it will ultimately be the house of prayer for all nations. They had so many blessings, but they did not worship God in truth or in righteousness. In other words, they were not the people of God that they professed to be.

Isa. 48:3 I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass.

God “declared [prophesied] the former things [in Leviticus 26] from the beginning [of Israel’s being a nation].” Jacob was the father of Israel (his name was changed to “Israel”). His children were called the children of Israel, and God began to deal with them when Jacob died. God miraculously called the Israelites out of Egypt at the time of the Exodus. Through Moses, He gave them a Law, which they promised to obey. God said He would bless them if they obeyed and punish them if they disobeyed. In Leviticus 26, Moses prophesied that the Israelites would go astray and receive punishments. Then God said, “If after all of these punishments, you continue to disobey, I will give you a strong lesson: ‘seven times’ of punishment [7 x 360 = 2,520 years, the Times of the Gentiles].” In other words, God prophesied these things long in advance—and even details such as Israel’s wanting a king like other nations. Therefore, using Moses, God predicted long in advance, “from the beginning,” what would happen, and it came to pass “suddenly” in 606 BC after a short siege. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed.

Incidentally, the children of Israel sojourned a total of 430 years. The time period breaks down as follows: 215 years in the land of Canaan and 215 years in Egypt.

When Jacob was about to die, he called his sons together and blessed them (Gen. 49:1). In doing so, he prophetically told of their characteristics, both good and bad. Later Moses gave a prediction about the characteristics of the progeny, both favorable and unfavorable. Piecing together the two prophecies yields much information about the history of the Israelites centuries before the actual events took place. When they occurred, however, they seemed sudden to the contemporary Israelites who were not studying the prophecies. God patiently dealt with them for many years but finally gave the lesson prophesied “from the beginning.”

Isa. 48:4 Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;

Because God knows about our genetic background, our problems, our family history, the traits we must fight against when we become a Christian, and our environment, He knows what experiences and lessons we need in order to develop and grow (and He even knows, in advance, whether or not we will be successful in overcoming). Even though Jesus was holy, harmless, undefiled, and without sin, he needed to be perfected through sufferings in order to become a sympathetic High Priest. His being born on earth helped him to have sympathy for the human race. Thus there are different types of perfection: moral, physical, and qualification for office. Jesus’ experience fitted him for the office of High Priest over the world.

Similarly, God knew the weaknesses of the Israelites (they were obstinate, stiff-necked, and stubborn), and He knew what experiences would humble them. “Thy neck is an iron sinew” was a way of saying they were stiff-necked. Being stiff-necked—that is, having “iron sinew,” or iron ligaments, in their necks—meant their necks would not bend to the yoke of servitude. The brittleness of iron makes it inflexible and unyielding. And what experience did God give the Israelites to try to humble them? They were slaves in Egypt for a long time and even performed the menial task of making bricks out of mud, among other things. But were they humbled by that experience alone? No.

The same is true with us. God instructs us through providences and gives us experiences, but we do not always get the point, the lesson. We may misinterpret providences and give them a slant and meaning that God never intended. Sometimes our lessons are not understood until later. We grasp them in retrospect and then become repentant and desire to change—but not until after many hard knocks. God judges us by the sincere desire of our hearts, not by perfect performance.

The great Roman Empire was infuriated by the obstinacy of tiny Israel; the leaders regarded the nation as a thorn. The most qualified Roman general was sent down to Israel to teach the people a lesson. As prophesied, Israel received a threshing. The point is that Israel’s history has shown this quality of obstinacy. However, if a combative nature is converted to Christ and schooled, the result is firmness and strength in serving God. Thus obstinacy can be turned into a good trait. (Conversely, there is little to train or channel in a wishy-washy person.) The Christian is like a diamond; there is a firmness of character, but it requires direction, polishing, and re-forming. And so Israel needed instruction just as we do. A proper response to that instruction results in a better person. The same principle is true with a horse. The wilder and more spirited the horse is originally, the better the animal is when broken and trained for war or racing. When a horse’s spirited resistance is broken to the master’s will, the animal becomes invaluable; it develops a bond of obedience, friendship, and loyalty toward its master.

