Isaiah 43: "Because I said so."
Updated: Jul 5
Mahmoud Illean/The Associated Press
Pay attention to history—ancient, medieval, or modern—and you’ll probably conclude that God has a hand in Israel’s continued existence. She seems to get up every time she’s knocked down, surviving against incredible odds. Nothing seems to extinguish her. Not even her own wickedness. Why? How? How can such a sinful nation survive, let alone bring glory to God?
Well, for starters, by breathing air. Her simple existence is a testimony to the faithfulness of God. What could better reveal God’s power and goodness than redeeming a people who seemed to thumb their nose at everything He said they should be/could be/would be? He seems to take pleasure in pointing them out and saying, “Look at them, over there, hanging out on the edge of the Mediterranean, surrounded by enemies, stubborn and disobedient and playing with idols? They’re mine.”
No doubt He’s grieved by His children’s bad behavior. What father wouldn’t be? But He’s not shaken. He’s not depending on any of His kids—including me— to bring His dreams to pass. He’s got it handled. We couldn’t thwart His plans if we tried. (It’s still a good idea to do things His way, though. It turns out much better for us when we do.)
As I read this chapter, I had to remind myself that God said all of this before His people even knew there would be a Babylonian captivity. They might have thought He was reciting a national epic, bringing to mind Moses and children of Israel facing the Red Sea, or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego facing the furnace. But, nope, He was making them a promise of protection even before they saw their captivity coming.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
“For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”
Paraphrase: Because I’m God and I said so.
To know that the Lord must deliver his people (being the God he is) is a deeper truth than knowing he will do so. (Motyer, J. Alec, The Prophecy of Isaiah, pg. 326, InterVarsity Press.)
About 4,000 years ago, He chose a man from a pagan land and thus began the most amazing story of an amazing God and a less than amazing nation. Along the way, He used a murderer, a trickster, a skeptic, and a prostitute, and a whole bunch of other weak and broken people.
With them, He plundered nations. Overthrew armies. Shouted down walls. All for a group of people that were seldom a shining example of what a godly nation should be. He sacrificed whole nations just to get them to where they were supposed to be. Why? Because He was God and He said He would.
His people are precious and they’re honored simply because He says so. Their disobedience in the meantime has some dire consequences—not for the promise, but for them. Destruction, exile, hard labor. In more recent times, persecution, genocide, and war.
Skeptics might say His promise to bring them home was just a one-time promise. Not so. History is chock full of accounts of their scattering and regathering.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Now, the last time I checked my map, Babylon was east of Israel. And you could make a case for north, I guess. But south? West? From the ends of the earth? This promise was a pretty good indicator that their dispossession and repossession of the Promised Land would go far beyond their march to Babylon and back. They’re coming from everywhere!
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
Because He’s God and He said so.
If you have time on your hands, here’s a tangle of a painting of what God has done to preserve His promise: http://www.wardshelley.com/paintings/diaspora.html. It’s kind of an artsy timeline of the comings and goings of God’s chosen. It was painted by artist Ward Shelley, who must be not only brilliant but persistent. Just looking at his work makes me cross-eyed, and while I don’t understand most of it, I see God’s hand in the middle of it all. Who else could make sense of the mess and straighten it out?
I think God agrees with that. We’re back in the courtroom now, where Judge of the earth calls the most unusual of witnesses—the blind and the deaf—to testify before the nations that other gods just don’t have it when it comes to guessing what God will do (verses 8-9). But…and then He points to Israel:
“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “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 will there be one after me. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.”
So. It seems Israel was called to watch God and tell others. Oh yeah, and show them. (Telling’s easy; showing, not so much.) At times, Israel had made much of the fact they were God’s chosen people, but after their initial showing at Jericho, they didn’t do so well. Anyway, God uses this opportunity to testify on His own behalf.
I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?”
And that, my friends, is the bottom line: He’s God, and He says so, and that’s that.
The only problem was His witnesses didn’t believe themselves!
God’s remedy? Send in the Babylonians.
Talk about counter-intuitive! Send in a conqueror to show what a mighty deliverer He is? Yep. I’m sure on the way to Babylon, the picture appeared to be a little fuzzy. But God, being God, gave them a promise to ponder while they marched east. “Your captors will become captives themselves (verse 14).”
So, verse 15 reminds us of who He is, and then verses 16-18 remind us of what He did. But as dramatic as the exodus from Egypt, God isn’t satisfied with history. He’s still God. So, He tells them, use history as your confidence. Don’t just reminisce about the good old days when I was able to deliver you. Dance! Sing! I’ll be right here, waiting until it’s time to deliver you again.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (verse 19)
Lots of present-day prophecies start with the words, “See, I am doing a new thing…” No revelation there. God is always doing new things! The real treasure is hidden behind the question: do you even notice?
It seems man is the only sector of God’s creation that struggles with spiritual blindness. Even animals recognize the blessing that comes when God’s people are delivered to their destiny: they get to drink while God’s people pass through (verse 20). But do God’s people even know why they are walking (verses 19-21)? It seems not (verses 22-24). Praise for the God who made them seemed to get lost along the way. No prayer. No sacrifice. No worship. No repentance.
Yet this from God:
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
Did you get that? God forgives His people for His own sake! Do you suppose that would work for us?
But as they say, forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean a free pass. Israel, He says, go ahead. Tell me again what will happen when you sin. Disgrace? Destruction? Scorn? (verses 26-28) Do you not perceive it?
History, He remembers. Stubbornness, He knows. Ignorance, He acknowledges. But sin, He blots out. Why? How?
Because He’s God and He says so.
He’s not a bully. He’s not stomping His foot up in heaven, trying to force our hand, seething from between clenched teeth, “Because I said so!” He’s here, there, and everywhere, saying, “Hush. Settle down. I’ve got this covered. I told you, didn’t I? Well, there you have it. I’m God and I said so.”
My best advice after having the truth of God’s unchanging nature drilled into my head: read and recite His promises over and over. Meditate on them all day long. And in response to His goodness, trust and obey. And just for the sheer joy of it, learn what makes Him smile and then do it. Not for His sake, but for yours.