Isaiah 49:1-13 God’s Servant and God’s People


First the Servant Himself speaks in verses 1-6. Two messages to the exiles follow in verses 7-12, drawing out implications of what the Servant has said. The movement is from the Servant Himself to the people of God who are associated with Him. With the return of the Servant the sharp rebuke of the previous chapter gives way, once more, to comfort. Strangely, although the sinfulness of God’s people is crying out for remedy, the Servant does not address them directly at all. He speaks to the world at large (v. 1).

A polished arrow (vv. 1-6): But who is the Servant? Verse three says His name is Israel. But how can this be, since, as we have already seen, a key aspect of His mission is to restore Israel to a proper relationship with God (v. 5)? We are forced back to the conclusion we reached in chapter 42, that He is a figure who embodies all that the nation of Israel was called to be, and therefore one who is truly worthy of the name – God’s perfect Servant. He is far greater than Jeremiah, or any other Old Testament prophet for that matter. He is prophet par excellence. If that doesn’t satisfy us, we shall just have to wait, because for the moment He is hidden in the shadow of the Lord’s hand, and concealed…in His quiver like a polished arrow (v. 2).

A new people of God (vv. 7-13): As we move on to verse 7, however, the word Israel reverts to its normal sense, and the focus shifts back again from the Servant of God to the people of God, the surviving remnant of the nation. After the repetition of previous promises in these verses we discover new things here; the whole passage is nuanced by its close relationship to the Servant Song which follows. Of course, neither of the expressions is new to us; they were both used with reference to the Servant Himself in 42:6 and, as we saw there, they refer to God’s intention to extend His salvation to all peoples, to bless the whole world that He has created. Isaiah underlines the fact that God will achieve this great goal through the Servant Himself and through His restored people. As they are brought back into right relationship with God, God’s people become one with God’s Servant in His worldwide mission.

This means that the very idea of the people of God begins to undergo a kind of metamorphosis. Those whom God restores to Himself become a sign of His commitment to extend this same blessing to all people. The shout of praise then, in verse 13 is the “Hurrah!” of mission accomplished – a cause of rejoicing to the whole earth. But by the time we reach that point the theme of comfort for the people of God is no longer focused narrowly on the captives in Babylon. They may be its most immediate point of reference, but it reaches beyond them to embrace all people. And the key to all this is the Servant of the Lord, Israel is to understand that its entire future in God’s purposes is intimately bound up with Him.

Isaiah 49:1-13 Reflection Questions:

Why do you think the Servant addresses the world at large and not directly to His own people’s concerns?

Why do you think the New Testament Jewish people had a hard time with God offering salvation to the whole world (Gentiles)? Do these attitudes happen today?

Why do you think that the exiles found these sweeping visions from Isaiah difficult to grasp?

Hebrews 12:1-4 The Example of the Son of God


If the Apostle Paul were alive today he would be a huge sports fan. Why? because several athletic references in his letters indicate his interest in sports. Of course, both the Greeks and Romans were keenly interested in athletic contests, not only for their physical well-being, but also for the honor of their towns and countries. It was a patriotic thing to be a good athlete and to bring glory to your country. The writer of Hebrews combined these two themes of athletics and citizenship in this important twelfth chapter. First the writer pictures the race, and then emphasizes citizenship in the heavenly city. In the minds of his readers, these two themes would go together; for no one could take part in the official games unless he was a citizen of the nation. The one theme that runs through this chapter is endurance. The Jewish believers who received this letter were getting weary and wanted to give up; but the writer encouraged them to keep moving forward in their Christian lives. He pointed out three divine resources that encouraged a Christian to keep going when the situation is difficult.

Today we are going to look at the first resource; the example of the Son of God. There are three approaches that are used in these verses (vv. 1-4) to encourage us in the Christian race. Look around at the winners (v. 1a): “The great cloud of witnesses” was introduced in Hebrews 11. They are the heroes of the faith that bear witness to us that God can see us through. God bore witness to them and they are bearing witness now to us. One of the best ways to develop endurance and encouragement is to get to know the godly men and women of the Old Testament who ran the race and won.

Look at yourself (v. 1b): A baseball player who swings a bat with a heavy metal collar on it before he steps to the plate helps him prepare for the fast pitches. Too much weight would tax one’s endurance. What are the “weights” that we should remove so that we might win the race; everything that hinders our progress? They might be even “good things” in the eyes of others. A winning athlete does not choose between the good and the bad; he chooses between the better and the best. We should also get rid of “the sin that so easily entangles” (v.1). While he does not name any specific sin, the writer was probably referring to the sin of unbelief. It is unbelief that hinders us from entering into our spiritual inheritance in Christ. The phrase “by faith” is used twenty-one times in Hebrews 11, indicating that it is faith in Christ that enables us to endure.

