Isaiah 44:1-23 "But now listen..."
Updated: Jul 19
I recognize that I haven’t been showing up very often these days, but life is a little nuts right now. Never fear, I am still going through the book of Isaiah with you, mining for nuggets and thinking on them until I have time to sit down and share. Here’s the latest.
Chapter 43 ended like this:
Your first father sinned; those I sent to teach you rebelled against me. So I disgraced the dignitaries of your temple; I consigned Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn.
I review that sad verse because of what comes next. One of the most powerful three-letter words in the English language: “but.”
“But now listen, Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen. This is what the Lord says— he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, that is, Israel whom I have chosen.
The CliffsNotes version of verses 1 and 2 is “Don’t be afraid,” but there is a whole lot of information about God and His people in the thirty-one words in between.
Have you noticed that God, who has 30-something names for Himself in Isaiah alone (Can you find them all?), has quite a few names for His people, too? Three alone in verse two, and that’s just counting those with capital letters.
We all know by now that this little collective of tribes that could perch on the tip of Florida has been called all kinds of names to define their borders: Israel (the whole nation); Ephraim and Judah (the northern and southern kingdoms); and Samaria and Jerusalem (the governmental centers of the northern and southern kingdoms). But more important are the names God uses to define them. Here: Jacob, Jeshurun, and Israel. Now close your eyes and ponder. Why those three names, in that order, on this occasion?”
A review: the name Jacob means “deceiver” and the name Israel means “God contends.” And in the middle: Jeshurun. It means “upright,” and the only other place it appears is in the song of Moses.
Have we talked about the song of Moses? Found in Deuteronomy 32, Moses’ song is the Reader’s Digest version of Israel’s future history. It’s quite a song. It’s certainly not a victory song, but neither is it a song of defeat. Like most of the songs of the prophets, it starts with praise and ends with praise, with a roller coaster ride in between. It has a lot in common with the prophecy of Isaiah, and chapter 44 in particular.
In this, his swan song, Moses refers to his motley crew as Jeshurun, upright ones, while describing behavior that is anything but upright:
Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; filled with food, they became heavy and sleek. They abandoned the God who made them and rejected the Rock their Savior (Deuteronomy 32:15).
So they abandoned their maker and rejected their savior, yet he calls them “upright ones.” Why did he do that? Why does God do that?? Why do they call things that are not as though they are???
Hmm. That sounds familiar. Oh, yeah… Romans 4:17! I learned that verse back when I thought the King James Version was the only real Bible. There it says, “…God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.” I live dangerously now, dangling on the edge of heresy reading the NIV, and in the NIV, Romans 4:17 refers to God as the one “who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.” (i.e., “Let there be…” and here we are!)
So, anyway, God calls the same group of people that He calls Jacob (descendants of the heel grabber), Jeshurun (the upright ones). But He also calls them that third name: Israel (God contends). And there’s the gospel in a nutshell. The less than upright become the upright because God contends for them. He’s not denying who they are, but He’s defining who they’ll be. With God, that’s just the way it works.
The next verse begins with another powerful three-letter word: for. Meaning, here’s why you don’t need to fear:
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams.
The mighty Game Changer, the Spirit of God, is like water, bringing life, and is Israel’s guarantee that they will not only survive this roller coaster ride, they will thrive. And not just in numbers, but in wisdom:
Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; others will call themselves by the name of Jacob; still others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and will take the name Israel. Some say that verse 5 is all about the Israelites realizing whose they are, still others say it’s about people everywhere recognizing who He is and then identifying themselves with Him. I’m good with both. The whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, and it has to start somewhere.
Like chapter 43, much of chapter 44 addresses the worship of idols, this time focusing on the foolishness of those who make them. But God tries to fix the minds of His people on who He is before He reminds them what their captors’ gods are not (verses 6-20).
Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God… No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” And then there’s them:
All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame.
I should say so.
Idol makers work hard to perfect figures to strengthen and sustain them, yet they get tired, get up, and go find something to eat. They use things God created to create gods in place of Him. They design and measure and straighten and shape to make things that resemble the glory of man, yet all the thing can do is sit in a shrine.
And get this: the idolater uses the same wood to make both supper and savior! How does he decide? Does he pick up a stick and say, “I wonder what you’ll be? Wood for the stove or wood for the shrine?” It’s not like the stick can talk! I’m guessing the man makes it into what he needs the most at the time. Interesting. That can’t make for very astute gods. Or very tasty meals. This might be a good time to ask the idolaters: “Do you not discern it?” (Isaiah 43:19)
Now, lest we skip over important, let’s go back to verse 13, where God says the idol manufacturer shapes it in human form, “human form in all its glory.” Human form in all its glory? That’s almost like calling Jacob Jeshurun! But that’s what God said. God’s the one who describes what they are trying to build. So the maker of dumb idols recognizes something that we seem to forget: the closest you can get to God is man.
We all know the verse that says man was made in the image of God, but, we think, “There was this incident called “the Fall,” see, and all that changed…” The apostle Paul disagrees:
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.“ (2 Corinthians 3:18)
So the Master planner says:
“Remember these things, Jacob, for you, Israel, are my servant. I have made you, you are my servant; Israel, I will not forget you.”
God cannot, will not, nor does he want us to, forget why He began this little project in the first place: to fashion a people to display His glory.
So He does whatever is necessary to finish His work:
I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist.
Just like that.
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.