A. The LORD clearly sees the hard hearts of His people.
1. (1-2) The LORD sees the hypocrisy of Judah.
Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and have come forth from the wellsprings of Judah; who swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth or in righteousness; for they call themselves after the holy city, and lean on the God of Israel; the LORD of hosts is His name.
a. House of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel: Judah should take notice at this opening statement. God identifies His people as the house of Jacob - the name Jacob essentially meaning "deceiver, cheater" - and says they only have the name of Israel, not the character of Israel, which means "governed by God."
b. And have come forth from the wellsprings of Judah: The second statement of Isaiah 48 isn't any more complimentary to the southern kingdom of Judah. God reminds them of their tribal ancestor, Judah, who was noted for his cruelty (Genesis 37:26-27) and immorality (Genesis 38). The LORD speaks to His people and says, "You come from your father Judah." It's hardly a compliment.
c. Who swear by the name of the LORD . . . but not in truth or in righteousness: God exposes the sin of His people. They take His name, and identify with the holy city, and give appearance that they lean on the God of Israel. Yet it is only image, not reality, and God sees through the image to the reality.
i. Look at all Judah has: "An honoured 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)
2. (3-5) The LORD sees that Judah has no excuse.
I have declared the former things from the beginning; they went forth from My mouth, and I caused them to hear it. Suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. Because I knew that you were obstinate, and your neck was an iron sinew, and your brow bronze, even from the beginning I have declared it to you; before it came to pass I proclaimed it to you, lest you should say, "My idol has done them, and my carved image and my molded image have commanded them."
a. I have declared the former things from the beginning . . . Suddenly I did them, and they came to pass: The LORD has shown Israel His power to declare the future in predictive prophecy. He did this because I knew that you were obstinate, knowing Israel's love of idolatry, He gave them irrefutable evidence.e
b. This means that Judah was without excuse. They knew the greatness and power of God, yet they still lived with only a religious image, without a spiritual reality.
3. (6-8) The LORD sees how deep the sinfulness of Judah is.
You have heard; see all this. And will you not declare it? I have made you hear new things from this time, even hidden things, and you did not know them. They are created now and not from the beginning; and before this day you have not heard them, lest you should say, "Of course I knew them." Surely you did not hear, surely you did not know; surely from long ago your ear was not opened. For I knew that you would deal very treacherously, and were called a transgressor from the womb.
a. You have heard; see all this. And will you not declare it? It is as if the LORD is amazed that His people have seen all of His great power and glory, yet they still stand in obstinate rebellion against Him.
b. For I knew that you would deal very treacherously, and were called a transgressor from the womb: The LORD states the reason why His people are so deeply sinful. They are sinners from the womb, so their sinfulness is deeply entrenched.
i. It is a difficult concept for our individualistic ears, but the Bible teaches that we are sinners from the womb, and that we inherited a sin nature because we descend from Adam and sinned in Adam (Romans 5:12). It isn't our individual acts of sin that make us sinners; it is our descent from Adam. Our individual acts of sin merely prove that each of us is a transgressor from the womb.
B. The LORD's mercy to his undeserving people.
1. (9-13) The reason for the LORD's mercy to His people.
For My name's sake I will defer My anger, and for My praise I will restrain it from you, so that I do not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it; for how should My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another. Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand has stretched out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand up together.
a. For My name's sake I will defer My anger: Knowing how deeply sinful His people are, why would the LORD ever show mercy to His people? He does it for His name's sake. It isn't because Israel deserves mercy; indeed, mercy can never be deserved. God gives it to glorify Himself and to further His eternal purpose.
b. I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it: Why has a disobedient Israel felt refining fires from the LORD? Again, it is for the sake and honor and glory of the LORD.
i. Does it bother us to know that God allows trials and His refining fires in our lives for His own sake? We should remember that we are not at the center of the universe, but God is. Everything He does and allows furthers His eternal purpose.
c. I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last . . . My right hand has stretched out the heavens: To answer any resentment among His people, God reminds them why He allows things for His glory and to further His praise. He can do it because of who He is - the only True God, the God of all glory, the God of all eternity, the God of all Creation.
