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ISAIAH 42:10 – 44:22. THE CONTEXT
The end of the Babylonian Exile is near, but Israel does not know that yet. Some of the Israelites saw the destruction of Jerusalem and have suffered through decades of exile. Most have been born in Babylonia, and know nothing but subservience to this great power. The exile has persisted for decades, and it has been difficult for the Israelites to keep believing that Yahweh will redeem them. However, unbeknownst to Israel, Cyrus is waiting just offstage to assume power. When he does, he will permit the Israelites to return to Jerusalem. The prophet’s purpose is to encourage Israel to continue in faith at this critical time in its history.
In these verses, Yahweh (through the prophet) speaks of his identity and power—his ability not only to act decisively, but also to foretell what he will do in the future (42:10-20). He tells of Israel’s disobedience, which was the reason that Yahweh allowed Israel to suffer exile (42:21-25). But exile will not be the end. If Yahweh had the power to condemn Israel to exile, he also has power to restore Israel—and he promises to do that (chapter 43). He promises blessings on Israel (44:1-8). He outlines in some detail the foolishness of idol worship (44:9-20). He promises Israel that it is not forgotten (44:21-22).
In 44:1-5, Yahweh reminds Israel that he has chosen them and formed them in the womb (v. 2). He promises not only to pour water on their thirsty land, but also to pour his spirit on their descendants (v. 3). He promises that these descendants “will spring up among the grass, as willows by the watercourses” (v. 4)—a particularly lovely image for people who live in a land where water is literally the stuff of life. These verses conclude:
“One will say, ‘I am Yahweh’s;
and another will be called by the name of Jacob;
and another will write with his hand ‘to Yahweh,’
and honor the name of Israel ” (v. 5).
In other words, these descendants will remember the Lord who has redeemed them. They will remember not only “who” they are—but “whose.”
ISAIAH 42:6. I AM THE FIRST, AND I AM THE LAST
6This is what Yahweh, the King of Israel,
and his Redeemer, Yahweh of Armies, says:
“I am the first, and I am the last;
and besides me there is no God.”
“This is what Yahweh, the King of Israel” (v. 6a). The Lord has always been King of Israel, but Israel has also known other kings. Many years earlier, they said to Samuel, “Give us a king to judge us” (1 Samuel 8:6). This displeased Samuel, but God said, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they tell you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not be king over them…. Now therefore listen to their voice: however you shall protest solemnly to them, and shall show them the way of the king who shall reign over them” (I Samuel 8:7, 9). Saul was the first king—then David—then Solomon—then a profusion of good and bad kings, mostly bad. The nation suffered under these kings, and finally ended up in exile. Now their kings had long since died—and Yahweh, who has been their true king from the beginning, reminds them that he, indeed, is their king now.
“and his Redeemer” (v. 6b). Redemption involves bringing liberty to a captive, usually through the payment of a ransom. A person could redeem a slave by paying the owner of the slave. In some cases, people who were quite poor would sell themselves into slavery as a means of survival—or would sell the land that had come down through generations to them. In situations like that, family members would, where possible, redeem the enslaved family member or the land to restore things to the way they were meant to be. Yahweh’s redeeming Israel is in this vein. Yahweh is Israel’s God and Israel is his people. Yahweh has a stake in restoring their relationship to the way it was meant to be.
Yahweh saved Israel on numerous occasions, but his foremost redemptive act was liberating Israel from its slavery in Egypt. When redemption is mentioned, that is the redemption that would come to mind. Now that Israel is once again in captivity, this reminder that Yahweh once redeemed Israel holds out the possibility that he will do so once again.
“Yahweh of Armies, says” (v. 6c). Yahweh is not only the King of Israel (v. 6a), but is the Lord of hosts—the God of all—the God who created all and is over all—the only true God.
“I am the first, and I am the last” (v. 6d). Yahweh was present at the creation—and even before the creation. It was Yahweh that created all that was made. He is the first.
And he is the last. He is the Everlasting God (Genesis 21:33)—the one who “will reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15:18)—the one who is “from everlasting even to everlasting” (1 Chronicles 16:36)—the one who “reigns forever” (Psalm 9:7)—and the one who is “our dwelling place for all generations” (Psalm 90:1).