“I knew … thy brow [is] brass.” A “brass brow” indicates a bold, brazen attitude, one that will not hearken when wrong is pointed out. Here, of course, the connotation was negative, but this quality can be good when it is set for doing God’s will. In fact, an ordinary person does not have the guts to obey in the face of adversity. An example of this quality being used for good is what God said to Jeremiah: “Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak … all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them. For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land” (Jer. 1:17,18).

A great shock still in store for Israel—God’s deliverance of the Holy Remnant in Jacob’s Trouble—will produce the full conversion that has not occurred in the past. And “iron” is used in a good sense to describe the rule in the Kingdom, for to say Jesus will rule with a “rod of iron” means that he will not tolerate any back talk.

Isa. 48:5 I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I showed it thee: lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them.

Isa. 48:6 Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shown thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them.

Isa. 48:7 They are created now, and not from the beginning; even before the day when thou heardest them not; lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them.

Isa. 48:8 Yea, thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not; yea, from that time that thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb.

Verses 1-4 emphasize one slant of God’s predicting things in the past. Verse 5 continues in the same vein to a certain extent, but it is preparing for another slant that becomes apparent by the end of verse 8. Way back in Israel’s beginning as a nation, God predicted certain things that would come to pass many centuries later, and they did occur as predicted. In verses 1-4, God was reminding the people of these fulfillments of prophecy so that they would see His divine foresight and sagacity. Now, in verse 6, God said He would tell “new things” they had not heard before, so that when those things came to pass, the Israelites would be aware of God’s foreknowledge. Jesus illustrated this principle in Gethsemane when he said to his apostles, “These things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them” (John 16:4). In other words, “I am telling you these things now so that when they happen, you will know I was not taken by surprise but went voluntarily. You will not comprehend my words at this time, but after I am raised from death and the Holy Spirit comes, you will understand.”

One of these “new things” was the startling prophecy about Cyrus 150 years before he was born. God told Israel He was raising up a servant, Cyrus by name, who would be a king and defeat enemy after enemy. Cyrus would also liberate the Jews from Babylon and allow them to return to Israel to build a Temple. Now Isaiah was beginning to hint about something else that would happen; namely God would defer His anger (verse 9).

Comment: In verse 5, God said He had told the Israelites all of these things in advance so that they could not get away with the excuse “My idol, my graven image, has done it.”

Reply: Yes, God had informed them in advance so that they could not blame their graven images and thus shirk their own responsibility. Just as Adam tried to justify his sin by blaming the woman, so there is a tendency in fallen man to blame others. All of us must struggle against this weakness.

“Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them.” To a large extent, the people of Israel, like the Greeks, went to famous oracles such as the Oracle of Delphi. For instance, a king with a problem either went in person or sent a trusted individual to consult with a temple oracle about the future. The fallen angels used these situations to give advice (often in the form of a lyric poem) that the king would act upon.

Instead Israel should have consulted God and His prophet (Isaiah in this case). Then Israel put the blame on the misinformation received from the oracle, or “idol,” whereas they should have blamed themselves. God knew in advance that Israel as a nation would have this weakness, that they would “deal very treacherously”; hence He called them “a transgressor from the womb” (verse 8). In other words, God knows the weaknesses of a people (their national traits).

The remarks in this study are not anti-Semitic, for God speaks strongly in Scripture. Many Jews find fault with the Gospel of John, claiming that it promotes anti-Semitism, but the Old Testament speaks just as strongly. All of Scripture must be read and considered, not just part, and the truth is the truth. For proper instruction, both the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, must be revealed. Israel is the “apple” of God’s eye, but the Bible is honest and true (Deut. 32:10).

Isa. 48:9 For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off.

“For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger.” Although Israel deserved instant punishment, God delayed His anger because He has His own times and purposes when His name will be vindicated and glorified through them. This prophecy was uttered prior to 606 BC, which was one time God did not defer His anger. In 606 BC, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. Another time God did not defer His anger was AD 70.

Comment: God’s anger was also deferred when Moses pleaded the cause of the Israelites.

Reply: Yes, and even under the judges. When the nation prayed for God to be merciful, He raised up a judge to deliver them. After the judge’s death, the nation lapsed back into disobedience. When problems again occurred, the nation prayed and God gave them another judge, etc. Thus the judges were really deliverers. They may have spoken hard things, but they actually helped the nation.

