Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 48

Verses 1-11

The Failure of Israel/Judah And His Intention For Them (Isaiah 48:1-11).

Isaiah 48:1-2

“Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel,

And are come forth out of the waters of Judah.

Who swear by the name of Yahweh, and make mention of the God of Israel,

Not in truth nor in righteousness,

When they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves on the God of Israel.

Yahweh of hosts is his name.”

God now calls through Isaiah to His sinful people as Jacob/Israel who come forth from the waters ofJudah. This unusual description suggest he is speaking to people now living in Judah, not to people abroad. As a whole they make up Jacob and Israel. This distinction confirms that Isaiah is still in Palestine speaking to the remnants of Judah.

They are of the house of Jacob, and they are called by the name of Israel. Their credentials are good. And they have come from the waters of Judah. ‘The waters’ may refer to the waters that break in a woman prior to birth. Or it may see Judah as a spring from which flow his people. They live in Judah and bring forth their children there. Compare the waters of Shiloah that go softly (Isaiah 8:6).

And they are not only called by the name of Israel, but they swear by the name of Yahweh. This may refer to official oaths taken in court, stating that in such oaths the name of Yahweh is still used. Or it may simply indicate that old traditions die hard, and when they bind themselves with an oath they still do it in Yahweh’s name, just as a modern Atheist may say, ‘By God’. And they make mention of the God of Israel, that is keep Him in remembrance in their outward worship. Thus formally they still declare themselves to be Yahwists.

But there is a fatal flaw. All this is not in truth or in righteousness. It is not a genuine response, nor does it produce obedience to the covenant. In real terms it is a pretence.

‘When they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves on the God of Israel.’ (For ki as ‘when’ see Isaiah 16:12) Even as they call themselves of the holy city and stay themselves on the God of Israel they are not being genuine. They are not holy. They are not really resting in Him. It is not in truth or in righteousness (see also Isaiah 48:4). In reality they have turned from Yahweh and His ways. Here was irony indeed. They boasted that they were the holy city, and they were anything but holy.

‘Yahweh of hosts is his name.’ This is a reminder to them of Who God is. They speak of Yahweh and the God of Israel, but are they aware of Whom they are speaking? Let them remember that He is Yahweh of hosts and thus God of the hosts of heaven and the hosts of earth.

Isaiah 48:3-5

“I have declared the former things from of old,

Yes, they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them,

Suddenly I did them and they came about.

Because I knew that you are obstinate,

And your neck is an iron sinew, and your brow bronze,

Therefore I have declared it to you from of old.

Before it came about I showed it to you,

Lest you should say, ‘My idol has done them,

And my graven image and my molten image has commanded them.’ ”

God now tells them why He always tells them and shows them clearly what He is about to do before He does things, and then does them suddenly. It is so that they will not be able to say, ‘My idol has done it’. For He knows that they are obstinate, and that their neck is of iron, totally unbending, and their brow is of bronze, firm and unyielding, so that given half a chance they will credit it to their idols and their images. (The graven image is one of wood, the molten image is one of wood plated in precious metal).

This exemplifies what we have seen in Isaiah 48:1-2. Outward conformity to Yahweh, but their real interest and concern is for their gods.

What the former things were that had been prophesied we are not told, but there are enough prophecies prior to this time to make a selection. They could include the promises to Abraham about his seed being many, and about the land becoming theirs, and about his descendants being kings. Multiplicity of children, land inheritance and relationships with a king were things that would be important to them. And it could include the deliverance from Egypt and earlier prophecies of Isaiah, some even exact to timing (Isaiah 16:14; Isaiah 21:16), and the defeat of Sennacherib (Isaiah 29:5-8; Isaiah 30:31-32; Isaiah 31:5-9; Isaiah 33:3-4), with many other examples in between. The point is that Yahweh has been able to declare what would happen when an idol could not, simply because it was He Who was going to bring it about. And as they all knew, these things had happened.

Isaiah 48:6-7

“You have heard it, behold all this,

And you, will you not declare it?

