"If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea" (Isa 48:18).
Theme: If only you had listened...
Preamble: No, we cannot ever lose "peace with God." But we can lose what Isaiah calls "peace like a river" (Isa 48:18; 66:12). Nothing can touch the peace with God which justification brings (Rom 5:1) and the peace which is Christ's gift (Jn 14:27), the peace which, indeed, is Jesus himself (Eph 2:14). But a river belongs in this world making its way through all the changing scenes of life and it can become clogged and polluted ... unless we are careful. The cares and blows of the world can easily take over and we lose our peace. But it need not be so. Think of deeply, steadily, silently flowing waters, the same whether the scene on its banks is turbulent, whether under sunny or loweing skies, whether through fertile fields or through barren lands. On it flows, serene, calm. But if we lose the life of peace, it is because we forsook obedience to the Word of God. (Alec Motyer, Isaiah by the Day)
Isaiah 48 is hugely important as it completes Isaiah's prediction of the "Cyrus-plan"--the fall of Babylon (ch. 47) and the return of the exiles (ch. 48) in spite of their poor spiritual condition which forfeits their right to be called "Israel" (Isa 48:1) and their lack of peace with God (Isa 48:22). By exposing their spiritual poverty (wickedness), Isaiah prepares for ch. 49-55 which is the revelation of the saving work of the Servant of the Lord.
Isaiah 47-48, which concludes the section of Isaiah 40-48, contrasts two cities: Babylon (Isaiah 47) and Jerusalem (Isaiah 48). Possible titles for these two chapters are:
- A tale of two cities: Babylon and Jerusalem.
- The failure of the world and the failure of God's people.
- The idolatry of Babylon and the idolatry of God of Israel.
- Judgment and salvation: Judgment for idolatry, salvation by grace.
- Home at last, yet not yet home (Home yet not home).
- God's grace shines amid our failures and regrets.
- Why there is no peace.
- Failure to listen is the heart of sinfulness.
- Listening to God is the solution to everything, to all things.
OH THAT MY PEOPLE LISTEN (LISTEN TO GOD: It's the solution to all things)
“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, endowed with his Spirit. 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" (Isa 48:16-17).
A repeated theme in Isaiah 40-48 is that God will comfort his people by saving them (Isa 40:1; 44:22; 45:22). How? In the near immediate future he would deliver them from Babylonian exile and restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Isa 44:26; 45:13) through a Gentile Persian Emperor Cyrus (Isa 44:28; 45:1). From Isaiah 49, there is no more mention of Cyrus. The focus is on the ultimate deliverer, the Servant, the Messiah. Though there is still reference to the deliverance from Babylon's captivity, the real focus is on the ultimate deliverance the Messiah will bring.
The two parts of this sermon are:
- The tragedy of idolatry (Isaiah 47): What sinners deserve. [Listen to what happens to idolators.]
- The triumph of grace (Isaiah 48): What sinners NEVER deserve. [Listen to the truth about yourself and about God.]
I. The Tragedy of Idolatry (Isaiah 47)
Babylon is to be judged and is doomed because of her idolatry. Babylon represents humankind organized in defiance of God. She exudes with the sin of pride, self-absorbtion and self-deification. She is the complete symbol of worldly success and a concrete historical reality.
Idolatry is to live in unreality. It is thinking that one is okay and that blessing may even be coming when in effect disaster is on the way. Isaiah 47 reveals that sooner or later idolatry will always be accompanied by:
- Humiliation (47:1-4).
- Arrogance (47:5-7).
- Delusion (47:8-11).
- Helplessness (47:12-15).
When God's judgment (justice) is imminent (Isa 47:11):
- Disaster ("evil") is unavoidable.
- Disaster cannot be atoned for.
- No one will know when the disaster will happen (Lk 12:16-21).
II. The Triumph of Grace (Isaiah 48)
Just as Isaiah 47 is about the failure of Babylon, Isaiah 48 is about the failure of Israel. Yes Babylon failed and will experience God's judgment (Isaiah 47). The sad reality is that God's people failed as well (Isaiah 48). The key word in Isaiah 48 is "listen" or "hear," which is repeated 10 times.
- Israel's failure (1-8): Their lives do not match their profession of being God's people (Isa 48:1).
- God's motivation (9-11): His own name and his own glory (Isa 48:9,11).
- God's exhortation (12-22): Listen, hear this (Isa 48:12, 16, 18).