Under the judges—and under the kings too—Israel was spanked. When Gentile Times began in 606 BC, God turned His back on Israel, and their long 2,520-year period of punishment started to count. But even under this period of Gentile supremacy, God showed the Israelites some favor. For example, they were allowed to return to Israel at the end of the 70 years, God gave them prophets both during and after the 70 years, and Messiah came at the First Advent. However, when Israel rejected Messiah, their house was left desolate, and their punishment (of a different kind) lasted until 1914.

Israel’s period of favor was followed by an equal period of disfavor, as follows: The 1,845-year period of favor extended from Jacob’s death in 1812/1813 BC to Jesus’ crucifixion in AD 33.

The 1,845-year period of disfavor extended from the Crucifixion in AD 33 to 1878.

The Times of the Gentiles lasted 2,520 years from 606 BC until 1914. When Messiah came at the First Advent, Israel was a captive people under the Roman yoke. After his rejection, they went into Diaspora until 1878.

Thus there are different time cycles in the Bible. The point is that when God spoke harshly and angrily to His people, the words were meant to be constructive, edifying, and instructive. Those of fleshly Israel who responded properly were blessed.

Isa. 48:10 Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.

Isa. 48:11 For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.

“For my name’s sake … will I refrain” (verse 9). “For mine own sake … will I do it” (verse 11).

Moses pleaded with God not to kill the Israelites for the sake of His own name. Moses reasoned, “What will the Gentiles think if, after you brought the nation of Israel miraculously through the Red Sea to the desert, you kill them there? They will say you were able to bring them out with a high and mighty hand, but now you cannot take them any farther.” God reasoned this way too, but the incident shows how wonderful Moses’ character was.

Comment: Many prophecies elsewhere in Isaiah show that God will destroy Israel’s enemies at the end of the age to vindicate His name.

Reply: Yes, the Holy Remnant will be greatly changed when they are converted. It will be somewhat comparable to a lifetime reprobate suddenly realizing Jesus is his Savior and giving his heart and soul to the Master. Other Christians beholding the conversion know that it is genuine because of the great change in the individual; they know that divine power effected it. And so, when Israel is converted as a nation to realize that Jesus truly is their Messiah, their anguish over their former attitude will be so deep and heartfelt that the world will know their conversion is genuine.

In the Apostle Peter’s case, after he had followed Jesus for 3 1/2 years, the Master said to him, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). Peter was already converted, so this statement indicates that there are two types of “conversion.” (1) The individual gives his heart to the Lord. (2) The individual has a certain weakness or causes a certain harm, so the Lord gives him an experience that brings a thorough conversion. Similarly, all of the Lord’s people need lessons after consecration. Hopefully, all will be thoroughly converted.

Verse 10 reads as follows in the RSV: “Behold, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.” Ezekiel 22:17-22 helps to clarify the meaning of this verse: “And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

“Son of man, the house of Israel is to me become dross: all they are brass, and tin, and iron, and lead, in the midst of the furnace; they are even the dross of silver.

“Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye are all become dross, behold, therefore I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem.

“As they gather silver, and brass, and iron, and lead, and tin, into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire upon it, to melt it; so will I gather you in mine anger and in my fury, and I will leave you there, and melt you.

“Yea, I will gather you, and blow upon you in the fire of my wrath, and ye shall be melted in the midst thereof.

“As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall ye be melted in the midst thereof; and ye shall know that I the LORD have poured out my fury upon you.”

First, God said Israel was like dross, the trace of foreign particles, and not like silver. Then He said He would refine them as silver by gathering them together, blowing on them, and burning them with His anger. The dross would be consumed, and Israel would be purified.

In summary, whereas Ezekiel 22:17-22 is discussing the outcome of Israel’s experience, Isaiah 48:10 is talking about God’s dealings with Israel prior to 606 BC. Isaiah was preparing a people to receive Jesus. While the nation was not converted at the First Advent, God’s plan prospered through the little element who did accept Jesus as their Messiah. The same is true in the literal refining process, for the objective is to end up with a small pure amount out of a large quantity of ore. The process is considered successful when a tiny pure ingot is obtained.

In verse 10, the Lord was telling Israel (through Isaiah), “I have refined you [in previous experiences], but you are still dross.”

