Isaiah 50: Three Voices
Updated: Dec 5, 2021
Isaiah chapter 50 presents us with three messages from three voices, all aimed at one target: a restored relationship between God and His people. The first voice, in verses 1-3, is the LORD speaking to His people—this time casting them in the role of His wife and challenging their charges that He has been unfaithful to them. The second voice, verses 4-9, is the Son rehearsing how he has been prepared by the Sovereign LORD and what he is prepared to do to bring His children back to Him. In verses 10-11, the third voice, the Holy Spirit, reveals Himself in the role of the teacher presenting a choice: walk in the fear of the LORD, or walk away.
Although spoken in the time of the Assyrian invasion, these voices speak to God’s people as if it were 150 years later and they are already in Babylon accusing God of abandoning them there. Verses 1-3 record the LORD’s response to their accusations:
“Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce with which I sent her away? (verse 1a) Under the Mosaic law, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
Under the law, did God have reason to divorce His wife? Yes! But would He? He considered nothing of the kind (Isaiah 49:14-15). In asking this rhetorical question, the Sovereign is saying, “Show me how I have divorced you. You have no evidence; I have never sent you away.”
In contrast, of the northern kingdom God said, “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries (Jeremiah 3:8a).” When a certificate of divorce was issued, the divorce was final; there was no going back. So Israel was done. But not Judah. “Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.“ Now jump ahead to chapter 54, verses 6 and 7, and you’ll read, “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.”
Judah had the same sin as Israel, yet she was sent away without divorce papers in hand. Why? Because Judah was the tribe of Jesus, and for the sake of the people of the northern kingdom and all the peoples of the world, God would not send her away. He maintained His commitment to her so that all the world could be saved.
He asks another question: “Or to which of my creditors did I sell you?” (verse 1b)
The answer? None. God has no creditors; He owes no man anything. He is able to keep what is His.
So why the captivity? Why were they living far from their promised land?
“Because of your sins you were sold; because of your transgressions your mother was sent away.” (verse 1c)
It would be the consequence of her sin. She would be sent out from under God’s protective hand and into a land that was not her own. But her faithful God would bring her back.
Yet in the present, when He came knocking no one answered. They were far too busy seeking out earthly deliverers (verse 2a). And that’s why, 150 years later, they would be found in Babylon, asking where their God was. Ironic, isn’t it?
They forgot their history: the parting of the Red Sea had let them pass through while Egypt was left in the midst of rotting fish, for example. They forgot who He was and His authority over the forces of creation: a three-day, awe-inspiring darkness in Egypt while there was light in their homes, for example. His arm is long enough and He is strong enough to overcome any foe (verses 2b-3). He can do whatever He likes whenever He likes, and He has promised that He will.
I know all of this emphasis on “He’s God and He can do what He wants” makes Him sound like a selfish tyrant, yet when He does what He wants when He wants, all of creation, including man, thrives. He does what He needs to to get selfishness and sin out of the way. And, the Son says, here is how He is going to do it:
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away. (verses 4-5)
When the Sovereign spoke, the Son listened. And after he had listened, he spoke. (Oh, that I would learn that lesson!) The Son had to be instructed; he had to be a disciple—he didn’t just come that way. He had to be ready and waiting to hear God’s voice; he had to learn (Luke 2:46; Mark 1:35; John 5:19; Matthew 26:39). And as he learned, he became as a sharpened sword and a polished arrow (Isaiah 49:2) in God’s hand. He was ready to speak the right word at the right time to the right people because he paid attention to the Sovereign's voice, continually. And when the Son learned the Sovereign’s will—that it would include his suffering and death—he did not rebel but gave himself to torture and beating and humiliation. He “set his face like flint,” confident that He who sent him would never forsake him, and he would outlast his accusers. Eternity held his attention.
He looked to the day in the heavenly courtroom when no charges can be brought against him and when his righteousness will be revealed in the face of his accusers. In light of eternity, his accusers will have been only a temporary fashion, now cast away and forgotten (verses 5-9). This may have been the most important lesson the Son learned in the classroom of life in a land controlled by the hyper-religious while subject to the oppression of Roman rule.
His response was in stark contrast to Zion’s. Zion did not listen; Zion did not obey. Zion was unconvinced and unmoved by the Father’s love and had no confidence in His ability to save. Think of this: Zion suffered for her disobedience; the Son suffered because He obeyed.
Then think of this: nothing the Son did is beyond the ability of man to do. Adam walked in the garden with God, heard His voice, and was given daily opportunity to hear and obey. We, too, are given the privilege of prayer, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the same opportunities to hear and obey.
So with the example of the Son before us, the Holy Spirit asks: will you model yourself after the Son or walk in the self-sufficiency modeled in the fall of Israel? (It seems self-sufficiency is a big deal to God.) Because both those who fear the LORD and those who do not walk in the midst of the same darkness. It’s the source of their light that’s different.
Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God. (verse 10)
Can you trust? Will you obey?
But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment. (verse 11)
Those who follow their own wisdom will walk in darkness; their “torches” will lead them away from the Light. Far from Him, they will receive the fruit of their own fire: the grief, the pain, and the displeasure of living outside the blessing of God.
And me? I’m a strong person with a life that’s been nearly pain-free. I have no idea how self-sufficient I am until something is allowed into my life that challenges my strength. And when it does, my choice is the same as Adam’s, as Israel’s, as Jesus’. What will I do?