Isaiah 43: 1-7 Nov. 14, 2013
The Incomparable Redeemer Beechy
Today, our text is taken from Isaiah 43: 1-7, which is addressed to the people of Israel in Exilic period, in this period Babylon was dominant. This passage is a salvation oracle. Some of the scholars treated verses 1-7 as a unit, but some split up into two oracles. This oracle begins and ends with the creation theme. However, in the present form of the text, it may be read as a unified poem. The chosen people, Israel need to know that their God, the Lord, “the first and the last” is always contemporary with history. Therefore, the exilic prophet gave message to them this particular text Isaiah 43: 1-7, surrounded by pagan gods who seemed to have given Babylon her great power, these despairing Jews needed to know once again that it was Yahweh, the God who had overpowered the so-called gods of Egypt in a time long before, who would now show himself to be greater than Babylon’s gods, Bel and Nebo. As the exilic prophet encouraged the Israel people to know how God is incomparable redeemer to them from various extreme situations, this morning let’s see how God is incomparable redeemer to us.
- The Incomparable Redeemer as Creator (v.1, 7)
The phrase “But now” is closely related to the message at the end of Chapter 42. In Isaiah 42: 25, Israel had been blind and deaf because of their disobedient and ignorant of His Word, therefore there is being burned in God’s judgment. The hopeless difficulty in which the exiles now find themselves is going to be changed by their Creator. Human beings are born free without burdens, or any kind of bondages. So naturally, human beings do not want to remain in any type of bondages, like social, political, and economical. Throughout the human history we see people are fighting for independence and for their self-existence and dignity.
The prophetic books contain various kinds of speeches: The phrase ‘Thus says the Lord’ belongs exclusively to prophetic literature and prophetic narratives. Prophetic speech is a messenger’s speech. The Messenger formula actually belongs to the speech of YHWH. The prophet, as a messenger of God who delivers God’s word, understands himself as the bearer of a message. In the process of sending a message, the sender first introduces his/her speech with it and later he/she introduces the message that has been entrusted to him/her with the formula.
Introduced by the word “Fear not,” it is an elaboration of a priestly assurance of salvation communicated to a penitent individual in an individual lament. His people need not fear because of his unfailing presence, his redemption, his calling us by name and we are His.
“Created, formed, redeemed, and called”-Four special words reveal that the relationship of God with his people. The words “created” and “formed” reach back to Genesis 1-2, where they refer to God’s creation of the universal and of humankind within that universe (Gen. 1) and his formation of the first human beings in the garden (Gen. 2). Deutero-Isaiah leads us to a more fundamental theological aspect of the doctrine of creation. The use of the term “bara” is significant. This is a theological term, which is used everywhere to denote the absolute creation of the universe. In the OT, bara is a technical term for God’s creation.
“yasar” is a characteristic word of the second creation story. The word is used particularly of the work of a potter (Isa. 41: 25). The verbal form in v.1b “I have redeemed you” is significant at this point. It refers strictly to Israel the nation; the words can only mean “who created Israel as a nation at Mount Sinai, by delivering them from Egypt and leading them through the wilderness and bringing them into the Promised Land. Some scholars believed that both “I have redeemed you” and “I have called you” are called prophetic perfect in which future action is seen as already completed, in other words it is “guaranteed assurance” because when the prophet gave this message to the people, they are still in the exilic. The idiom “to call by name” signifies that they were chosen and appointed for a very special purpose and highlights the special covenant relationship with the Lord.
God’s naming of Israel is also a special act of His new creation, like a father and mother giving their child its name at the time of dedication or baptism, God gives Israel His own name as members of the family. To be named the ‘children of God” reveals a family relationship. “You are mine” is God’s word of comfort that Israel neither deserved nor expected. “Everyone who is called by my name” means all the men and women who belong to him. The fact of creation justifies the right of ownership. “Creation” is not just something that happened at the beginning of the world. In the two clauses in opposition to the address in v.1, Israel had been reminded of her creator, and here, at the v. 7, she is told the ultimate implication of her having been created: “for my glory I created you”. In India, most of the people are oppressed and isolated from the society in various ways and struggle for liberation, but now our Creator, who named, formed, redeemed, and called by name, we are His for His glory, therefore he is going to change our situations.