Leviticus 26:3-18 tells of the seven times of punishment that would come on Israel if they disobeyed:

If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them;

“Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.

“And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.

“And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land.

“And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.

“And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.

“For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you.

“And ye shall eat old store, and bring forth the old because of the new.

“And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you.

“And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.

“I am the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright.

But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments;

“And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant:

“I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.

“And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.

And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.”

If Israel obeyed, they would get blessings. If they disobeyed, they would receive punishments. And that is what happened: Israel did disobey and they did receive punishments—but these  punishments were not yet the refining of silver. If, after receiving punishments, Israel still didnot hearken unto God, they would be punished yet seven times more (that is, for an additional period of 2,520 years). In other words, God did refine Israel (in the “furnace of affliction” in Egypt and later, prior to 606 BC), but He had not yet refined them as silver. They remained stiff-necked and unconverted after their trials in Egypt.

In 1878, the fig tree put forth blossoms, and 1914 marked the end of Gentile Times. Israel has had some favorable experiences since 1878 but is not yet converted as a nation. During Gentile Times down through the Gospel Age, the Jews suffered much like true Christians, the difference being that Christians suffered for right-doing, whereas Jews suffered because God had turned His face from them. The Jews’ past severe experiences have prepared a remnant for conversion in the near future. The “silver” is potentially in Israel and will be revealed when the eyes of the Holy Remnant are opened. Their conversion will be thorough, real, remarkable, and dramatic.

All Jews know their past history—that Jesus was a Jew and that he was crucified—but they disclaim any responsibility. Yet in the meantime, they have experienced much suffering. Of Jesus’ crucifixion the contemporary generation said, “His blood be on us, and on our children”—and that has been the case (Matt. 27:25). They lost Jerusalem, they were pushed out of Israel, they were the victims of pogroms, etc. Although the Jews did not get the lesson, they did get the experience. They know about the circumstances and events that led up to their having a homeland again, but they attribute the success to their own efforts. Today they still do not see their punishment or their reestablishment as a nation as being ordered of God. When in trouble, Israel turns to the United States and the UN for help instead of having a national repentance in sackcloth and ashes and calling upon God as in olden times. But the Jews will be enlightened in Jacob’s Trouble as to their responsibility in crucifying Jesus—and then they will be converted. Their long history of suffering in Diaspora has been necessary, and it has been deeply impressed in their national mind.

Comment: The account of Jesus’ crucifixion is repeated year after year by Christians right in Jerusalem.

Reply: Yes, the drama of Jesus carrying the Cross along the Via Dolorosa is reenacted every year.

There is much needful repetitious instruction in these chapters of Isaiah, but the people of Israel still do not get the point.

Q: After the purification takes place in Jacob’s Trouble, will the nation be likened to silver?

A: Of the time when Gog and Magog come down, the Scriptures say, “And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire [of Jacob’s Trouble], and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God” (Zech. 13:8,9). Jacob’s Trouble will be a short, sharp “birth pang” experience that produces a Holy Remnant to be the nucleus of the Kingdom under the Ancient Worthies; it is not the long Diaspora, the long seven times of punishment.

Isa. 48:12 Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.

Jehovah is “the first” and “the last” in this verse. If the supplied words are deleted, the last portion would read: “I he; I the first, I the last.” Jehovah is the first and the last in that He will always be the Emperor of the universe. Throughout eternity, His glory will never be given to another. Deuteronomy 32:39 brings out another perspective: “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.” In other words, whatever God decides, there is no being to say Him nay. He has sole supremacy, and He will do what He will. If He desires peace, it is peace. If He desires war, it is war. He holds those prerogatives in relationship to His authority as Emperor of the universe.

Jesus is also called “the first and the last” but from different standpoints (Rev. 1:11,17; 2:8). (1) He is the only directly begotten or created Son of God; that is, he was created out of nothing, as  it were, with no intermediary power being involved. His primacy underneath Jehovah, his being the Prime Minister of God’s universe, will exist throughout eternity; he will always be the head under God. “The head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). (2) Jesus will always be the head of the Church, the head of the body.

