Isaiah 48 is both a proclamation of God’s coming plan and an arraignment of His people. God’s distaste at the nation of Israel is palpable and painful at times, but these declarations are paired with the absolute certainty that God will redeem His people through new and hidden things.
God brings forth the things He has promised because He knows that Israel needs to see the proof of His providence in order to believe. God knows their hearts, that many of them have sworn by Him and mentioned Him, “but not in truth or in righteousness.”
God has done and will do the things He has promised; He provides assurance that these things were planned and will be done because He knows that Israel (and mankind overall) cannot be successful without His help and the implementation of His plan.
The references elsewhere in the New Testament of Israel as a “stiff-necked people” are elaborated upon in verses 4 and 5: “Because I knew that you were obstinate, And your neck was an iron sinew, And your brow bronze, Even from the beginning I have declared it to you; Before it came to pass I proclaimed it to you, Lest you should say, ‘My idol has done them, And my carved image and my molded image Have commanded them.’” The comparison of the people to iron and bronze is meant to indicate rebelliousness, or “stubborn rebels” as found in Jeremiah 6:28: “They are all stubborn rebels, walking as slanderers. They are bronze and iron, They are all corrupters.”
It is heartbreaking to think about God knowing that His people would attribute His work for them to a carved or molded image. When we take a moment to consider what God did for us and the suffering of Jesus, the human guilt evident is especially acute. Even more convicting is the fact that God knew of the betrayal in their hearts all along. In verse 8 He says, “Surely you did not hear, Surely you did not know; Surely from long ago your ear was not opened. For I knew that you would deal very treacherously, And were called a transgressor from the womb.” Isaiah 48:8
God also says that He is making them aware of new things. These new things God has spoken now because He wants them to know from whom they are coming.
In verse 9, God has deferred His anger for the sake of His name. God is saving Israel, and Israel alone, for His name’s sake. Many times in Isaiah we have read of how God’s love for His people prompts His grace and the physical and spiritual salvation. While that reason holds true, we also know from Isaiah 42:8-12 that God does all things to contribute to and magnify His glory:
“I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images. Behold, the former things have come to pass, And new things I declare; Before they spring forth I tell you of them.” Sing to the LORD a new song, And His praise from the ends of the earth, You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, You coastlands and you inhabitants of them! Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voice, The villages that Kedar inhabits. Let the inhabitants of Sela sing, Let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory to the LORD, And declare His praise in the coastlands.”
Indeed, God echoes what He said from Isaiah 42 in verse 11 of this chapter: “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it; For how should My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another.” The message that He is imparting remains one of strength, dominance and power. Even though God allowed Israel to languish in sin and defiance towards Him, there evidently was a limit. God has reached that limit at this point and is letting us witness the motivation behind the salvation of His beloved people.
Before we go to the next passage, let us take a closer look at verse 10: “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” This verse posits a theme that is found throughout the Word of God. Precious metals are separated from impure elements when heated high enough to melt. This process is compared to God putting His people through the fire of temptation, the fire of sin’s consequence and the fire of the trials of life, to name a few examples. After going through these episodes, the weak parts of our spirit and our personality are burned away because we have succeeded through the strength of our faith and our reliance on God. This is a great analogy to remember when we are in the midst of life’s challenges: if we give up and turn our back on God, we are lost and will never receive the excellence of His richest blessings, as well as an improved version of ourselves:
“He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the LORD An offering in righteousness.” Malachi 3:3
“that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” I Peter 1:7
If there is nothing that we can take from these verses, it is that God loves the ones that know Him and know what He has done. This also implies living in a way that demonstrates that one knows and is confident of Almighty God.
God makes mention of Cyrus again in verses 14 & 15 and the meaning and application for us gets even deeper with verse 16, which is an allusion to the coming Christ: “Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; From the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord GOD and His Spirit Have sent Me.”
God is communicating to His people and to us that He is the fullness of everything and we only need follow Him in order to save ourselves. The one that God has saved will prosper.
For a time, Israel lost their way and with it, the peace that only God can provide. Nevertheless, God will still save them from the threats of Babylon. He encourages them to go forth and spread the news that God has saved Israel.
The final statements from Isaiah 48 distribute the blessings and consequences alike determined by how people choose to react to the Word and commandments of God:
“And they did not thirst When He led them through the deserts; He caused the waters to flow from the rock for them; He also split the rock, and the waters gushed out. “There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.”” Isaiah 48:21-22