Isaiah 48

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2007 James Melough

48:1.  “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.”


As already discussed the name Jacob is associated with the flesh; Israel, with the spirit, but the clear implication here is that they were of Israel in name only: their lifestyles contradicted their profession; and so is it still amongst many who profess to be Christians, God’s warning being, “For they are not all Israel which are of Israel: neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but in Isaac shall thy seed be called.  That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed,” Romans 9:7-8, and again, “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” Matthew 7:16.  The profession of faith is to be confirmed by righteous living, for “Faith without works is dead,” James 2:20-26.


48:2.  “For they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel; The Lord of hosts is his name.”


The people of Jerusalem boasted of beings citizens of that city, and the others of having it as their capital, while they all claimed to have Jehovah, the Lord of hosts (armies) as their God; but it was an idle boast, for their wickedness had defiled the city and dishonored God’s holy name, so that they had become the objects of His wrath rather than His blessing, hence His bringing them as captives to Babylon.


There are multitudes today claiming affiliation with Rome or Westminster, whose lifestyles similarly bring reproach on God and on genuine believers, hence the imperative of true believers obeying Paul’s injunction, “I ... beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,” Ephesians 4:1.  Genuine faith ought to produce good works that will confirm the reality of the professed conversion.


Their comfortable settling in Babylon foreshadows the present state Christendom.  It too is settled comfortably in what Babylon represents: a false religious system that knows nothing of God in spite of professed faith in Him.


The Bible Knowledge Commentary makes the pertinent comment that, “... they call themselves by the name of Israel (prince of God) but they are not princes.  They are descended from Judah (praise) but they do not praise Him.  They confess the God of Israel but they do not confess their sins.  They call themselves after the holy city but they are not holy.  They lean on the God of Israel but they are not godly.”


48:3.  “I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly and they came to pass.”


God’s foretelling events long before they occurred proved that He was God, for none but He knows the end from the beginning, and so is it still, for as noted already, fulfilled prophecy is one of the surest proofs that the Bible is divinely inspired, the large part of prophecy already realized being the guarantee that the small part remaining will have the same exact fulfillment. 


48:4.  “Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is as an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;”


As the bent head signifies submission, so here the unbent neck declares Israel’s stubborn rebellion against God; and the brazen brow speaks of arrogant defiance and total lack of shame for her wickedness.


48:5.  “I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I shewed it thee: lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven (carved) image, and my molten (cast) image, hath commanded them.”


From the beginning of His dealings with Israel God had done something idols couldn’t do: He had foretold the future, the fulfillment of His predictions confirming that He alone is God, and it is instructive to note that His book, the Bible, enjoys that same unique distinction: the handbook of no other religion even attempts to prophesy.


48:6.  “Thou hast heard; see all this; and will not ye declare it?”


They had heard His predictions, and had seen them fulfilled, yet they rejected this infallible evidence, stubbornly refusing to confess that He alone is the eternal omnipotent, omniscient God, fulfilled prophecy attesting the Divine authorship of the Bible, as it is written, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts,” 1 Peter 1:19.


48:7.  “They are created now, and not from the beginning; even before the day when thou heardest them not; lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them.”


God was now going to do something new: He was going to foretell their deliverance from Babylon by Cyrus, whose birth was still about 150 years in the future, so that when the event occurred they couldn’t say, We ourselves already knew this would happen.  There is no greater folly than to tempt God.


48:8.  “Yea, thou heardst not; yea, thou knewest not; yea, from that time that thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou wouldst deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb.”


The NEB translation of this verse reads, “... for I knew that you were untrustworthy, treacherous, a notorious rebel from your birth.” 


Since God was foretelling events so far in the future, they couldn’t say, when the events occurred, that they already knew they were going to happen.  As stated already, only God can foretell the future.


48:9.  “For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off.”


“For my name’s sake have I been patient with you ... for my honor’s sake have I bridled my anger against you ... so as not to cut you off,” is the AAT rendering of this verse.  For the sake of the honor of His own name God would spare the rebels even though they were worthy of death.  His love and mercy for ruined sinners who are equally unworthy of mercy, impelled Him to give His only Son to die as their Substitute, so that on a perfectly just basis He could respond to their faith in that Son by pardoning their sins and bestowing His gift of eternal life. 


48:10.  “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”


Taylor has translated this verse, “I refined you in the furnace of affliction, but found no silver there.  You are worthless, with nothing good in you at all.”  And as was Israel so is every person on earth.  Under the testing of God’s perfect standard every man is found wanting, as it is written, “There is none righteous, no, not one .... For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” Romans 3:10,23.  Silver is the biblical symbol of redemption, and among the unconverted there is not to be found one who possesses the equivalent of that precious metal, i.e., one who has been born again by confessing himself a sinner who has trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior.


48:11.  “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it; for how should my name be polluted?  And I will not give my glory unto another.”


The Amplified rendering of this verse reads, “For My own sake, for My own sake, I do it [I refrain and do not utterly destroy you], for why should I permit My name to be polluted and profaned [which it would be if the Lord completely destroyed His chosen people]?  And I will not give My glory to another [by permitting the worshipers of idols to triumph over you].”