But why did God address Israel in this manner in verse 12, which is in the context of the creation and/or foundation of the earth, the heavens, Babylon, and the Chaldeans (verses 13 and 14)? One reason was to give the Israelites hope when they were captured by the Babylonians. Verse 12 is a break in thought, a new paragraph. “Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called.” God is “the first” and “the last” in the sense that He begat Israel; He formed them from the womb. God created other beings with free moral agency. Based on their own decision to obey or not to obey Him, some will get life and some will not, but He will not interfere with their free moral agency. The decision is the responsibility of each individual. But here in Isaiah 48, God was assuming a responsibility for Israel, and He will not shirk it. What is that responsibility? As a national entity, they will be preserved. God has determined that Israel will be His representative nation on earth, that Jerusalem will be the capital of the world, and that Israel will be honored above all other nations. That promise started with Abraham and it continues. God will remain constant regarding His purpose to preserve the nation of Israel; that future is assured. As for individuals, that is another matter.

Now the title “I he; I the first, I the last” brings out a different significance. God was the first and the last in that He began Israel’s calling and He will finish it. Just as Jesus is the Beginner and Finisher of our salvation, so God is, as it were, the Starter and the Finisher of natural Israel’s preservation. He formed or created Israel, and He will bring His purpose through them to fruition. God was saying, “Pay attention, Jacob and Israel. I, the great Creator, am He who called you and gave you this assurance in the beginning. Call to mind my purpose with regard to you as a people. I am the first and the last, I am the supreme Emperor of the universe, and nothing will thwart my purpose.”

Verse 13 is related to verse 12. In verse 13, God called attention to His authority and power in connection with the creation of the earth and the spanning of the heavens.

Isa. 48:13 Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.

God said, “When I call unto them [the heavenly bodies], they stand up together.” In other words, when God calls, the constellations, stars, etc., obey Him. He is like a drill sergeant.

When He calls “Attention!” these inanimate heavenly bodies “stand up together” like an army of animate, intelligent beings and obey Him. This principle is the basis of His title “Lord of hosts” (plural). In their pageantry or progression through the heavens, the heavenly bodies are obeying the divine law. At all times, they are underneath His control. Israel would have implicit faith if they would consider this GREAT POWER of God, who talks to His little pygmies down here—the tiny nation is nothing compared with the expanse of the universe! It should not be necessary for the GREAT GOD to condescend and come down to reason with puny, mortal man, but fallen humanity—we and they—needs to be reminded of God’s power. How can man question the outcome?

“Mine hand also hath laid the foundation [singular] of the earth.” Compare “foundations”(plural) in the following two texts: “Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof” (Job 38:6). “Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever” (Psa. 104:5). The “foundations of the earth” are portrayed by the four socket stones of the Great Pyramid, which is a mathematical symbol of the earth. Isaiah 48:13 uses the term in the singular. The KJV marginal reading for Psalm 104:5 is, “He hath founded the earth upon her bases.”

Isa. 48:14 All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them hath declared these things? The LORD hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans.

Isa. 48:15 I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous.

The Almighty God, who controls all inanimate heavenly bodies, now condescended to say to Israel, “All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear.” He humiliated Himself, as it were, to come down to the level of fallen human beings on earth and say, “I, the One with these prerogatives, will talk to you. Pay strict attention and listen to what I am going to say!” And how many assembled themselves? Very few.

“Which among them hath declared these things?” Here God picked up the thread of previous remarks and continued to tell what He purposed to do. Earlier He had prophesied about Cyrus, a future great deliverer who would free Israel from the yoke of bondage in Babylon, and about the rebuilding of the city and the Temple. At the time of this prophecy, the city and Temple were still intact. Isaiah assured the Israelites that when the city and Temple would be destroyed, they should not be utterly dejected because God’s ultimate purpose is to restore Israel.

“The LORD hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans.” At the time Isaiah wrote this prophecy, the ten tribes were about to go into captivity, and the defeat of the two tribes was still 150 years in the future. Nevertheless, God told about Israel’s deliverance from Babylon and the Chaldeans. Therefore, some very important thinking was presented here.

Notice verse 15: “I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him [Cyrus].” The end of verse 14 and all of verse 15 refer back to the prophecies about Cyrus that were given in Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1. Isaiah kept returning to the main theme, which is that after God punished Israel, He would deliver them from Babylon and restore them. He even named in advance the human agent (Cyrus) through whom the deliverance would be accomplished and told that this heathen king would prosper. All of these prophecies were given in advance.

