Wednesday, February 07, 2024

2024.02.07 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 41:21–42:17

Read Isaiah 41:21–42:17

Questions from the Scripture text: What (cf. Isaiah 41:7) does YHWH now challenge to do what (Isaiah 41:21)? What does He challenge these idols to show (Isaiah 41:22-23b, cf. Isaiah 41:4)? To do (Isaiah 41:23c–d)? What is the verdict (Isaiah 41:24)? What future event does the Lord now speak of in past tense (Isaiah 41:25, cf. Isaiah 44:24–45:7)? What will this one from the north and east proclaim (Isaiah 41:25c) by what action (Isaiah 41:25d–e)? What is completely lacking apart from the Lord (Isaiah 41:26), whether man (Isaiah 41:28) or “god” (Isaiah 41:29)? But what does He do for whom (Isaiah 41:27)? Whom does Isaiah 42:1a now announce? What does verse 1b call Him? What is the Lord’s disposition toward Him (verse 1c)? What will He bring to whom (verse 1d)? In what manner will His Word of justice come (Isaiah 42:2)? What will His manner be, with what sort of hearer (Isaiah 42:3)? How persistent will He be with His truth (Isaiah 42:4)? In Whose behalf does He speak (Isaiah 42:5a)? What work of His do verse 5b–c describe? What work in verse 5d–e? Who called Him for what purpose (Isaiah 42:6a)? Who operates with Him (verse 6b)? Who gives Him in what way (verse 6c)? Who are the recipients of this covenant, and what do they need (verse 6d)? What happens when the Servant enables them to see the truth of this covenant and participate in it (Isaiah 42:7)? Who is glorified by saving in this way (Isaiah 42:8)? How is He proving that already in Isaiah 42:9 (cf. Isaiah 41:4, Isaiah 41:22–23)? How are those who hear Him to respond to the new work of salvation that He tells them about (Isaiah 42:10)? Who/what benefit from this work and participate in this joy (Isaiah 42:11-12)? Who is the focus of this joy (Isaiah 42:13)? What do they see about Him? What imagery does Isaiah 42:14 use for the Lord’s waiting to bring forth this life? What imagery does Isaiah 42:15 use for the power of bringing it forth? For whom will the Lord do this (Isaiah 42:16, cf. Isaiah 6:9–10; Isaiah 29:10Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:5)? What will happen to those who hope in anything else (Isaiah 42:17)? 

How does the Lord humiliate men’s idols? Isaiah 41:21–42:17 prepares us for the first serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these twenty-six verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the Lord humiliates idols by making known His saving truth. 

Challenge to divine battle, Isaiah 41:21-29. For hundreds of years, Israel has had the word of the Lord proclaimed to them about the salvation of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 41:8–19), unto His glory (cf. Isaiah 41:20). But the nations have languished in the blindness of their not knowing the Lord. When the Lord declared Himself in Isaiah 41:4, having invited them to renew strength in Him in Isaiah 41:1, the nations drew near (Isaiah 41:5) not to Him but to one another (Isaiah 41:6) and their idols (Isaiah 41:7). But these idols were not there at the beginning, and will not be there at the end, and are unable to know or proclaim anything about reality. So the Lord now challenges the idols to do just that in Isaiah 41:21-24

Men hunger to know where they came from and where they are going. The idols of the nations cannot do that in Isaiah 41–42. Even today, men have taken what little the Lord has enabled us to discover of His creation and attempted to theorize our way back to origins and forward to ultimate destinations. But we have the same problem. From within the creation, we don’t have access to the beginning of time and can deduce nothing about its end. For answering the great questions that image-bearers find themselves compelled to ask, Isaiah 41:24 is the verdict for the nations now, just as much as it was then.

YHWH is there at the beginning and at the end. The nations have the same ultimate origin as Israel and the same ultimate destination. Though Israel has a specialness is in the Lord—and particularly in the covenant administration under Abraham, Moses, and David—their ultimate reality is one that is shared with all the nations. The Lord has proclaimed the gospel to Israel (Isaiah 41:27, cf. Isaiah 41:8–20). And since the nations have no one who can help them (Isaiah 41:26), He will now do so for the nations as well. Israelites and Gentiles, alike, only have hope by faith in the one true God. Israelites who do not have Him by faith will perish. Gentiles who have Him by faith come into the right and possession of eternal life.

The One Who proclaims and brings His servants. The command to “behold” begins Isaiah 41:24Isaiah 41:29 (where NKJ translates “Indeed”). But looking to the idols only shows that they are nothing. They can give no help; they can tell no truth. By contrast, YHWH can tell the truth about what will happen because He Himself is bringing it about. This is true in the nearer-term with Cyrus, and in the longer term with Jesus. 