I have shown you new things from this time,

Even hidden things which you have not known,

They are created now and not from old,

And before this day you did not hear them,

Lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them’.”

Then God challenges them as to why they do not declare what they have heard about Him from the past. Why do they not give Him the honour due to Him and reveal it to the world? (That is what they should be doing as His witnesses - Isaiah 43:10).

But there is not only the past. He has shown them new things, the return of their exiles from all parts of the world, the rise of Cyrus, the destruction of Babylon, the coming of the day of Yahweh, the establishing of the everlasting kingdom in peace and righteousness, the coming of the greater David through Gods powerful and unique working. These are things that God has created now. They will happen because of His word. And they had not been told of these before lest they be self-complacent and self-congratulatory and say, ‘Look, I knew that already’.

Isaiah 48:8

“Yes, you did not hear. Yes, you did not know,

Yes, from of old your ear was not opened,

For I knew that you dealt very treacherously,

And were called a transgressor from the womb.”

He has just previously told them that they had heard (Isaiah 48:6) and known (Isaiah 48:6-7) about what He had declared and done, but now He admits that they had not really heard, they had not really known. Their ears are heavy, their eyes are closed (compare Isaiah 6:10). They have not allowed it to come home to them. And this is because they are so treacherous, because they are transgressors even from birth. This reference to them as transgressors is constant (Isaiah 46:8). And there are equally as many transgressors today.

The word for ‘treacherous’ means to do something contrary to the covenant (1 Samuel 14:33), it is used of a friend who fails in friendship (Job 6:14-15), and of family disloyalty (Jeremiah 12:6), and it signifies a failure to honour one’s word (Isaiah 33:1). All these were true of Israel. To be a transgressor from birth indicates that they have been set in sin and disobedience right from a young age (compare Psalms 51:5-6; Psalms 58:3). They were ‘born like it’.

So the truth is that the Servant is in a sad state of disobedience and rebellion.

Isaiah 48:9-11

“For my name’s sake I will defer my anger,

And for my praise I will refrain for you,

That I do not cut you off.

Behold I have refined you, but not as silver,

I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction.

For my own sake, for my own sake I will do it,

For how should it be profaned?

And my glory I will not give to another.”

But God will not allow His purposes to be frustrated like this. Somehow He will yet produce from them a righteous Servant. Let them not think that God is not aware of what they are. It is for His own name’s sake that He defers His anger, not punishing them as they deserve. It is so that He will finally receive the praise due to Him that He refrains from cutting them off, although it is something which is for their benefit too (‘for you’). For He will refine them, not as silver is refined in fire, but in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 4:4; compare Deuteronomy 4:20; Ezekiel 22:18-22). There His choice will come to fruition. From there will He produce His pure remnant (Isaiah 6:13). And He will do it for His own name’s sake (repeated for emphasis), so that no one else might receive His glory, and so that His name might not be sullied.

So here we see God’s determination to fulfil His sovereign purpose in spite of what His people have proved to be. And yet He will not do it without purifying them. For then He would deserve no praise. No, He will bring about their purification through affliction (and we learn later especially through the affliction of His own special Servant (Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12)). And then He will accomplish His purpose through them.

Verses 1-22

Chapter 48 The Unprepared State of Israel/Judah.

Babylon, and its final fate, has just been described, but the very idea has turned Isaiah’s attention on Israel. It has put Israel under the microscope. Is Israel so much better? The only difference is that God has a purpose for Israel.

But that purpose is not for Israel as they are. And God has already constantly revealed what they are. Full of self pity and self-justification (Isaiah 40:27), deaf and blind and unresponsive (Isaiah 42:18-25), and culpably so (Isaiah 43:8), weary of God and not giving Him due honour while failing to honour the covenant (Isaiah 43:22-28). They are transgressors (Isaiah 46:8), stubborn and far from righteousness (Isaiah 46:12). They are miserably sick (Isaiah 1:5-9). They are a people of unclean lips and hearts (Isaiah 6:5)