Questions (Isaiah 47-48):
- (47:1–4) In light of what was said previously (44:9ff; 46:7), why will Babylon have to come down off her throne? Instead of a queen (5), what will Babylon become? How is vengeance (3) different from revenge? See 47:6 for explanation. What is the practical value for us? What is the significance of what is said in 47:4? [“Chaldea” (47:1) refers to extreme southern Mesopotamia. It appears that the father of Nebuchadnezzar came from that area. But the Bible often uses Chaldea as a synonym for Babylon. Instead of fine voluminous garments, Babylon will be wearing scanty rags that barely cover her “nakedness” (2-3).]
- (47:5–9) What is the point of 47:6? What did God do, and what did Babylon do? Does the punishment seem unfair? What is the underlying issue of Babylon (7-8)?
- What's the problem with Babylon’s assertion (47:8,10 cf. 41:4; 42:8; 45:18; 46:9; 48:12)? Compare 47:9 with 54:1–8.
- "In her self-satisfaction and frivolous self-deception (the corrupt church) says, I shall be a lady. She claims royal riches, power and honor for herself for ever. A queen feels she must reign, and that was also the Churchs goal quite early. Soon it placed a cross on its steeple instead of on its shoulders. With all its veneration of the cross, it hated the cross in a spiritual sense and reached for the crown of the world." (Bultema)
- (47:10–15) 47:9b provides the lead-in to this stanza. Why are we tempted to engage in magic and sorcery? What has led Babylon astray? Is God opposed to learning? When does learning become a problem? What can learning not do by itself (14)? What can do that? Why? [Babylon's learning (10) was legendary. Their collection of omen interpretations runs to 70 volumes. Babylon was a great commercial center. 47:15 probably refers to Babylon’s trading partners who were of no help in the crisis hour.]
- "For the Babylonians, sorcery also included a mood of complacency (10), because the people relied on their magicians to predict the coming of the enemy and to defeat him. In Babylonia the intellectual and the magical were intertwined, the wise man being instructed in all the arts of the supernatural." (Grogan)
- "False religion may seem to offer the warmth of helpfulness, but it is not a fire to sit by, rather a fire which will burn up, a furnace of destruction." (Motyer)
- (48:1–2) How many times do words for hearing appear in this chapter (1,12,14,16,18)? Why are there so many times references to Yahweh speaking? What is the point (6:9-10)? What are the Judeans depending on for their deliverance? What is the problem with that? How does that relate to us? If neither Judah’s good behavior nor their obvious repentance is going to cause Yahweh to be gracious, what will? What is the source of God’s grace (9–11)?
- "Look at all Judah has: An honored name, an impeccable pedigree, a true religious allegiance, a privileged citizenship and a mighty God to rely on - but it is all unreal. There is no genuineness (truth) in it, nor does it satisfy the standards of God (righteousness)." (Motyer)
- (48:3–8) Why did God predict things in advance? (Remember the case against the gods in chs. 41–46.) Why the use of the word “create” (7)? What can’t the gods do? Why? What is the condition of the people (4, 8b)? What does this say about the nature of sin (Dt 10:16)? What is the character of a “circumcised heart”? [Probably “former things” (3) refer to predictions of the exile which was predicted as far back as Moses, whereas "new things" (6) would be Isaiah’s prediction of the deliverance from exile by Cyrus.]
- (48:9–16) Why is Yahweh going to deliver them? For what reasons is he going to be able to deliver them? Why the recurring references to him speaking (see first question on 48:1–2 above)?
- (48:17–22) What is the cause for grief (17–19)? What does Yahweh want to do for us? How do 48:20–21 sum up chs. 41–48? [48:22 could be Isaiah’s typical way of not letting a beautiful promise for the future obscure darker present realities. However, it is possible that this verse has been inserted from the end of ch. 57 where it fits more naturally. As it stands now, the phrase divides 40–66 rather neatly into 3 9-chapter segments.]
- "It is sobering to think what unfulfilled potential we have, and what disobedience or unbelief keeps us from everything God has for us. Yes, I am deeply impressed with the simplicity of the road to revival. Just twenty-four hours obedience in our lives, and we would be living in such a flood tide of Holy Spirit blessing that there would not be room enough to contain it!" (Redpath)
Isaiah 40-48 focused on the promise of Gods deliverance of His people from their captivity in Babylon, and the specific prediction of the Gentile king Cyrus who would deliver them. In this section, God shows that His desire to deliver His people proves His love, His ability to deliver His people proves His power, and His prophetic knowledge of the deliverer proves His uniqueness among all gods.