Isaiah 42:18-43:2

We continue this morning with the trial that is taking place in Isaiah 40-47. The Jews who returned from exile in Babylon are accusing God of either, a. ignoring them or b. being powerless against the gods of Babylon.

This is a reasonable accusation if you consider how Israel felt about their relationship with God. Every nation had their own god or gods and Israel remembered the stories of how the God of Israel was more powerful than the gods of other countries.

For example, when Eli was prophet of Israel the ark of the covenant was taken out of the most holy part of the tabernacle and brought into the battle against the Philistines to be used as a weapon of war.

God will not be used as a tool to get what people want. So the Philistines won the battle and the ark of the covenant was captured. The Philistines put the ark of the covenant in the temple of their god, Dagon. In the morning they found Dagon on the ground, prostrate before the ark of the covenant. The ark of the covenant was moved from Philistine city to Philistine city and in each city the ark of the covenant came to, a plague broke out. So they finally sent the ark of the covenant back to Israel.

This story was told to celebrate the victory of the God of Israel over the god of the Philistines.

The God of Israel rescued them from slavery in Egypt, delivered them from Pharaoh’s army, led them into Canaan and helped them conquer that land. They conquered the Jebusites and made Jerusalem their capital city. They built a temple in Jerusalem for the God of Israel and felt safe because of the presence of God in the temple.

The Assyrian army conquered the northern kingdom of Israel but was not able to conquer Jerusalem. This was attributed to the protection of the God of Israel. But then, then the Babylonian army was successful and conquered Jerusalem. They not only looted the treasure of Jerusalem but they destroyed the temple and took the treasures of the temple to Babylon.

How could the God of Israel allow this to happen? The Jews who returned from exile in Babylon were not there when it happened, except for perhaps a few old men and women, but their parents and grandparents told them stories of the horrors of the destruction of Jerusalem.

So when they returned to Jerusalem they asked why God had allowed this to happen.

In these eight chapters God defends himself. Over and over again God defends himself. He reminds them of their idolatry and his intolerance toward idolatry. He reminds them that it was their faithlessness that led to the harsh judgment of being defeated and sent into exile. And then, over and over again he tells them of his love for them, his compassion for them. He reminds them of who he is and contrasts himself with worthless idols that have to be created by humans to have any existence.

Elliot preached last Sunday from the song of praise in Isaiah 42:10-17 and even this song of praise carries the theme of God’s defense, that only he has power, and devotion to idols has no value whatsoever.

This brings us to this morning’s text. Let me walk you through it.

Isaiah 42:18
“Hear, you deaf; 
look, you blind, and see! 

Who is God addressing here? It could be a reference to those in the world who do not know God.

One of the things that comes out in these chapters is that God wanted Israel to be his servant, reaching out into the world, setting an example for the world, bringing the love of God to the nations of the world. This was the plan. This was God’s intention, but Israel failed and shifted its devotion and trust to idols rather than God.

Verse 19
Who is blind but my servant,
and deaf like the messenger I send?
Who is blind like the one in covenant with me,
blind like the servant of the Lord?

Those who do not know God are deaf and blind, but the deaf and blind were not only the people from other nations who did not know God. It was also Israel that was deaf and blind, just as deaf and blind as the people in the world who did not know God.

Verse 20
You have seen many things, but you pay no attention;
your ears are open, but you do not listen.”

This is a harsh judgement toward Israel who viewed themselves as superior because of their unique position as the chosen people of God. Israel prided themselves as being ancestors of Abraham but they failed to trust in God as Abraham had done.

This is reminiscent of what Jesus said in some of his parables, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Jesus said this because he knew that someone could listen to the parable he had told and completely miss the point, or misinterpret the point.

You have seen many things, but you pay no attention;

A list of all the things God did for Israel is a long list starting with Abraham, moving on to the exodus from Egypt, Moses receiving the Law on Mt. Sinai, the conquest of Canaan, the establishment of kings Saul, David, and Solomon. Even all the way up to the years before Babylon conquered Jerusalem God was at work helping and protecting the descendants of Abraham.

But despite all that God did for them, they were not faithful. Despite all the warnings of the prophets, they were not repentant. Isaiah is telling them they held the divine truth of God in their hands and chose to ignore it. The turned away from their devotion to the creator God of the universe and ran after gods made of wood and metal.

Verse 21
It pleased the Lord
for the sake of his righteousness
to make his law great and glorious.

God defends the law he gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. We are used to dismissing the law because of the way it was abused by the Pharisees, but the law was good. The law continues to be good. The law was not the problem; it was the faithlessness of Israel that was the problem.

It was not a good start when Israel rejected God who led them out of Egypt and began to worship a gold calf, one of the Egyptian gods. It’s no wonder God wanted to destroy Israel and begin all over again with Moses. (Deuteronomy 9:13–14)
And the Lord said to me, “I have seen this people, and they are a stiff-necked people indeed! 14 Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.”