Look at Jesus Christ (vv. 2-4): “Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith.” It was in “looking to Him” that we were saved, for to look means “to trust.” “Looking unto Jesus” describes an attitude of faith and not just a single act. When our Lord was here on earth, He lived by faith. The mystery of His divine and human natures is too profound for us to understand fully, but we do know that He had to trust His Father in heaven as He lived day by day. The fact that Jesus prayed is evidence that He lived by faith. Our Lord endured far more than did any of the heroes of faith named in Hebrews 11, and therefore He is a perfect example for us to follow.

What was it that enabled our Lord to endure the cross? Please keep in mind that, during His ministry on earth, our Lord did not use His divine powers for His own personal needs. Satan tempted Him to do this (Matt. 4:1-4), but Jesus refused. It was our Lord’s faith that enabled Him to endure. He kept the eye of faith on “the joy that was set before Him.” He knew that He would come out of the tomb alive. Throughout this epistle, the writer emphasized the importance of the future hope. His readers were prone to look back and wanted to go back, but he encouraged them to follow Christ’s example and look ahead by faith. Since Christ is the “author and finisher of our faith,” trusting Him releases His power in our lives. Christ is both the exemplar and the enabler! As we see Him in the Word and yield to His Spirit, He increases our faith and enables us to run the race.

Hebrews 12:1-4 Reflection Questions:

Have you ever wanted to give up when the life gets really difficult? How did you handle it?

During hard times (financial, physical, illness, etc.), what do you look to for encouragement?

Which of the three approaches do you lean towards? Can you see the need for all three?

Isaiah 47:1-48:22 A Tale of Two Cities


Conceptually, chapters 47 and 48 form one large unit dealing with the fulfillment of the Lord’s purpose to use Cyrus to free His people from captivity in Babylon. The captives are portrayed here as residents of one city but citizens of another, a tension between place and citizenship that can be resolved only by returning to where they belong. The logic of the whole unit is that Babylon is doomed (chapter 47); leave it, and set out for Jerusalem, your true home (chapter 48).

Babylon: defiant but doomed (47:1-15): The portrait of Babylon is a classic study in worldly power and arrogance. She is the queen of kingdoms (v. 5) and believes that she will remain so forever (v. 7). She has an utterly false sense of security, which leads her into self-indulgence and complete indifference to the needs of the weak and vulnerable in her midst (vv. 6, 8). She considers herself so self-sufficient that all notions of accountability are excluded. She is proud of her wisdom and knowledge (v. 10), and has perfected a form of religion (astrology) which enhances her sense of power over her own destiny without making any moral demands upon her (vv. 9b, 12-13). She is the complete symbol of worldly success. However, the virgin city will be violated (vv. 1-3, 8b-9, 12-15). In short, her sense of impregnability is a complete illusion. She is like the man who built his house on the sand, or the rich man who did not reckon on what the night would bring. Babylon is the city of destruction.

We must note two things carefully before we move on. First, Babylon here is not merely the ancient city of that name, and the poem does not simply look forward to what was to happen to it in 539 BC when Cyrus conquered it. Like Jerusalem, with which it is contrasted, it is both a concrete historical reality and a symbol, and it is the symbolic significance of Babylon which is primary here. Secondly, the sin of Babylon is not simply its pride and self-absorption, but its self-deification. Twice uttered I am, and there is none besides me (vv. 8, 10), is a direct challenge to the Lord’s identical claim in 45:5. Babylon represents humankind organized in defiance of God – the kingdom of mere mortals, in contrast to the kingdom of God. In this sense “Babylon” is still with us, and still stands under judgment of God. The historical Babylon of the sixth century BC was merely on manifestation of it.

“Leave Babylon!” (48:1-22): Now we are in better position to understand the challenge of chapter 48, where the contrast between Babylon and Jerusalem is developed. The reference to Jerusalem as the holy city in verse 2 has symbolism associated with it also, because by the sixth century it was to be little more than a forsaken ruin with most of its citizens in exile. But for all that, it would continue to be the place God had chosen as the center of His kingdom on earth, and the announcement concerning Cyrus in the previous chapters have made clear His intention to raise it up again. It would once again be “the holy city”, not just in the sense that no evil will be found in it, but that God Himself would return to it and rule from it. The holy city was to become the symbol of their future hope – the coming of God’s kingdom. The challenge of chapter 48 is that they should live constantly in the light of that hope, expecting its realization at any moment.

The people certainly profess to be citizens of the kingdom, but their lives give little evidence of it; the old sins live on, it is as though their suffering taught them nothing (vv. 4-6). The Lord is tempted to discard altogether what is left (vv. 9-10), but there is more at stake here than their own betterment; there is the honor of the Lord’s name (v. 11). The world must know it is He, and not Babylon, Bel and Nebo, who rules the world and for that reason He will press on, regardless of how His people respond.