Israel’s exaltation is not the final goal of the event; it is the glory of God. Likewise, in the New Testament we read that Christ always did several miracles that the Father might be glorified. Everything He does is for that purpose, for all glory given to Him will attract many more to the Kingdom. Likewise when we glorify the Lord, it is meant in part to draw people to His love.
Israel belongs to God because He created, formed, and called them into a nation in the first place and now he will deliver them from bondage so that they may know that Yahweh is the Creator. We are formed, called by name and created in His own image and redeemed by His Son Jesus Christ from sin bondage, but today most of the people in India, especially in developing countries still need redemption. Our creator and redeemer is our guardian in our daily life, we should not fear. As we “Journey with Jesus Christ” we need His protection from various dangers in our Journey.
- The Incomparable Redeemer as Guardian (vv. 2-3a)
Verse 2 uses some bold figures to express divine protection. “Water” and “fire” are symbols of extreme danger (Ps. 66: 12). The promise here refers to protection on the return journey from Babylon to Judah. It promises protection in the midst of danger, not out of danger. In Isaiah 42: 25, Israel is being burned in God’s judgment in Isaiah 42: 24-25 (past), but in Isaiah 43: 2, Israel will not be burned, because of God’s redemption (future). God is our incomparable God because his protection is in the midst of our dangerous situations not out of danger. God is never out of date. Dave, one of the scholars in the OT said that “when the hurt goes deep, God’s love and protection goes deeper”. It is true that today, as chosen people, we would not be immune to trial and tragedy as we pass through waters and fires but they would know that Yahweh is with us and that His love and protection would go deeper than their hurt. When God says, “Fear Not”, He means it. “The Lord” (Yahweh) is the name God had given Moses to identify the One who desired to delivers this captive people (Exod. 3: 14).
The phrase “Holy One of Israel” appears just over 30 times in the Old Testament and primarily in the book of Isaiah. The phrase is important for multiple reasons. The first is that YHWH, creator of all, would choose to identify Himself in context to His union with a very small group of people at all. Why would He call Himself something as seemingly insignificant as “Israel’s God?” If we were the ruler of ancient Rome, we would want to be known as the Ruler of Rome, not as the ruler of a small. God calls Himself as the “Holy One of Israel” to keep the final fulfillment of Israel’s covenant destiny before her. The Holy One of Israel expresses God’s absolute separation from evil (Isa. 17:7). The Holy One of Israel, our Creator, and His Guardian show that his Love is incomparable.
- The Incomparable Redeemer’s Great Love ( vv.3b-6)
Redemption usually requires the payment of a “ransom”, something given in the place of the one redeemed. Here, the Lord gave Cyrus (who helped the Chosen people to return to their homeland) “Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba as Israel’s “ransom”. God would give this in exchange for the liberation of Israel and the restoration of Jerusalem. In historical fact, it was only Cyrus’s son, Cambyses, who conquered Egypt sometime after Cyrus’s death and brought it into the Persian Empire. In today’s context, it seems best to see this passage as ultimately worked out in Jesus Christ who knew no sin becoming sin for our sakes and gives his life as a ransom for many (Mat. 20: 28). God so loved the world and he gave his begotten only Son. Today, it is ultimately not Egypt and Ethiopia and Seba that God gave in ransom, but his own Son who redeems us from our sin and bondages. The best reward for us today is His being present with us in several critical situations. Whoever serves Him in faithfully as Cyrus did, God will reward abundantly and vastly.
One of the most beautiful and profound statements of the biblical concept of election (Exod. 19: 5-6) is introduced in v.4. The ransom figure is continued, Yahweh’s motive being stated as his love for Israel translates “because you are precious in my eyes, and honored and I love you. The word “men” in this verse 4, in Hebrew “adam” refers to probably “lands” (adamoth). The phrase “I love you”, the present tense shows that God’s love is never fail and never end. In other words God’s love is incomparable love.