Would God actually have done that if Moses had not interceded with him? We will never know but it reveals how deeply God was hurt by the rejection of the people he had just rescued.

Despite this rejection, God continued to work with Israel. Listen to this from Deuteronomy 4:5-8. Moses is addressing Israel at the end of his life and he tells them that the law God has given is good and is meant to be a witness to the nations of the world.
See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today.

But sadly, this never happened.

Verse 22
But this is a people plundered and looted,
all of them trapped in pits
or hidden away in prisons.
They have become plunder,
with no one to rescue them;
they have been made loot,
with no one to say, “Send them back.”

There was a grand plan. God revealed himself to Abraham which led to the creation of Israel. From the beginning it was God’s intention to use Israel to be his witness to the world. God’s love was not confined to the descendants of Abraham. God created the men and women of the world to be with him in his eternal kingdom. This was always the grand purpose, the grand design.

The pain God felt at Mt. Sinai when Israel rejected him for a gold calf they made themselves was only the beginning of the pain God would feel as the people of Israel moaned and complained in the wilderness, entered into Canaan and promptly forgot all God had done for them and began to worship the idols of Canaan.

Was God patient? God was incredibly patient but finally it was time for judgement.

The people of Israel have put God on trial and his defense is that they deserved the judgement they received. The conquest of Jerusalem and their exile in Babylon was the result of the judgement of God for their incessant idolatry.

Verse 23
Which of you will listen to this
or pay close attention in time to come?

When my youngest daughter was being reprimanded as a child she would cover her ears with her hands as a way of saying, “I’m not listening to you.”

Were the Jews who had returned from exile in Babylon really listening to what God spoke through his prophets?

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Verse 24
Who handed Jacob over to become loot,
and Israel to the plunderers?
Was it not the Lord,
against whom we have sinned?
For they would not follow his ways;
they did not obey his law.
25 So he poured out on them his burning anger,
the violence of war.
It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand;
it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.

The disciples of Isaiah step into the trial and remind Israel that the judgement of God was deserved because their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents willfully rebelled against him.

So he poured out on them his burning anger, 
the violence of war. 
It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; 
it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.

What do you do if you have a child who willfully rebels and refuses to obey you? She stays out past the curfew. He goes out with friends and gets drunk or gets high. She is insolent to her parents. He does not do any of the household chores. She steals from stores. He steals things from the house to sell to get money for his drug habit.

No matter how many times you talk, no matter what you do, your child refuses to change and defiantly rebels. I know parents who have struggled with rebellious children. I have read about parents who finally got to the end of their patience and told their child he or she had to leave the house. They took this radical step with the hope and prayer that their child would come to his or her senses, like the prodigal son in the parable Jesus told.

This is the situation God faced with Israel. God was patient. God absorbed all the pain of rejection. He warned the people of Israel and Judah through his prophets. But no matter what he did, not matter what he said through his prophets, the people continued to rebel.

The rebelliousness of Israel astounds me. Even after the conquest of Jerusalem, the Jews who remained and were not taken to Babylon continued to rebel. They asked Jeremiah what they should do and he told them to remain in Jerusalem, but they rejected his advice and went to Egypt. Jeremiah reluctantly went with them and continued to prophesy.

And then God spoke to the Jews living in Egypt through Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 44:2-6)
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You saw the great disaster I brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Today they lie deserted and in ruins 3 because of the evil they have done. They aroused my anger by burning incense to and worshiping other gods that neither they nor you nor your ancestors ever knew. 4 Again and again I sent my servants the prophets, who said, ‘Do not do this detestable thing that I hate!’ 5 But they did not listen or pay attention; they did not turn from their wickedness or stop burning incense to other gods. 6 Therefore, my fierce anger was poured out; it raged against the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem and made them the desolate ruins they are today.

You might think that they would repent because of this judgement for their idolatry, but their defiance was not diminished. They rejected the word from God that Jeremiah spoke and defiantly insisted they would continue to worship “The Queen of Heaven,” a goddess of the sky. (Jeremiah 44:16-18)
“We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord! 17 We will certainly do everything we said we would: We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. 18 But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.”

This is the willful defiance that God had to deal with. But God is patient. Fortunately for us, God is patient.

Throughout the years of my life with Jesus I have struggled with my inability to live the life I knew I should be living. I struggled against temptations, not always successfully. I struggled to have a consistent devotional life. I lived through periods when my spiritual life was as dry as toast. I often said, “If I were God, I would have given up on me long ago.” And yet, God has never given up on me. God has been faithful to me even when I have not been faithful to him.

To the Jews who returned from Babylon who were challenging God for what had happened to them and their parents and grandparents, God said his judgement had come because of the incessant idolatry of Israel, But now…

But now…

This is so powerful.