There is anger but also sadness in this chapter and this brings us to the heart of Israel’s sinfulness (vv. 1, 12, 16-18). God has opened His heart to them. He has given them His Law; He has spoken to them through His prophets, but they have not listened, and they are still not listening! Verse 22 is a tragic note on which to end, but it underlines powerfully the serious nature of failure to listen to God; it shuts us out from the peace of God. Isaiah has been speaking here of a situation that was to emerge after his own lifetime. The basic sins and failures he describes may just as well have been looking at himself, or even speaking directly to the church in our own day and age. We need no great imagination to recognize ourselves in his stinging rebukes. Sadly, the sins of the people of God do not alter.

Isaiah 47:1-48:22 Reflection Questions:

How does the symbolism of Babylon touch your life (now and/or in the past)?

Are you living constantly in the light of the hope of expecting Christ to return at any moment? What does that mean to you?

God has opened His heart to you, are you listening?

Hebrews 11:4-40 The Demonstration of Faith


Abel – faith worshiping (v. 4): Abel was a righteous man because of faith (Matt. 23:35). God had revealed to Adam and his descendants the true way of worship, and Abel obeyed God by faith. In fact, his obedience cost him his life. Abel speaks to us today as the first martyr of the faith.

Enoch – faith walking (vv. 5-6): Our faith in God grows as we fellowship with God. We must have both the desire to please Him and the diligence to seek Him. Prayer, meditating on the Word, worship, and discipline; all these help us in our walk with God. Enoch walked with God in the wicked world, before the Flood came; he was able to keep his life pure.

Noah – faith working (v. 7): Noah’s faith involved the whole person: his mind was warned of God; his heart was moved with fear; and his will acted on what God told him. Noah’s faith influenced his whole family and they were saved. It also condemned the whole world, for his faith revealed their unbelief. Events proved that Noah was right!

The patriarchs – faith waiting (vv. 8-22): The emphasis in these verses is on the promise of God and His plans for the nation of Israel. God promised Abraham and Sarah a son, but they had to wait twenty-five years for the fulfillment of the promise. Their son Isaac became the father of Jacob and Esau, and it was Jacob who really built the nation through the birth of his twelve sons. Joseph saved the nation in the land of Egypt, and Moses would later deliver them from Egypt. We have to admire the faith of the patriarchs. They did not have a complete Bible and yet their faith was strong. They handed God’s promises down from one generation to another. In spite of their failures and testing’s, these men and women believed God and He bore witness to their faith. How much more faith you and I should have!

Moses – faith warring (vv. 23-29): Three great themes relating to faith are seen in the life of Moses. First, the refusal of faith (vv. 24-25); Moses could have led an easy life in the palace, but his faith moved him to refuse that kind of life. He chose to identify with God’s suffering people. True faith causes a believer to hold the right values and make right decisions. Moses’ refusal of faith led to the reproach of faith (v. 26a). Moses left the palace life and never went back to that life. He identified with Jewish slaves. Men and women of faith often have to bear reproach and suffering. Finally, there is the reward of faith (vv. 26b-29). God always rewards true faith, if not immediately, at least ultimately. The faith of Moses was rewarded with deliverance for him and his people. Faith brings us out (v. 28), take us through (v. 29), and brings us in (v. 30). When we trust God, we get what God can do; but when we trust ourselves, we get only what weak people do. The experience of Moses is proof that true biblical faith means obeying God in spite of circumstances and in spite of consequences.

Joshua and Rahab – faith winning (vv. 30-31): The account of the conquest of Jericho is found in Joshua 2-6. From a human point of view, Jericho was an impossible city to conquer. Joshua’s first act of faith was not the defeat of the city, but the crossing of the Jordan River. By faith, the nation crossed the river just as the previous generation had crossed the Red Sea. This was a witness and a warning to the Canaanite nations that Israel was marching forward by the power of God. Rahab was a harlot, an unlikely person to put faith in the true God of Israel. She was saved by grace, because the other inhabitants of the city were marked of death. God in His mercy and grace permitted Rahab to live. But she was saved by faith. She was saved unto good works. True faith must always show itself in good works (James 2:20-26).

Not only was Rahab delivered from judgment, but she became a part of the nation of Israel. She married Salmon and gave birth to Boaz who was an ancestor of King David. Imagine a pagan harlot becoming a part of the ancestry of Jesus Christ! That is what faith can do! Rahab is certainly a rebuke to unsaved people who give excuses for not trusting Christ. “I don’t understand very much of the Bible; I’m too bad to be saved; what will my family think?” are some of the excuses I often hear. Rahab knew very little spiritual truth, but she acted on what she did know. Rahab was a condemned heathen harlot! Rahab’s first concern was saving her family, not opposing them. She stands as one of the great women of faith in the Bible.