Now imagine being back in Babylon in captivity. All of the Hebrew Scriptures, including the scrolls of Isaiah, would have been taken into captivity with the Israelites. For 70 years, they were in captivity in a foreign land, knowing that their capital and Temple had been destroyed. While in Babylon, they would have wondered if God was dealing with them or if He had cast them off forever. As 536 BC neared and the Israelites read Isaiah’s prophecies about their deliverance, they would be encouraged. God had these prophecies recorded for their benefit.

The point to be made is that the Bible is not written for the Church alone but for God’s people in any age. The Bible was written primarily for Israel and for the Church at the beginning and at the end of the Gospel Age.

Verses 12-15 were a very important prophecy for natural Israel. God has likewise given information to Christians as to what will happen in the future, but we must study God’s Word in order to be informed. In fact, the great amount of detail about events for both natural and spiritual Israel in the near future is shocking. As God provided this encouragement for natural Israel in their Babylonian captivity, so He furnishes His people in other ages with similar encouragement. Therefore, verse 14 can be spiritualized as mystic Babylon. Those who are in captivity in mystic Babylon should be encouraged by this prophecy.

Isa. 48:16 Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his spirit, hath sent me.

Verse 16 is rather touching: “Come ye near unto me, hear ye this.” The GREAT GOD spoke to natural Israel, who was way below Him in station. He said, “Come here and sit beside me. I would like to give you some intimate counsel.” God spoke in a demonstrative way that can be visualized. It is like having a friend who is in need and saying to that friend, “Come here and sit close to me so that I can confide in you.”

“I [Jesus] have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his spirit, hath sent me [Jesus].” God was originally and primarily referring to natural Israel, but Cyrus, whom the Lord called and prospered to overthrow Babylon, prefigures Christ, who, as God’s agent, will deliver both natural and spiritual Israel. And so Jesus entered the picture in verse 16 and tried to give special counsel. Previously God was reasoning, and the Prophet Isaiah faithfully pronounced His words. Now, all of a sudden, another personage, Jesus, mysteriously entered the conversation to give counsel.

In Old Testament times, Jesus (as the Logos) was involved, making sure God’s prophecies were transmitted through the prophets. He was also called Michael, “the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people” (Dan. 12:1). Michael, the archangel, was God’s special guardian or prince of natural Israel, whereas Satan was the prince of Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

Isa. 48:17 Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.

Jesus gave counsel in this verse. Isaiah recorded the words, but Jesus was speaking. He was telling what Jehovah, Israel’s Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, said. The instruction and counsel were for Israel’s own good.

Isa. 48:18 O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:

Isa. 48:19 Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me.

If Israel had obeyed, their offspring would have been very prolific. “His [Israel’s] name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me.” When did this happen? In 606 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and he took just 832 captives to Babylon. Jeremiah 52:28-30 mentions three captivities in Nebuchadnezzar’s day. Verse 28 pertains to an earlier captivity, but verse 29 describes the captivity in 606 BC when Jerusalem was destroyed and Gentile Times began. Out of 7 or 8 million people, only 832 survived from the city of Jerusalem and were taken captive to Babylon. That was a tiny remnant indeed! All

the rest were put to death except for Jeremiah and two others who were spared and allowed to go free. Of course when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, there were other people living elsewhere in Israel, but of those in Jerusalem, only 832 were taken to Babylon. Those outside of Jerusalem were hunted down and killed except for the few who were left as vinedressers.

However, when the vinedressers rebelled and assassinated Gedaliah (the governor appointed by Nebuchadnezzar), they knew it was only a matter of time until a Babylonian general would be sent to Israel to put the people to death. In an effort to escape, they fled to Egypt.

And what was the net effect of all this? It was as if the nation of Israel had been cut off without a seed. If the nation had hearkened to God’s commandments, they would have prospered continually and not have gone into captivity. The year 606 BC marked the beginning of the seven times of punishment of Leviticus 26. True, some of the Israelites did return from Babylon 70 years later in 536 BC and had some respite, but they were a tributary people without all the liberties they had previously enjoyed. The implication in verse 19 is that there would be a great decimation of the people, but that God would not allow them to be entirely and permanently cut off.