43 But now, this is what the Lord says— 
he who created you, Jacob, 
he who formed you, Israel: 
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; 
I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 
2 When you pass through the waters, 
I will be with you; 
and when you pass through the rivers, 
they will not sweep over you. 
When you walk through the fire, 
you will not be burned; 
the flames will not set you ablaze.

As a young Christian, I read through the Bible and came back over and over again to Isaiah 43 to read these words. I will preach from Isaiah 43 next Sunday but wanted to share a bit of it this morning because it speaks so powerfully of the love of God that forgives and forgives and forgives and forgives and forgives.

After all the idolatry and rebellion against God, God speaks to the Jewish remnant who returned to Jerusalem and said, “I created you. I formed you. You exist because I made you out of the dust of the earth.”

Men and women created idols to worship but God reminds them that he is the one who created them.

“You have come through a very difficult time. You have suffered. But don’t be afraid. I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name. You are not a number. You are not one of the faceless masses. I know you. I called you. You belong to me. I am determined to bring you into my family.”

“Don’t be afraid. Just as I led your ancestors through the sea to safety with the walls of water on either side, I will do the same for you. Your grandparents suffered with the conquest of Jerusalem with fires destroying their homes but I tell you now, when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. Just as I protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the heat of the furnace in Babylon, I will protect you.”

This passage has been a comfort to me many, many times.

Don’t be afraid. God, the creator of the world, knows me. He has redeemed me. He knows me by name.

Frederick Buechner writes about the importance of being known by name, of being remembered.

When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.

For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I’m feeling most ghostlike, it’s your remembering me that helps remind me that I actually exist. When I’m feeling sad, it’s my consolation. When I’m feeling happy, it’s part of why I feel that way.

If you forget me, one of the ways I remember who I am will be gone. If you forget me, part of who I am will be gone.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” the good thief said from his cross (Luke 23:42). There are perhaps no more human words in all of Scripture, no prayer we can pray so well.

One of the more preposterous beliefs of Jews and Christians is that God knows us by name. From the outside of Christian faith, this is egotistical thinking. God, the creator of the universe, creator of billions of stars far larger than our own star; this God came to be born as a man on the third planet orbiting this little star, suffered and died for the sake of an individual creature who is less than a speck on this third planet of the little star called the sun?

This is really incredible thinking. And yet it is true. The history of God’s interaction with men and women on this planet is one in which he shows concern for individuals. You are known by name. I am known by name. Amazing!

When the disciples returned from their first mission trip, they were excited about all they had experienced, but Jesus told them (Luke 10:20)
“However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

When Jesus died on the cross, he died for each one of us. Jesus saved us into a community of relationships but he saved us one by one and when we accept his gift of salvation, our name is written in the book of life. We are not anonymous creatures in a sea of humanity.

Jesus taught in John 10
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

He calls his own sheep by name. Not, “Come sheep,” but individually by name.

When Moses asked God for a sign, God responded: (Exodus 33:17)
“I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

Jesus called to a tax collector up in a tree trying to catch a glimpse of him,(Luke 19:5)
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

Jesus called to a Pharisee on a trip to Damascus with the mission of persecuting Christians, (Acts 9:4)
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

We are known by Jesus by name. We are not anonymous. Jesus sacrificed for us because he loved us and loves us by name.

In times of difficulty, in floods and blazing fires and everything in between, in illness and death, in pandemics, in economic crises – God tells us, “I will be with you.” He will keep us safe. This does not mean we will never drown or be burned by fire, but God will bring us through whatever we face in this world and take us safely into his kingdom.

This is an amazing promise, an amazing assurance. And what makes it even more amazing is that this is a promise to people who failed him, rejected him, accused him of being powerless or indifferent.

This is a promise to us, even when we have been less than faithful, even when we have failed God. No matter how far you have fallen, no matter how many times you have fallen, God is waiting for you to come to him and give you a second chance.

If our life is to be compared to a trapeze artist, soaring through the air from one trapeze to another, then there will be anxiety and sometimes we will miss the bar and fall. But that will not lead to our death because Jesus is our safety net. We will fall into the net and be given another chance to climb back up and soar from bar to bar once again.

We are deeply loved by God who offers us second chance after second chance. We are deeply loved by God who is patient and more than patient, he is determined. God will do everything he can possibly do to encourage us to hold on to him and continue our journey to his celestial kingdom.

When we get frustrated with ourselves, when we despair because we are unable to do what we want to do and do what we do not want to do, we need to remember that God wants us to be in heaven with him more than we want to be in heaven with him. Our desire is exceeded by his desire.

That is how deeply and passionately you are loved. You are the beloved daughters and beloved sons of God. Live in the security of knowing how much you are loved.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”