(If this day is the Fourth Sunday in Advent, please refer to that day
in the list of devotions.)
Merciful God and Faithless People
This whole chapter reminds us of the Lord’s mercy for a faithless people, people who “from birth … were called a rebel.” God does everything for His people. He even declares things “of old” so that when the event prophesied comes to pass the people won’t be able to say that it was their idol that did it. God even suggests that the purpose of prophecy (announcing things ahead of time) is to convict people who are obstinate, with necks of iron. That is, God’s people are so obstinate that God has to proclaim his miraculous deeds ahead of time and then do them or else they will never believe. It’s a chapter that tells us who we are as sinful people – born in sin and living in sin and unbelief.
So what does God do in this situation? Surely, He executes judgment. And He does. Yet, it is never a complete judgment in which His people are annihilated. The Lord says in verse nine: “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off.” And then, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” In these verses the Lord tells us why He is merciful, why He refines His people, why He never makes a complete end of them – for His own sake, for His own glory! Lest some think this narcissistic of God, they should bear in mind that when God considers His glory it seems to lead to our acquittal. This is why Jesus called his passion his glory (John 12:20-36).
And then there is what seems a cryptic remark in 48:14-16. The Lord calls His people to assemble. He speaks of someone He loves who will fulfill His purpose for Babylon, which is judgment. Some believe the text refers to the Persian king, Cyrus, who defeated Babylon. But the passage goes on about this “loved one.” Then, Isaiah 48:16: “Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there. And now the Lord has sent me and his Spirit.” Does not, “From the time it came to be I have been there,” remind one of “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2)? And the sending of the Spirit is explicitly spoken of in the same gospel in 16:5-15, primarily of the Son’s sending of the Spirit. Is not this passage in Isaiah a reference to our Triune God who reveals this to us here in the Old Testament? Indeed, He speaks nothing in secret but declares mysterious things from of old.