Now He brings it all together to demonstrate their true condition, and to plead with them to flee from all that Babylon represents (Isaiah 48:20). He begins by describing their condition, ‘not in truth or in righteousness’ (Isaiah 48:1), and that they are obstinate and hard-headed (Isaiah 48:4), points out that He has constantly shown them what would happen (Isaiah 48:3-5), and has even told them of new things (Isaiah 48:6-7), but concludes that they are so treacherous that they have been unwilling to hear and unwilling to perceive (Isaiah 48:8). Then He explains that they are as a nation still His chosen (Isaiah 48:10), still His called ones (Isaiah 48:12), but only once they have gone through purifying affliction (Isaiah 48:10) so that a true Servant may come out of them. Compare Isaiah 51:17-23 where the present Zion is a pale copy of Babylon.

Let them then consider that He is the first and the last, that He is the Creator and sustainer of the Universe (Isaiah 48:12-13). And that what He will do to Babylon will be for the sake of the one who has declared His truth (the Servant). It is because of His love for him that He will do His pleasure on Babylon and on the Chaldeans (Isaiah 48:14).

So they are to hear the One Who teaches them to profit and leads them in the way that they should go. If only they had done so previously, then they would have enjoyed abundant peace and righteousness. And their numbers would have been as abundant as the sands (Isaiah 48:17-19). Let them therefore now flee from Babylon and all it stands for declaring that Yahweh has redeemed His servant Jacob, that he is no more entangled in her ways (Isaiah 48:20). For Jacob there will be abundance of water in the desert, just as there had been when they travelled in the wilderness from Egypt and Yahweh gave them water from a rock (Isaiah 48:21). But let them remember, for the wicked there can be no peace (Isaiah 48:22).

Verses 12-19

Yahweh’s Plea To His People To Listen to the Voice Of Isaiah, And Take Their Place As God’s Servant (Isaiah 48:12-19).

Isaiah 48:12

“Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, my called,

I am he, I am the first, I am also the last,

Yes, my hand has laid the foundation of the earth,

And my right hand has stretched out the heavens,

When I call to them they stand up together.

Having assured them that in spite of all they are His called ones, God opens His further appeal to Israel by describing what He is, and demands that they listen. ‘Listen’ is here in the singular but in the plural in Isaiah 48:14; Isaiah 48:16, for here the plea is to Israel as a whole as God’s called one, while in Isaiah 48:14-16 it is to the people in general.

He is the One Who is, the First and the Last. He is prior to all things both in time and being, He sums up all things and will bring them to conclusion (compare Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 43:10-11; Isaiah 44:6). Because He is the first He has initiated all things. Because He is the last He brings them to their proper conclusion. He is over all history from beginning to end.

He is also the Creator, maker and establisher of heaven and earth, which both (unlike Israel) do His bidding. Let them therefore listen to Him.

Isaiah 48:14-15

“Assemble yourselves, all of you, and listen.

Who among them has declared these things?

Yahweh has loved him.

He will perform his pleasure on Babylon,

And his arm will be on the Chaldeans.

I, even I, have spoken, yes, I have called him.

I have brought him and he will make his way prosperous.”

Israel are called on to assemble themselves together to listen, all of them. Assemblies were usually held at the city gates where there was an open space. There judicial affairs would be settled, important issues considered and decisions made. Here they are to gather at their city gates to consider who it is ‘among them’ who has declared ‘these things’, the future that lies ahead.

The question then is, to whom does ‘them’ refer? Some would refer it to idols, but apart from Isaiah 48:5 idols are not mentioned in the context, and there the idols ‘did’ and ‘commanded’ rather than declaring, and it is a long way back to be referred to here. Furthermore the idea of idols is not prominent in the passage. But weareclearly told of someone who should have declared it, and have not and that is Israel. They have not declared it (Isaiah 48:6) because they are treacherous (Isaiah 48:8). Furthermore Israel are very prominent in the passage. As a similar change from ‘you’ to ‘them’ is reflected also in Isaiah 48:1-2, that is not a difficulty. So we may see ‘them’ here as probably referring to the decision makers among the assembled people. That being so there is only one who has ‘declared these things’ and that is Isaiah, or possibly Yahweh’s Servant, the faithful in Israel, the Isaianic core.

