The fifth concept used to describe the church is the firm foundation of the Bible. (The other four are in Friday’s post, Isaiah 42: Blind and Deaf, Blessed and Beloved)
You are my witnesses, says the Lord,Isaiah 43:10 (NRSV, modification added)
and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.
Seven hundred years later Jesus would turn to the disciples, and the others gathered around them on the Mount of Olives, and say to them,
“You will be My witnesses”Acts 1:7 (NRSV, modification added)
These same witnesses, and those who evangelized with them, wrote what we now call the Greek scriptures, or the New Testament.
You and I are called today to be the Lord’s witnesses as well, already being the display of God’s righteousness by living for the Lord, according to God’s purpose and the Living Word, and always being ready to talk about the good news of Jesus’s gift of restoration and eternal life.
Isaiah proclaimed that there is no other Savior:
I, I AM the Lord,
and besides me there is no savior.
I AM the one who declared and saved and proclaimed,Isaiah 43:11-12 (NRSV, modifications added)
not some strange god among you;
you are my witnesses, says the Lord, and I am God.
This is the same language the apostle Peter used when he said,
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”Acts 4:11-12 (NRSV)
In the next few verses, Isaiah goes on to describe the great exodus out of Egypt, in the days of Moses. But this is not to be understood as a one-time event.
It is a pattern.
The even greater exodus will be in the days of Jesus.
Thus says the Lord,Isaiah 43:16-19 (NRSV, modifications added)
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down; they cannot rise;
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?
Do not dwell on the mercies of the past, God is saying here, these simply point to the new thing I AM doing in your life.
Just as God made a way through the desert then, so the Lord will do now. Just as God provided water in the desert then, so the Lord will do now, and even more so.
for I give water in the wilderness,Isaiah 43:21 (NRSV, modifications added)
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.
You would think that God’s people would declare the Lord’s praise! And that you and I would see those deserts in front of us and say, “Wow, now God is really going to do something great, because that is one big, scary, dangerous, dry desert!”
But do we?
Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob;Isaiah 43:22 (NRSV)
but you have been weary of me, O Israel!
After making a way to restoration and new life, after pouring rivers of refreshment and revival into the sere desert of their circumstances … there is no praise, there is no lifting of heads. Instead, You have been weary of Me, God said.
There are two ways you and I can read these verses to figure out what has gone wrong:
Perhaps God was indicating the people no longer kept the temple services but had sort of abandoned them. And that did happen, after Hezekiah’s son Manasseh came to the throne. And that can happen today too, just kind of get out of the habit of prayer, Bible study, worship, and service.
The other way is a little more subtle. What if the people kept up their temple practices, but it had all become rote? What if it had all become a big, heavy, boring burden?
You have not brought me your sheep for burnt offeringsIsaiah 43:23 (NRSV)
or honored me with your sacrifices.
I have not burdened you with offerings
or wearied you with frankincense.
They were bringing those sacrifices and burning that incense … but it was really for themselves. They were treating worship as a mechanism for controlling God, and putting God in their debt. Naturally, that would get old after a while, would it not?
God does not burden us with worship and prayer and the scriptures. All that is designed to set you and me free! But what happens instead is our own burdening of ourselves and God with our sin.
You have not bought me sweet cane with moneyIsaiah 43:24 (NRSV, modifications added)
or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices.
Rather, you have burdened me with your sins;
you have wearied me with your iniquities.
Worship of God, it seems, had devolved into a kind of obligating of God, much in the way people treated the idols in their day. You and I can see this creeping into our own relationship with God. When we blame God for what is happening in our lives, where is that hostility coming from? It is coming from our own sense of self-righteousness that says we deserve better—we are good people who deserve good things. Who are owed by God.
Since that is what is going wrong, then what is God’s remedy?
I alone am the oneIsaiah 43:25 (NRSV, modifications added)
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins.
Just like that, God would forgive their indifference, their weariness with God, and never bring it up again. Or, God says, you can try to make your case.
Accuse me; let us go to trial;Isaiah 43:26 (NRSV, modifications added)
set forth your case, so that you may be proved right.
Let us see, says the Lord, if you can prove yourself right in this situation.
But the people in Isaiah’s day could not do it, and neither can you or I.
And there is more.
God had been warning generations of God’s people there would be consequences for their rejection of God’s word, God’s way, and God’s will.
Your first ancestor sinned,Isaiah 43:27-28 (NRSV)
and your mediators rebelled against me.
Therefore I profaned the princes of the sanctuary;
I delivered Jacob to utter destruction
and Israel to reviling.
There will always be consequences for wrongdoing, and wrong being. Sometimes those consequences are delayed, as in the case of Judah. Sometimes the consequences last a long time, sometimes longer than we would have ever imagined.
But as far as our relationship with the Lord goes, there can be instant revival.
Salvation is the work of God alone.
In what ways might you have “grown weary” of God? Revival comes from reconnecting with God, and drinking from the refreshing river God is pouring into our deserts.
Excursus on “Your First Ancestor.”
There are at least five theories on who was meant:
- Adam. However, the ancient Hebrews never saw Adam as their personal progenitor. “Adam” means “earthling,” Adam was the first human being, not the first Hebrew.
- Abraham. But though Abraham did sin, his story is one of devotion to God.
- A Wicked King. As the first king of the break-off nation of Israel, Jeroboam immediately established new religious centers with golden bulls representing God. But Isaiah was prophesying to Judah at this point. Turning in that direction, we see under the rulership of the Judahite king Manasseh even male prostitutes were ensconced at the temple. Could be him.
- The Wicked High Priest Uriah. At King Ahaz’s instigation, he built a Damascan altar to go in front of God’s altar in the outer court. Could be him, too.
- The High Priesthood. But this seems most likely, as the corruption of worship practices would begin with the direction of the high priest, and be followed through by the mediators Isaiah described as rebelling against God.