“and besides me there is no God” (v. 6e). This is the fact toward which everything in this verse points. Yahweh is the Lord, the King of Israel, the Redeemer, the Lord of hosts, etc., etc., etc. There is absolutely no one who can compare with Yahweh. Only Yahweh could have brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt, and only Yahweh can bring them out of their exile now. Shortly, Yahweh will demonstrate the foolishness of idol worship (44:9-20)—but first he is reminding Israel of his credentials, power, and faithfulness.
ISAIAH 42:7. WHO IS LIKE ME?
7“Who is like me?
Who will call,
and will declare it,
and set it in order for me,
since I established the ancient people?
Let them declare the things that are coming,
and that will happen.”
Yahweh, through the prophet, has told Israel what to expect and why. The prophet gave ample warning that Israel would be cast into exile as punishment for its sins. Events have transpired exactly as foretold. Yahweh asks who else has done that. Who can do it? Who else has control over history? Who can tell in advance what will happen. Yahweh challenges potential competitors to put their reputation on the line by proclaiming what will happen. Then the world will see if their predictions really come true.
ISAIAH 42:8. DON’T FEAR; NEITHER BE AFRAID
neither be afraid.
Haven’t I declared it to you long ago,
and shown it?
You are my witnesses.
Is there a God besides me?
Indeed, there is not.
I don’t know any other Rock.”
“Don’t fear, neither be afraid” (v. 8a). The Israelites have many reasons to be afraid. They have seen their beloved Jerusalem destroyed and many of its inhabitants killed. They have been enslaved in Babylonia for many years. There seems to be no end to it.
However, Yahweh, through the prophet, has assured Israel that Yahweh has not abandoned her. Babylonia’s power might seem limitless, but it is Yahweh whose power is truly infinite. Yahweh has placed Israel in exile, and Yahweh will release Israel from exile.
“Haven’t I declared it to you long ago, and shown it? You are my witnesses” (v. 8b). The Israelites heard the prophet’s warnings and saw the prophet’s prophecies come true. They have witnessed Yahweh’s power and justice, and therefore are qualified to serve as witnesses to others of what they have seen.
“Is there a God besides me?” (v. 8c). With the next verse (v. 9), Yahweh will expound at length on the foolishness of those who make idols. Yahweh “has shut their eyes, that they can’t see; and their hearts, that they can’t understand” (v. 18). They have no substance or power. It would be foolish to compare these idols to Yahweh, who routinely exercises great power. There is no God but Yahweh.
“Indeed, there is not. I don’t know any other Rock” (v. 8d). In the Hebrew Scriptures, rock often serves as a metaphor for something that is solid, immovable, and dependable. God is called “the stone of Israel” (Genesis 49:24). “Nor is there is any Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2). “Yahweh is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,” the one in whom “I will take refuge” (2 Samuel 22:3).
Israel has often placed its trust in other things, but whenever it has done that it has experienced disaster. Israel has prospered only when it has placed its trust in God, its rock and salvation.
“It is important to remember that the Jews in exile were living as a minority in the shadows of the great Marduk temples and amidst the sound and excitement of the Babylonian religious festivals” (Hanson, 88). Seeing daily the contrast between their pitiful situation and the power of the Babylonians, Israel must be sorely tempted to worship Babylonian gods. They need this reminder that Yahweh is God—and Yahweh is the only God. They have plenty of evidence to that effect, if they will simply remember their history.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Blenkinsopp, Joseph, The Anchor Bible: Isaiah 40-55, Vol. 19A (New York: Doubleday, 2002)
Goldingay, John, New International Biblical Commentary: Isaiah (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001)
Hanson, Paul D., Interpretation Commentary: Isaiah 40-66, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1995)
Motyer, J. Alec, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Isaiah, Vol. 18 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1999)
Muilenburg, James (Introduction and Exegesis of Isaiah 40-66); and Coffin, Henry Sloane (Exposition of Isaiah 40-66), The Interpreter’s Bible: Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956)
Oswalt, John N., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998)
Seitz, Christopher R., The New Interpreters Bible: Isaiah, Vol. VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Watts, John D. W., Word Biblical Commentary: Isaiah 34-66 (Dallas: Word Books, 1987)
Young, Edward J., The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972)
Copyright 2008, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan