Refining and Redemption of Israel (Isaiah 48) May 15
Regarding this chapter, one source explains: "The overall mood of comfort is abandoned for a moment, for accusation. Israel has stubbornly resisted God, and pursued idols. This treachery forced God to defend His name by sending Israel into a 'furnace of affliction' (48:1-11). Yet all this is a backdrop for grace. God presents Himself anew (vv. 12-16), expresses His yearnings for Israel (vv. 17-19), and dramatically announces the good news of coming redemption (vv. 20-22)" (Bible Reader's Companion, chap. summary of Isaiah 48-49).
God says one of the reasons for telling Israel, and all of mankind, what would befall them is so they could not successfully argue that their idols caused their fate (verses 3-5). "It was not enough that Israel stubbornly refused to respond to God. They tended to credit His works to other gods (cf. Jer. 44:15-19). Spiritual blindness persists, and today we may credit gracious acts of God in our own lives to luck or to our own genius or hard work. How important to sense God's hand in our lives, to be responsive to Him, and to acknowledge His works for us" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on Isaiah 48:5).
Of course, one way to be sure of God's involvement in world affairs is to study the prophecies of His Word. Here in Isaiah, God says He is giving Israel new prophecies, ones they have not heard before, and ones they have not anticipated (verses 6-7). Indeed, as we have seen, a dominant Chaldean Babylon features prominently in Isaiah's prophecies (see verses 14, 20), and yet Assyria was the dominant power at the time he preached.
There are strong messianic themes in the chapter. God identifies Himself as the One who was born as Jesus the Messiah (compare verse 12 with Revelation 1:17 and verse 13 of Isaiah 48 with Hebrews 1:8-12). And notice verses 14-15 of Isaiah 48. After God asks, "Who among them [your idols] has declared these things?," He then states, "The Lord loves him; He shall do His pleasure on Babylon, and His arm shall be against the Chaldeans…. I have called him, I have brought him, and his way will prosper." But who is "him"? The New International Version renders the first part of this as "The Lord's chosen ally [because allies are elsewhere referred to as "lovers" in Scripture] will carry out his purpose against Babylon…" Thus, it is likely a reference, once again, to Cyrus on one level. But, as already explained, Cyrus was a forerunner of the ultimate Messiah, Jesus Christ, who will overthrow end-time Babylon at His second coming. And this is the primary reference here. Indeed, in verse 16, the pronoun changes from Him to "Me"—showing Jesus directly speaking as having been sent by the Father through the Holy Spirit.
God laments the Israelites' past disregard of Him and His commandments. Verse 8 reveals that God was displeased with Israel right from the start ("from the womb")—before they even left Egypt. Yet He preserved them—clearly not because of great righteousness on Israel's part. Rather, it was because of His promise to Abraham, His prophecies, His promise of delivery and to show His great power and His great mercy to all nations—all of which had to do with preserving His name, His own reputation. "For My name's sake…," God explains (verse 9). Indeed, in interceding for Israel, Moses made this the basis for His plea (see Exodus 32:11-14; Numbers 14:13-19).
In Isaiah 48:18, God says how much better for the Israelites it would have been if they had obeyed Him. In verse 19, the statement that they would have been as the sand does not mean that Israel has never had great numbers. It is referring to the fact that so many of Israel's great numbers will have perished in the coming Great Tribulation. "His" name being cut off and destroyed in the same verse refers to the destruction of Jacob's descendants that will have taken place because of national disobedience.
In verse 20, God gives a responsibility to His servants to proclaim a message to the ends of the earth. Indeed, it is a responsibility His Church of the end time is to be carrying out still, telling people to come out of Babylon (as representative of this sinful world) and announcing the good news of how God through Christ will redeem His people and deliver them from captivity with miraculous help to a joyful life of peace and freedom. Remembering God's mighty acts of the past should inspire complete faith (verse 21)—a vital key to this way of peace. But in the last verse, the chapter soberly warns that there is no peace for the wicked, a fact repeated in Isaiah 57:21. Once delivered from its past evil ways, Israel must not go back to those former ways. The same applies to us.