Isaiah 41:25 and Isaiah 42:1–4 present two different servants. The first, arises from the north (Isaiah 41:25a–b) and east (verse 25, cf. Isaiah 41:2a), proclaiming the Name of YHWH by smashing princes like a potter crushing, under his sandals, the clay scraps in his shop (Isaiah 41:25d–e, Isaiah 41:2c–f). In Isaiah 44:24–25:7, this conqueror will be identified as Cyrus. Unbelieving Bible “scholars” find it so implausible that Isaiah would know his name ahead of time that they decide that Isaiah 40–66 must have been written by another “Isaiah,” long after the first one.

But YHWH’s telling them about Cyrus in advance is exactly the point. Idols of men can’t predict such things, let alone bring them about. But the Lord YHWH of Israel is the One Who is going to “raise” him up (Isaiah 41:25). This is a test case that teaches them to see Cyrus as a proclamation of the truthfulness and power of the God Who now addresses them. For, this same God is going to raise up another Servant.

The Servant Whom the Lord proclaims, Isaiah 42:1–4. The Servant in Isaiah 42:1–4 is very different from the one pictured in Isaiah 41:25. He brings forth God’s judgment not in the stomping way of executing sentence upon the guilty but in a true verdict that offers mercy!

There is great power in Isaiah 42:1. YHWH’s Servant! YHWH’s Chosen One! YHWH’s Spirit! Bringing forth justice. But, as the strongest of men exemplify, great power is often expressed in restraint (Isaiah 42:2). He proclaims the Lord’s glory in a measured, steady manner. The bruised reed, ready to break, is ever so gently handled and strengthened (Isaiah 42:3a). The flickering, smoldering wick, He will not snuff out but bring to flame (verse 3b). Steadily, persistently, He will bring His declaration of salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 42:4). 

The Jews expected an Anointed (Messiah) like Cyrus. They did not expect the greater strength of Christ, Who would display His might in the day of His power by making enemies into volunteers, freewill offerings (cf. Psalm 110:3). When the Lord Jesus did come, proclaiming mercy and salvation in His own powerful Name, He repeatedly corrected their misconception (cf. John 3:15, John 12:47; Luke 9:56). When He does come in His wrath, He will shatter nations of rebels like that potter’s vessel (cf. Psalm 2:9), but His proclamation of Himself to them now is a call to submit to Him and trust in Him and be saved from that very perishing (cf. Psalm 2:12). 

The glory of the proclaiming Servant, Isaiah 42:5–17Isaiah 42:5 and Isaiah 42:6 imply that Christ’s saving of the nations (Isaiah 42:6) is the ultimate purpose of the creation (Isaiah 42:5). Here are the great and wonderful works of God! That sightedness which was impossible for sinful man and the very opposite of what he deserved (cf. Isaiah 6:9–10; Isaiah 29:10, Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:5), the Lord’s Servant will now bring by His proclamation (Isaiah 42:7Isaiah 42:16)! Here, the Servant does what none of the idols could do (Isaiah 42:9, cf. Isaiah 41:4, Isaiah 41:21–24). But YHWH says that as the Servant does this, YHWH is not sharing His glory (Isaiah 42:8). Clearly, the Servant is YHWH Himself!

Those who see YHWH’s glory in Jesus, the Servant, sing to Him the new song of Isaiah 42:10-16. In bringing forth spiritual life by Christ, YHWH does a new thing—an unique, one-time thing (Isaiah 42:14)—that compels the whole creation to praise. Here is the greatest glory of His power (Isaiah 42:12-13): healing and delivering those whom He saves (Isaiah 42:16). In so doing, the Lord humiliates all who trust in anything else, humiliating what they trusted in, right along with them.

In what else are you tempted to find knowledge, other than God’s own world and God’s own word? In what else are you tempted to hope? How have you known Jesus’s power in Jesus’s gentleness? What hope do you have that you will be safe in the day of His wrath? How have You responded to the new work of His salvation in Christ’s coming and gospel?

Sample prayer:  Lord, forgive us for seeking any knowledge apart from You. Thank You for telling us about the beginning and the end, and for announcing Your glory to us in Christ and His gospel. Forgive us for when we have not rejoiced in the strength of His gentleness toward us. Forgive us for when we have not rejoiced over His power to open the eyes of the blind. Forgive us for when our hearts have been unmoved by His glory, and we have not responded in song. Grant that all competing hopes will be put to shame, so that we will be turned back to Your glory in Jesus Christ, through Whom we ask it, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP98 “O Sing a New Song” or TPH2B “Why Do Heathen Nations Rage?”

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