Isa. 48:20 Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob.

Verse 20 starts a new theme, but one that is related to the previous verses (notice the mention again of Babylon and the Chaldeans). Earlier God indicated that the Israelites would be taken captive to Babylon but that in time, the Lord would prosper a mysterious person called Cyrus, who would deliver them. As a result, they would be reinstated in their land.

Now verse 20 says, “Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans.” When did this take place? When was this message obeyed? The words “flee ye” point to an exodus from Babylon that took place earlier than the actual fall of Babylon in 536 BC. This instruction was directed to those Jews who were living in the city of Babylon as the time was nearing for Cyrus to enter the city gates. The Jews in Babylon were beginning to hear about the outstanding victories of Cyrus in neighboring lands. Those in the city who knew the Scriptures would say with excitement, “Cyrus is the one Isaiah prophesied would deliver us from Babylon.” Of course they realized that when Cyrus entered Babylon and conquered the city, there would be a great slaughter. Therefore, knowing in advance that the bloodshed was coming and that Cyrus would be victorious, the faithful Jews fled from the city just prior to his attack.

The same thing happened just before AD 69-70. Jesus said, “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with [Roman] armies, then know that the desolation thereof [of Jerusalem] is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-22). Vespasian had already laid siege to Jerusalem when the emperor in Rome died. Vespasian, who was one of the contenders to become the next Caesar, rushed back to Rome, directing his son Titus to be in charge. During this brief period, the siege around Jerusalem was relaxed, and faithful Jewish Christians obeyed the counsel to get out of the city. They left their goods and fled to Petra and elsewhere. A short while later when Titus resumed the siege, no one could leave Jerusalem.

The same principle of supplying information, counsel, and instruction in advance, before the trouble comes, applies to mystic Babylon. The warning to come out of her was given before the plagues began.

Comment: And again at the very end of the age, the warning will be sounded to “Come out of her, my people,” but this time it will be “lest ye partake of the seventh plague.”

God even told the Jews what to sing (or chant) when they left the city of Babylon prior to 536 BC: “With a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob.” What a slogan!

Isa. 48:21 And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out.

Isaiah reminded the Israelites how God cared for them in the Wilderness of Sinai and provided for their needs. But why did he twice mention water coming out of the rock? Two times God miraculously gave the Israelites water from the rock (Exod. 17:5,6; Num. 20:2-11). There was a practical lesson here for the Israelites. If water was not provided in a natural way, God would cause it to come forth. In other words, God’s authority was shown. In both instances, He gave the Israelites water, and they got it in abundance. How dramatic to see water suddenly gush forth from the smitten rock in a dry, barren land!

Isa. 48:22 There is no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked.

The chapter ends with this seemingly isolated verse, but it is a lesson from God, a summation of the previous verses. Lesson: There is peace to those who are righteously inclined and willing to be led by God, even though they have trials. While God is committed to preserving the nation of Israel, who the saved individuals will be is up to each person. God’s authority and power guarantee the restoration of Israel, but only the obedient will ultimately get life. The advice in Chapter 48 is not meant to encourage the wicked and disobedient.

The same principle applies to the Church. God guarantees there will be 144,000 in the body of Christ. Nothing in heaven or earth will defeat His purpose as regards the Bride class, who are called to be rulers with Jesus in the next age. But as to who the members of that body will be depends on the faithfulness of each individual.

There is still another emphasis. If the supplied words are deleted, verse 22 reads: “No peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked.” The Israelites went through the desert, and God fed and provided for them so that they survived (that is, the second generation and Joshua and Caleb survived). But did those who entered the land of Israel 40 years later have peace in connection with all of their wilderness experiences? No. Those who were faithful had mixed experiences.

They had trials, battles, and discomforts, but to counterbalance their hard experiences, they had the cloud, God’s instruction, victories, manna, etc., and they did enter the Promised Land. For the faithful, it was not a peaceful way, but one cannot say they had “no peace.” Those who faithfully serve and obey the Lord have mixed experiences, but “the wicked” have no peace. (The term “the wicked” refers not to the world but to the Lord’s people who willfully disobey.)

(1976–1981 Study)

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