Once again, God declares that his people need not fear because of his unfailing presence. After a repeated “fear not”, Yahweh is depicted as bringing the exiles back from the four points of the compass. By the 6th century BCE Gods people were already widely scattered. The world may say that the people of God are hopelessly scattered, but if God is on our side, they can be drawn together again against all the odds. The Lord promises to being Israel’s children back from every quarter of the earth. But beyond these places, the scope is that he will gather His people from everywhere. This promise confirms the same promise to Moses made in Deut. 30: 3-6. There is no promise here of return to political power. The intention is that Israel becomes the spiritual servant she was called to be, to all the nations. The idea of Yahweh as the father of Israel was not new (Hos. 11:1); each Israelite is Yahweh’s own son of daughter. This has already been suggested in v.4a with is strong assertion of Yahweh’s love. “My sons…my daughters” is the relationship to God is thus directly described in family categories. The declaration implies that God is not merely the “Lord” or “master” of a “servant”; he is also the “father” of “sons and daughters”. Therefore, in His Love we all are gathered.
Through the passages, especially of Deutero-Isaiah we are able to see, the situation of the “oppressed people”, in India to the same” oppression and oppressed ones are seen in our society. Democracy, in fact, is a system of government based on active participation of the citizen or a country. However, in the contemporary Indian society, democracy is based on the representative system in which masses are governed by the representative. It has become indirect democracy and a minority rule. In the current political system, money power rules the people against the people’s right. This fails to secure justice and empower people towards development of a fuller humanity, as political power is delegated to only a few people. This is one of the reasons why the government is not paying attention to the people’s voice.
Globalization has a tremendous impact on the life of the contemporary Indian society. From the economic point of view, globalization responds to the needs of the people. People are privatized and monetized under the neo-religion of what K. C. Abraham called “Money-theism.” Therefore, the imbalance in economic system has created a division in the society: have and have-not. Still the well-to-do classes of people go on getting richer at much faster rate than the poor can overcome their poverty. There is also an unjust distribution of benefits in the areas of health, educational standards, employment opportunities etc.
The Christian in India has the similar misconception like that of the Israelites as the chosen people of God in the midst of people of other faiths and within the faith community. We have the misconception that, being Christian, we are saved. Like the Israelites, we have the concept of the presence of God only in the church, leading them to live an unpleasant life outside the church. We seem to believe that God is only present within the four walls of the church. People seem to worship God in truth and Spirit, but it disappears after leaving the church gate. Very often when the churches celebrate jubilee, the predominant theme for the occasion is “From Darkness to Light.” This has brought the notion to many carnal Christian that they are being saved as jubilee has brought them light. The church has a great role in molding the people to seek the Lord and shape them to be a better believer. On the other hand, the task of the believer is to seek the Lord earnestly which in turns would lead them to a just life style. The Christian needs to know that the church is not the only place where God is present.
One critical obstacle that stands in the way of social change in our churches is fear. Aung San Suu Kyi states: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those subject to it.” This is quite relevant in the Indian context in the present scenario. The churches are scared to stand for the truth, for if they speak the truth, they will no longer receive the support of the elites. The church needs to conquer the most dangerous enemy i.e., silence in doing Mission and Evangelism. Silence must be broken to let knowledge light up in the heart of the people. Deutero-Isaiah was active in proclaiming the monotheism of Yahweh to exiles when people were facing faith crisis. He declared that Yahweh is above all gods and there is no other god like Yahweh. In the midst of suffering and agony, he encouraged people not to lose heart because Yahweh is going to deliver them from the captivity of the Babylonian. It is a message for the people of God not to fear of circumstances in life because the LORD is about to redeem us in fulfillment of His promises. He is fully able to do this because He is Incomparable Creator, Guardian and His Decisive Love of the universe, as everyone will bear out. As a result we should not fear, for He has overcome the world. As long as India is a country and Hinduism is a major religion, Caste system will be there, at the same time the Oppression and isolation will remain in the society. But now, our Creator, Guardian is going to change His children from the darkness to the light. Many missionaries brought the gospel to emancipate the people from their life but still most of the people are in same situation. One of the reasons is silence in the community. In the 21st century, we need to hear this same message that the God who brought Israel out of exile is still the same One who brings us from darkness into the light of His glorious salvation. The gospel challenges the caste system in India. One day the Incomparable Creator, Guardian will change the life of the oppressed people with His great love so that the entire nation will come to know that He is incomparable Redeemer and His name will be glorified.