The Book of Isaiah
ISRAEL'S OBSTINACY AND GOD'S GRACE
Text: ISAIAH 48
1. I have entitled tonight’s message, “Israel’s Obstinacy and God’s Grace.”
2. I could have entitled it, “Man’s Obstinacy and God’s Grace,” because all sinners – both Jews and Gentiles alike – are stubborn, obstinate sinners (cf. Isa. 48:22).
3. One of the great themes of Isaiah is the restoration of Israel. Though they are stiff-necked and obstinate (48:4), God will graciously restore them (48:9).
I. ISRAEL’S OBSTINACY (48:1-8).
II. GOD’S GRACE (48:9)
III. THE SINNER’S DOOM (48:22).
I. ISRAEL’S OBSTINACY (48:1-8).
1. Despite their outward profession of faith and loyalty – “which swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel” (48:1), they were hypocrites – “but not in truth, nor in righteousness” (48:1).
2. They were like the religious externalists that our Lord often rebuked. Our Lord said to the Pharisees, “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:7—9).
3. Our Lord was referring specifically to Isaiah 29:13, but we see these strong denunciations all throughout the prophecies of Isaiah (cf. 46:12), especially here in chapter 48.
4. Isaiah refers figuratively to “the waters of Judah” (48:1), because our Lord was descended from the tribe of Judah.
5. In Isaiah 48:3 & 5, the Lord declares that when He says judgment is coming, it will surely come to pass (cf. 42:9; 44:7, 8; 45:21; 46:10).
6. But obstinate Israel (48:4), deluded and confused by idolatry actually believed their dumb idols were helping them (48:5).
7. You may recall that when Aaron made the golden calf, the people said, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4).
8. In I Kings 12:28 we read that King Rehoboam made two calves of gold, and said, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.”
9. The Jews who sojourned into Egypt “burned incense unto other gods” and said to the prophet Jeremiah, “As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine. And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings unto her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour out drink offerings unto her, without our men? (Jer. 44:16—19).
10. Over and over, the Bible emphasizes the folly of idolatry. The second commandment says, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Ex. 20:4).
11. First John 5:21 says, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”
12. The Lord promised to show the Israelites “new things” (48:6), i.e., the rise of King Cyrus of Persia, the fall of Babylon, and the restoration of Israel.
13. God hid these “hidden things” from Israel because of their stubborn unbelief and apostasy (48:6—8).
II. GOD’S GRACE (48:9).
1. Israel has been a “transgressor from the womb” (48:8b). But God graciously deferred His anger and chose not to cut them off (48:9).
2. God has “refined” Israel, “but not with (as) silver” (48:10). In other words, Israel “did not respond to the intense heat as silver does” (Merrill Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the OT.)
3. Israel has been “in the furnace of affliction” (48:10), and it will be far worse in the coming tribulation.
4. God’s holy name would be “polluted” (48:11), if Israel’s enemies would triumph over them. God could never allow that to happen.
5. The LORD, who graciously delivered His people from Babylon, is the first and the last” (48:12). He is identified as the LORD (Jehovah), the first and the last in Isaiah 41:4 and 44:6.
6. He is identified in Revelation 1:11 as “Alpha and Omega, the first and the last,” and in Rev. 1:13 as “the Son of man.”
7. When the apostle John saw Him on the isle of Patmos, he fell at his feet as dead. And our Lord laid His right hand upon him and said, “Fear not; I am the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17).
8. We saw this morning that, to the angel of the church in Smyrna our Lord said; “These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive” (Rev. 2:8).
9. And in the last chapter of the book of Revelation, our Lord said, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Rev. 22:13).
10. In 48:16 & 17, He is the LORD God, the Redeemer, and the Holy One of Israel. We see here the Triune God.
11. The gracious Lord who delivered Israel is our Creator (48:13). He is “the Lord of history” who “guides the destinies of nations” (Unger).
12. Verses 14 & 15 refer to Cyrus (44:28; 45:1; 46:11). This is Isaiah’s final reference to Cyrus.
13. If only Israel had hearkened to God’s commandments, they would enjoy wonderful peace and rest (48:18). These promises of blessing will finally be realized when Israel repents and turns to Christ at His Second Coming.
14. Their promised deliverance from Babylon typifies their future deliverance from the antichrist and Mystery Babylon the Great (48:19, 20; cf. Rev. 17 & 18).
III. THE SINNER’S DOOM (48:22; cf. 57:20, 21).
1. There may be temporary peace, but to the impenitent sinner there can be no permanent peace.
2. Isaiah had already said in 48:18 that genuine peace comes only through hearkening to God’s Word.
3. Albert Barnes said, “Sin may be attended with the gratifications of bad passions, but in the act of sinning, as such, there can be no substantial happiness…This world can furnish no such joys as are derived from the hope of a life to come…They have no peace of conscience; no deep and abiding conviction that they are right. They are often troubled; and there is nothing which this world can furnish which will give peace to a bosom that is agitated with a sense of the guilt of sin…They have no peace on a deathbed. There may be stupidity, callousness, insensibility, freedom from much pain or alarm…There is often disappointment, care, anxiety, distress, deep alarm, and the awful apprehension of eternal wrath” (Barnes’ Notes).
4. Christmas season will soon be upon us. We will sing, “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” And we must be careful to proclaim that this peace can only come through faith in Christ.
1. Referring to Isaiah 48:5, one commentator wrote that, “today’s idol is humanity” (humanism). Dr. Allan MacRae said that in 1940, when the Germans closed in on the British forces in France, the British were cornered at the port of Dunkirk in France. They were surrounded on all sides by German troops and the English Channel.
2. Things looked hopeless but back in England thousands of Christians prayed that God would deliver them. God heard their cry and started to move.
3. For several days the English Channel, normally rough and tumultuous, was remarkably calm. Furthermore, the sky was heavily overcast with clouds. The German planes were unable to see through the fog and clouds, and were unable to see the more than 700 British boats rushing across the channel to rescue the soldiers.
4. More than three hundred thousand British and French soldiers were rescued, and Christians all over England were rejoicing and praising God for His wonderful deliverance.
5. But before long, God was forgotten and the deliverance was attributed to the bravery of the British Royal Air Force. Allan MacRae concludes by saying, “Today’s idol is humanity. Man is proud of his great exploits. In common use and in legal terminology, the phrase an act of God has come to be used, not to point to signs of God’s wonderful goodness, but almost exclusively as meaning a catastrophe” (The Gospel of Isaiah).