Yahweh almost appears to be schizophrenic. Is it judgment or salvation? It’s almost as if he can’t make up his mind. I wonder what those reading this chapter, or all of Isaiah, without the 20/20 hindsight we have this side of the resurrection would have thought about it. Maybe, why can’t the Lord make up his mind! But if you look at it with a redemptive-historical lens it all makes perfect sense. Even those the Lord himself created and formed, his people Israel, are always prone to wander.
Like Israel we can’t ever in this life, in this body, perfectly obey God’s law. We can never, as Jesus commands, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” After 56 years on this year in this body, it is more clear than ever that perfection isn’t in the cards. I think this is one of the reasons we get the historical object lesson of Israel; despite their inability, God himself comes to the rescue:
“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.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
The Lord our God owns us; he purchased us because he redeemed us. We are his! I’m not sure about the historical references of waters, rivers, fire, and flames (some commentators think he hearkens back to the Exodus), but surely they can be metaphors for the challenges of life. As the saying goes, stuff happens. Life is hard, but we can have confidence that God himself is our Savior. And we know this salvation isn’t primarily about the physical people of Israel and their land and enemies. We now know it is a salvation from sin and death, ultimately. Our confidence (I like that we can “walk” through fire; no hurry, no panic) has to be eschatological, rooted in eternity and the promise that we will be like Jesus, sown perishable, as Paul says, raised imperishable.
The Lord promises to bring back his exiled people, which is a picture of those exiled in sin brought back to his presence. This promise is to:
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
I love this image of God as architect or artist, one who molds and shapes, this God is our Savior. He is the one doing the acting, the initiating, we the responding. And he does it all not primarily for our good, but for his glory. Always gotta start and end with his glory. This is further clarified in these following verses of those who are the Lord’s witnesses, those he has chosen:
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
11 I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.
12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.
13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
When I act, who can reverse it?”
Could it be any more clear who does the saving? Where the focus should be? Not on our sin, but on his saving, his glory, his power. I love verse 12. He has revealed and saved and proclaimed. His activity in communication (revelation and proclamation) surrounds, comes before and after, his action, his salvation. Although it’s likely reading something into the text that isn’t there, this can easily refer to God’s revelation in redemptive history up to Christ, the salvation that was brought to the world in Christ, then the proclamation of that salvation after his resurrection. Something tells me God had this all very carefully planned out.
In the final 14 verses, the Lord again declares his salvation from Babylon. He tells Israel they will go on sinning, and even that he will continue to be burdened and wearied by their sins. But even their sin will not deter him from his ultimate mission:
25 “I, even I, am he who blots out
your transgressions, for my own sake,
and remembers your sins no more.
And he wants to make it very clear in the last three verses that this has absolutely nothing to do with anything they could have done to earn it, even their religious observances. He saves in spite, never because of. What comforting words to sinners in need of saving. We know now how he can not remember our sins, which are ever before us: He gives us, as Paul declares, his very own righteousness in Christ! How counter intuitive it is to us in our fallen state that sinners can have a clean conscience. The writer to the Hebrews puts it well:
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
As always it should be, full assurance is ours if we focus on Him!