2. (14-19) The unfulfilled potential of God's disobedient people.
All of you, assemble yourselves, and hear! Who among them has declared these things? The LORD loves him; He shall do His pleasure on Babylon, and His arm shall be against the Chaldeans. I, even I, have spoken; yes, I have called him, I have brought him, and his way will prosper. Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord GOD and His Spirit have sent Me. 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 by the way you should go. Oh, that you had heeded My commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Your descendants also would have been like the sand, and the offspring of your body like the grains of sand; his name would not have been cut off nor destroyed from before Me."
a. The LORD loves him: Though the LORD is the God of all glory and power, He is not some kind of "ego-maniac." He is motivated by love for His people.
i. It is the LORD's love for us that makes Him want us to obey and praise Him. Love desires, quite properly, that things work according to their design and purpose. We were designed and purposed to obey and praise our Creator. God can call us to submit to Him, and honor Him, for our good, not to satisfy some need in God.
ii. So, just as much as it is the love of the LORD for His people that shall do His pleasure on Babylon - punishing this nation that set itself against His people - so it is the love of the LORD that allows the refining fires to touch His people.
b. Come near to Me, hear this . . . now the Lord GOD and His Spirit have sent Me: This is the Servant of the LORD, the Messiah Himself speaking. Only He was from the beginning. The Messiah is pleading with His people!
i. "Finally (v. 16) another speaker mysteriously enters the prophecy. This verse has a number of features that have mystified commentators, who have been puzzled particularly by its final couplet. Young, Kidner, and other conservative commentators have argued that the new speaker introduced here (or in the whole verse) is in fact God's Servant, the Servant of the songs . . . Perhaps he is introduced here because Cyrus' work is in fact simply a harbinger of the much greater deliverance he would bring to God's people." (Grogan)
c. Oh, that you had heeded My commandments! In light of His power and love for Israel, God laments their unfulfilled potential, unfulfilled because of their disobedience.
i. If they had only obeyed, then your peace would have been like a river. Peace as flowing, bountiful, and life giving as a river!
ii. If they had only obeyed, then your righteousness would have been like the waves of the sea. Righteousness as certain, as unending, as reliable as the sea!
iii. If they had only obeyed, then your descendants would have been like the sand. Descendants as numerous and as dense in population as the sand!
iv. 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)
3. (20-22) Praise for the LORD's redemption - and a warning.
Go forth from Babylon! Flee from the Chaldeans! With a voice of singing, declare, proclaim this, utter it to the end of the earth; say, "The LORD has redeemed His servant Jacob!" And they did not thirst when He led them through the deserts; He caused the waters to flow from the rock for them; He also split the rock, and the waters gushed out. "There is no peace," says the LORD, "for the wicked."
a. Go forth from Babylon! Flee from the Chaldees! With a voice of singing: Despite Israel's disobedience and unfulfilled potential, the LORD still loves them and will still free them from their captivity in Babylon. When they leave Babylon, they will go forth with a voice of singing.
b. Declare, proclaim this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say, "The LORD has redeemed His servant Jacob!" God tells His people to declare His praises even to the end of the earth. The whole world should know how great and merciful God is!
c. "There is no peace," says the LORD, "for the wicked." Hand in hand with praise for the greatness of the LORD is a contrast - the destined misery for the wicked.
i. Often, it seems that the way of the wicked is peaceful. This was how it seemed to the Psalmist in Psalm 73; yet when he saw the end of the wicked, and gained perspective in the house of the LORD, he knew that ultimately, there is no peace . . . for the wicked.
ii. "Verse 22 is a refrain that occurs again in 57:21, and both times it comes at the end of a nine-chapter section." (Wolf)
iii. The broad section of Isaiah 40 through 48 focused on the promise of God's deliverance of His people from their captivity in Babylon, and the specific prediction of the Gentile king who would deliver them, Cyrus. Through the 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. Starting with Isaiah chapter 49, there is no longer a mention of Cyrus, now the focus is on the ultimate deliverer, 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.