Various heroes of faith (vv. 32-40): Faith can operate in the life of any person who will dare to listen to God’s Word and surrender to God’s will. Gideon was a frightened farmer whose faith did not grow strong right away (Jud. 6:11-7:25). Barak was a resounding victory over Sisera, but he needed Deborah the prophetess as his helper to assure him (Jud. 4:1-5:31). Both Gideon and Barak are encouragements to us who falter in our faith. It’s not possible for us to examine each example of faith, and even the writer of Hebrews stopped citing names after he mentioned David and Samuel, who were great men of faith.

Man’s estimate of these heroes of faith was a low one; so men persecuted them, arrested them, tortured them, and in some cases killed them. But God’s estimate is entirely different. He said that the world was not worthy of these people. Faith enables us to turn from the approval of the world and seek only the approval of God. If God is glorified by delivering His people, He will do it. If He sees fit to be glorified by not delivering His people, then He will do that. But we must never conclude that the absence of deliverance means a lack of faith on part of God’s children. Faith looks to the future, for that is where the greatest rewards are found. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (v. 6). But this kind of faith grows as we listen to His Word (Rom. 10:17) and fellowship in worship and prayer. Faith is possible to all kinds of believers in all kinds of situations. It is not a luxury for a few “elite saints.” It is a necessity for all of God’s people. Lord, increase our faith!

Hebrews 11:4-40 Reflection Questions:

Where in the gospels does Jesus use Noah’s experience to warn people to be ready for His return?

Which of the patriarch’s faith do you admire the most?

How much do you trust in God versus trusting in yourself?

What are some of your excuses for not trusting Christ fully?

Isaiah 46:1-13 “I will carry you”


This whole chapter is in effect an elaboration of the last two lines of 45:20, “Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save.” Bel and Nebo were pagan gods. Cyrus’s conquest of Babylon enhanced the status of Bel and Nebo rather diminishing it. But how different things are now; the greatness of Bel and Nebo is a distant memory, while the Lord is known and worshipped by millions. It is easy, of course, to see this in hindsight. It’s much harder to take the long view when evil is in full flight. That, however, is exactly what Isaiah does here. He asks the exiles to look beyond the present to what will finally be the case, and paints a graphic picture of the shame and disgrace that await all man-made religion and those who trust in it.

But he goes further. In verses 3-7 he asks Israel to reflect again on the fundamental absurdity of idolatry and the contrast between it and their own covenant faith. “Idolaters carry their gods,” says the Lord, “but I carry you. I have carried you since you were born, and I will never stop carrying you until your days are done.” There it is in a nutshell; false religion is based on works, true religion on grace. So it has always been and so it always will be (see Eph. 2:8-9)

The last part of the chapter, though, comes as something of a shock (vv. 8-13). Surely if God carries His people in His arms He could be expected to use only affirmative, comforting language in His dealings with them. Not so! God’s love is robust, not weak and indulgent. He cares for His people too deeply to deprive them of necessary rebuke. Rebels, He calls them, stubborn-hearted, and you who are far from righteousness (vv. 8, 12). We might think for a moment that He has turned His attention to the pagan idol-worshippers. But this is clearly not the case. Remember this in verse 8 is the sequel to listen to me, O house of Jacob in verse 3. The audience is the same.

So what then is the reason for the strong language the Lord uses? The answer lies in His reference to Cyrus as a bird of prey in verse 11, probably reflecting again the shocked response which Isaiah expected the Lord’s choice of Cyrus to evoke. How could it be right for God to choose such a man, and how could He have His people’s best interests at heart in doing so? But such a response is equivalent to rebellion against God, for it calls into question not just His sovereign freedom, but His goodness – and that is to strike at the very heart of the covenant relationship. It was because He loved Israel that the Lord chose her in the first place, and because of that same love that He had carried her ever since. How dare they doubt His goodness? The strong language is shocking, but it is the language of loving discipline rather than rejection. It is intended to jolt the people of God out of a very dangerous and sinful state of mind, and has their ultimate good in view. However many rough patches there may be in His relationship with them along the way, it is the Lord’s grace rather than their sinfulness that will triumph in the end; He will grant salvation and splendor to His people (v. 13). The two problems that have to be overcome are their circumstances and, more importantly, their heart condition. Both will be taken up afresh in our next study of chapters 47 and 48.

Isaiah 46:1-13 Reflection Questions:

What are some man-made religions today in the 21st century?

Where in Exodus does God talk about carrying His people?

What have you learned about God’s character from this study?