Deuteronomy 16; Psalm 103; Isaiah 43; Revelation 13
ALTHOUGH GOD HAS AN IDEAL Servant who will be his perfect agent to bring to pass all his purposes (Isa. 42:1-9), Israel is also God’s servant. In Isaiah 43 and on into chapter 44, Isaiah encourages Israel, God’s servant (Isa. 43:10; 44:1). Here I shall pick up on elements of this encouragement and then draw attention to an important clause picked up by the Lord Jesus in the New Testament.
In the first section (Isa. 43:1-7), God tells Israel not to be afraid (Isa. 43:1)—not because she will not go into exile, but because when she passes through the waters God will be with her, and when she passes through the fire the flames will not utterly destroy her (Isa. 43:2). Moreover, she will not face extinction or assimilation: God himself will gather her children from the four points of the compass (Isa. 43:5-6). Despite the most appalling circumstances, the living God declares Israel to be precious and honored in his sight, and much loved (Isa. 43:4). Paul reasons analogously with respect to Christians in Romans 8:31-39.
More briefly: (a) Israel should be encouraged because her return after exile will bear witness to God and testify that it was God alone who knew of these stupendous events and brought them to pass (Isa. 43:8-13). (b) Babylon will be destroyed. The nation of conquerors will become a tumult of fugitives (Isa. 43:14-15). (c) Israel is used to reflecting on God’s mighty deeds to redeem his people at the time of the Exodus (Isa. 43:16-17), but now God will do a new thing (Isa. 43:18-21). So do not dissolve into the past and whine your way to defeat. Be courageous, for God is about to do a new thing, to effect a new cycle of spectacular delivery. (d) Above all, the Israelites’ massively compromised worship and multiplied offenses (Isa. 43:22-24) are not the last word. The first line of Isaiah 43:22 in Hebrew might better be rendered: “It was not me you called upon, O Jacob”—for the Israelite worship was so corrupt, such a distortion of the covenant, that the true God was not really being worshiped at all. But God himself is the One who blots out their transgressions for his own sake (Isa. 43:25)—a further anticipation of Isaiah 53.
God wants his servant Israel to understand “that I am he” (Isa. 43:10; cf. Isa. 41:4; 48:12). The Hebrew conjures up associations with Exodus 3:14; the Greek rendering of this phrase is precisely the expression that Jesus repeatedly applies to himself in John 8 (e.g., John 8:58, “I am”). How then does Isaiah 43 shape how we must think of Jesus?