God would not permit His power and glory to be impugned by making it possible for anyone, man or demon, to say that He was incapable of providing a complete and perfectly just and righteous redemption for sinners.  Every charge brought against the believer is answered by the precious blood of Christ which has made complete atonement for all his sins - past, present, and future; God’s assurance relative to that vicarious death being, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin,” 1 John 1:7, so that “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,” Romans 8:1.  Man’s sin had rendered his life forfeit, so Christ became man, took our sins upon Himself as though He had committed them, and atoned for them by suffering the just sentence due to them; but because He was God as well as man He then did what no one else had the power to do: He rose from the dead as its Conqueror - it couldn’t hold Him - and now He offers to every believer the gift of eternal life.


What glory has been brought to the Father by Christ’s obedient vicarious death!


48:12.  “Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.”


Jacob, representing the flesh; and Israel, the spirit, may here represent the nation as consisting of unbelievers and believers respectively; or of their being a redeemed people, but still in earthly bodies.  Generation succeeded generation, but Jehovah is the eternal I Am, having neither beginning nor ending.


48:13.  “Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.”


By simply saying “Be,” God brought the earth and the heavens into existence, as it is written, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth .... For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast,” Psalm 33:6-9.


48:14.  “All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them hath declared (foretold) these things?  The Lord hath loved him (Cyrus): he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans.”


Moffatt’s translation of this verse reads, “Gather, all of you, and listen: which of your idols ever predicted this, that my friend Cyrus should work out my will on Babylon and the Chaldean line?”


As noted already Cyrus was God’s friend only in the sense that he was the instrument through which the Divine will was accomplished.  There is nothing to indicate that he ever became a believer, and it is to be remembered that God loves sinners, and is grieved when they die in unbelief, neglecting or rejecting the redemption He has provided at incalculable cost: the death of His sinless Son.


48:15.  “I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous.”


The reference is to Cyrus, his coming being spoken of as already accomplished though it was still 150 in the future, and his way would be prosperous because God would use him to accomplish His purposes.


48:16.  “Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me.”


The Speaker is God, and His gracious invitation to come near to Him declares His desire to have fellowship with men; nor does He desire to be secretive about His intentions: He wants to share them with believers so that their faith will be strengthened when the foretold events occur.


“... from the time that it was, there am I” is usually taken to mean that when the foretold time of fulfillment came He was there making the predicted event happen, thus confirming the faith of His own.  As has been noted already there is no more convincing proof of the Divine inspiration of Scripture than fulfilled prophecy.


The latter part of the verse is unclear, but understood by some to have reference to Isaiah himself as the one whom God had sent, but clearly it is a prophetic reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.


48:17.  “Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.”


This verse needs no comment, except to note that “to profit” is better rendered “for your good, for your spiritual enrichment.”  Obedience is the only path to blessing.


48:18.  “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! Then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:”


Here God laments Israel’s disobedience which had robbed them of peace and blessing; and surely He laments no less over today’s refractory professing Christianity.  Only the judgment seat of Christ will reveal the extent of the loss occasioned by our rebellion, and the munificence of the reward gained by obedience.


48:19.  “Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me.”


In Israel a large family was a sign of blessing, and the same principle applies spiritually today to Christianity: multiplied spiritual children, i.e., men and women led to Christ, will result from our zealous spread of the gospel, and bring us eternal blessing.


Disobedient Israel wept bitterly over the loss of literal sons and daughters slain by the enemy, and how many Christian parents today weep, not only over literally dead sons and daughters, but over those who are dead spiritually, and who have become indifferent to the matter of their soul’s salvation, and inured to the warnings of the gospel!


48:20.  “Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, the Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob.”


As discussed already, ancient Babylon was a type of what papal Rome has been for almost two thousand years: a corrupt religious system that holds professing but apostate Christianity in its murderous iron grip; and as also noted, Revelation chapters 17 and 18 make it crystal clear that the command to flee out of Babylon is simply the OT echo of God’s command to flee out of Roman Catholicism, the very name Babylon being used in those chapters to describe that same satanic system.


And only the spiritually blind will fail to see the appropriateness of the singing that was to accompany escape from ancient Babylon: it symbolizes the joy that is concomitant with escape from the toils of Roman Catholicism and every other false religious system, including apostate Protestantism.


48:21.  “And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out.”


The reference is to God’s having led the children of Israel through the wilderness for forty years before bringing them into Canaan, providing them with water from the smitten rock, see Numbers 20:11, that rock being a symbolic picture of Christ smitten at Calvary to make the water of life available to men.  The abundance of that life is indicated in its being said that the waters gushed out, as the Lord Himself declared, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” John 10:10.


48:22.  “There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.”


This solemn warning is in stark contrast with the peace bequeathed by the Lord Jesus Christ to believers as recorded in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  The sure foundation of that divinely promised peace rests on the assurance that, “All things work together for good to those who love God,” Romans 8:28, and His promise, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” Hebrews 13:5.

[Isaiah 49]

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     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
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