“I am the Lord… your King” (vv. 14-15): Here we have the third word of encouragement. If Israel was to witness to the truth about the Lord by a return to Jerusalem, those for whom this might seem impossible would need assurance that the enemy that held them was not invincible. This is what verses 14-15 affirm. In this short oracle mighty Babylon is framed and diminished by the greater reality of Israel’s God (vv. 14a, 15b). As these words cascade out, God’s people are powerfully reminded of all they know about God and His commitment to them. And to this is added a promise addressed to the specific situation of exile (v. 14b). Babylon was certainly a terrible reality, but the greater reality by far was the Lord’s absolute sovereignty, and unswerving commitment to His people. How aptly the last line sums it up: I am the Lord…the King.
“See, I am doing a new thing!” (vv. 16-21): So much for Babylon. But for those who were to leave it at last, there would be other obstacles to be faced, including the desert and the long journey home – the subject of the next word of encouragement in verses 16-21. It was going to be a hard journey for those who were able to make it for two reasons; first, it was across unknown country, (those able to make the journey were born in exile), second, Jerusalem was 500 to 900 miles away depending on the route. The returnees could expect t be travelling for at least four months through harsh terrain, in which they would be vulnerable not only to exhaustion but also to attack by bandits. The wilderness meant hardship and danger. In a sense the wilderness was just as frightening a thing as Babylon. With this in view Isaiah speaks of former things and a new thing. Verses 16-21 are full of allusions to the exodus from Egypt centuries before, and the journey through the desert to Canaan – former things which were fundamental to Israel’s whole existence as the covenant people of God. But then, paradoxically, having deliberately called them to mind, Isaiah diverts attention from them: Forget the former things…See, I am doing a new thing (vv. 18-19). Isaiah wants them to remember that the wilderness has been conquered before and, armed with that knowledge, to go forward and to conquer it again. As they do so, they can be assured that the Lord goes before them to make a way for them through the desert, just as He made one for their ancestors (v. 19). They can be the witness God has created them to be only by going forward with God, by grasping the new thing He has for them (v. 21).
“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions” (vv. 22-28): The fifth word of encouragement at first sight seems to be nothing of the kind. It consists largely of an indictment of Israel for its corrupt worship. Israel’s worship was such a farce, such a misrepresentation of the truth, that the Lord did not regard it as worship of Himself at all. It was utterly repugnant to Him. So He consigned Israel and its leaders to destruction, and those who survived to the disgrace of exile (v. 28). They had burdened the Lord with their sins and wearied Him with their offences (v. 24b) until His patience had been exhausted. The only solution was to accept their past, with the verdict that God had pronounced on it, and then to reach out with both hands and grasp the forgiveness that He offered them (v. 25).
“I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring” (vv. 44:1-5): The chapter division at 44:1 is particularly unfortunate because 44:1-5 is in fact the sixth and final word of encouragement that caps the whole series. And what a climax it is! All the attention is now focused on the future, a future as different from the past as light is from darkness. As water poured on thirsty land causes it to burst into life again, so the Lord will pour out His Spirit on Israel’s descendants (v. 3). They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplars by a flowing stream (v. 4). So blessed will they be; that total outsiders will join them, forsaking their paganism and gladly swear allegiance to Israel’s God. Jacob will no longer be a shameful name, but a glorious one, held in honor by all (v. 5). All this of course, is exactly what was promised to Abraham: a great name, many descendants, blessing overflowing to all the families of the earth. This final word of encouragement to Israel rests upon the bedrock of God’s faithfulness, and strongly affirms His commitment to fulfill His promises to them and through them. All God’s promises would eventually find their resounding “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ, to the glory of God!
Isaiah 43:14-44:5 Reflection Questions:
Are you being held by an enemy (addiction, illness, relationship, etc.) that seems impossible to overcome? How does today’s study encourage you?
What new thing is God doing for you?
What is the most encouraging message of all in verses 22-28 in this study? Why?