So far, the Lord had shown God’s people the difference between lifeless idols and the living God, and what happens when trust is put in either one.

Trust in Truth and Right

God’s Judgment: Those who count on silver and gold, on their own intelligence, on national wealth and military might, or in any other kind of power apart from God, will find themselves under God’s judgment.

God’s Presence: But what of people who put their trust in God? It depends on what that really means …

Hear this, O house of Jacob,
    who are called by the name of Israel
    and who came forth from the loins of Judah,
who swear by the name of the Lord
    and invoke the God of Israel
    but not in truth or right.
For they call themselves after the holy city
    and lean on the God of Israel;
    the Lord of hosts is his name.

Isaiah 48:1-2 (NRSV, emphasis mine)

The people of Judah may have been living as captives in the city of Babylon, they may have built houses there and raised families, established careers and made lasting friendships. But in their hearts and spirits, at least nominally, they aligned themselves with God’s holy city in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, before the exile, when they were yet living in Jerusalem, God’s people had gotten deeper and deeper into trouble with idolatry.

To expose these idols for what they were, God had prophesied, then brought into reality the people’s exile.

The Lord did not want them to mistakenly attribute God’s acts to their own actions, or to those of an idol

The former things I declared long ago;
    they went out from my mouth, and I made them known;
    then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.
Because I know that you are obstinate,
    and your neck is an iron sinew
    and your forehead brass,
I declared them to you from long ago,
    before they came to pass I announced them to you,
so that you would not say, “My idol did them;
    my carved image and my cast image commanded them.”

Isaiah 48:3-5 (NRSV, emphases mine)

Now God was going to do the same thing again.

by Kirt Edblom | flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

My Glory I Will Not Give to Another

God was predicting the Judahite people’s release from captivity with details they could never have come up with on their own, so there would be no question about Who was responsible.

From this time forward I tell you new things,
    hidden things that you have not known.
They are created now, not long ago;
    before today you have never heard of them,
    so that you could not say, “I already knew them.”
You have never heard; you have never known;
    from of old your ear has not been opened.
For I knew that you would act very treacherously
    and that from birth you were called a rebel.

Isaiah 48:6-8 (NRSV, emphasis mine)

And God would do it for God’s Own name’s sake.

For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
    for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
    so that I may not cut you off.

Isaiah 48:9 (NRSV, emphasis mine)

There is a tension in this chapter between two opposing forces—the stubbornness of God’s people and the even more unshakeable nature of God’s grace. By the end of the chapter, Isaiah would show that God will not give up on God’s people. The Lord will remain true to the Lord’s Own character, the Lord’s Own nature of love.

For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
    for why should my name be profaned?
    My glory I will not give to another.

48:11 (NRSV, emphasis mine) 
by Hernán Piñera | flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Furnace of Adversity

God’s righteous will, the expression of God’s holy sovereignty, is like a hot furnace.

God’s Resolution: To those who oppose and reject God, who deal with adversity sans faith, God’s righteous holiness will be too hot to handle. It will be like a furnace of destroying fire. Judgment. Nothing left.

God’s Refinement: But for others, that furnace – experienced as meeting adversity in this life with a life of Spirit-filled faith in God – will be a refining fire, removing the dross of idolatry and rebellion to reveal the gold of enduring faith and godly character. That is what God’s righteousness is to God’s people.

See, I have refined you but not like silver;
    I have tested you in the furnace of adversity.

Isaiah 48:10 (NRSV, emphases mine)

That affliction might come in all kinds of different ways. In fact, we should expect adversity on a planet where all humans have agency and free will, not to mention the course of nature itself.

For Israel it was the seventy years in exile. For you and me today, it might be any size or shape of difficulty. And just as with God’s people of old, you and I can be sure that its purpose in our lives, if we have put our faith and trust in the Lord, is to refine us. God’s intention is to make you and me pure, strong, healthy, and whole.

Suffering is bad enough already.

So let us not waste the adversity that comes our way! 

Rather than fight against suffering, or try to in every way to escape the suffering, let us instead surrender to what the Lord is doing with this plight (whatever it is). God alone has all the authority, all the power, and all the right.

Listen to me, O Jacob,
    and Israel, whom I called:
I am he; I am the first,
    and I am the last.

My hand laid the foundation of the earth,
    and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I summon them,
    they stand at attention.

Isaiah 48:12-13 (NRSV, emphases mine)

Let us welcome God’s righteousness to conform our character to the Lord’s.

Let us listen keenly for God’s voice, for the movement and guidance of God’s Spirit, while we pray.

Let us act wisely, with patient faith and expectant hope.

God’s righteousness is refinement to the repentant

by Tyler Neyens | flickr, CC BY 2.0

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

In reading through this chapter, notice how often God tells God’s people to pay attention:

  • “Hear this,” (Isaiah 48:1)
  • “You have heard; now see all this,” (Isaiah 48:6)
  • “See,” (Isaiah 48:10)
  • “Listen to me,” (Isaiah 48:12)
  • “Assemble, all of you, and hear!” (Isaiah 48:14)
  • “Draw near to me; hear this!” (Isaiah 48:16)

This is not so much a matter of reading the Bible more, or praying more, or reading more theological tomes, or listening to more Christian-themed material. This is far more simply paying attention to what God is saying and doing in our lives, as well as what God is saying to us through what we are already listening to and reading.

Find what it is God is showing us to apply to our lives, then really do it.

Specifically, God was calling God’s people to pay attention to the one God was declaring as the Bringer of Judgment and Salvation, though there are two layers here.

Double Meaning

Cyrus the Great: The first layer is the obvious one, it is about the Persian emperor Cyrus.

The one the Lord loves shall perform his purpose against Babylon,
    and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans.

Isaiah 48:14 (NRSV)

Messiah: But the other layer is not a secret,

From the beginning I have not spoken in secret;
    from the time it came to be I have been there.
And now the Lord God has sent me and his spirit.

Thus says the Lord,
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you how to succeed,
    who leads you in the way you should go.

Isaiah 48:16-17 (NRSV, emphases mine)

This is the Lord Jesus Christ, Who would come to pronounce judgment on sin by taking the judgment Himself, and by releasing every captive of sin and death who would put their faith in Him.

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