This being so the natural interpretation of ‘Yahweh has loved him’ is that it refers here to the one who ‘has’ declared these thing, either Isaiah or the Servant, the Isaianic core.

‘Yahweh has loved him.’ If what we have suggested is true we have here firmly asserted Yahweh’s love for His true prophet, even His Servant. He had chosen him and called him to his difficult task and he had proved faithful. Now God expresses His approval of him and His affection for him. ‘Who among them has declared these things?’ Isaiah has, and his disciples. ‘Yahweh has loved him.’ It fits perfectly.

‘He will perform his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm will be on the Chaldeans.’ And because of His love for His prophet Yahweh will perform what Isaiah has shown to be his pleasure in chapters 13-14, what he has declared (compare Isaiah 44:26). He will bring about the promised judgment of Babylon. We may see it as being of either Isaiah’s or the Servant’s pleasure (or both. Isaiah is an integral part of the Servant). Isaiah has previously made emphatically clear what he sees as needing to happen to Babylon, so that it could certainly be described as being his pleasure, referring to what he sees as needing to be done. Alternately we may see it as being of Yahweh’s pleasure. In either case it will be achieved by His arm, the arm of Yahweh. Thus will both He and His prophet be vindicated.

We should note that in Isaiah the arm active in power always represents the arm of Yahweh (Isaiah 30:30; Isaiah 40:10-11; Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 52:10; Isaiah 53:1; Isaiah 59:16; Isaiah 62:8; Isaiah 63:5; Isaiah 63:12).

So the loved one may be seen as His true Servant, as personified in Abraham and Isaiah and spiritual Israel, with in this case Isaiah or the Isaianic core prominent. It is ‘he’ who has declared ‘these things’ For in Isaiah 41:8 Abraham is His loved one and in Isaiah 43:4 spiritual Israel is His loved one. On the other hand, nowhere in the Old Testament is Yahweh ever said to love someone other than His own.

‘I, even I, have spoken, yes, I have called him. I have brought him and he will make his way prosperous.’ Isaiah’s true calling and the true calling of the Servant is now affirmed. Yahweh has spoken, Yahweh has called him, Yahweh has brought him to this day, and he will truly make his way prosperous. For he has achieved great things for God and even in what Isaiah is writing at this time the whole world will be blessed.

Note Re ‘Yahweh has loved him’.

In interpreting these verses of Isaiah and the Servant we recognise that we are going against the majority interpretation. Most, strangely, refer these verses to Cyrus. In our view this is untenable. Firstly because nowhere in the Old Testament is God ever said to ‘love’ someone not His own. Cyrus may have been His shepherd and His anointed, but there is no question of him being His beloved. Indeed Cyrus himself declared himself the friend of Marduk. It was Abraham who loved Yahweh (Isaiah 41:8). Secondly the context contains not the slightest hint of Cyrus. He rose to prominence and departed in Isaiah 44:28 to Isaiah 45:13, having accomplished his purpose of ensuring the rebuilding of the temple and of Jerusalem, and having been rewarded with the treasures of an empire. And in fact Cyrus is nowhere specifically connected with Babylon in Isaiah. Thirdly he who loves Yahweh has been stated elsewhere in Isaiah to be Abraham (Isaiah 41:8 - same root) and he who Yahweh loves is spiritual Israel (Isaiah 43:4). Fourthly the phrase ‘Yahweh has loved him’ comes unexpectedly out of the blue if it is spoken of Cyrus, while if it is spoken of the one who alone declared the truth it fits right into the context. Fifthly the only ‘arm’ active in Isaiah is always that of Yahweh (Isaiah 30:30; Isaiah 40:10-11; Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 52:10; Isaiah 53:1; Isaiah 59:16; Isaiah 62:8; Isaiah 63:5; Isaiah 63:12). Thus the arm is not likely to be that of Cyrus.

This seems conclusive against Cyrus.

End of note.

Isaiah 48:16

‘Come near to me, hear this,

From the beginning I have not spoken in secret,

From the time that it was, there am I,

And now the Lord Yahweh has sent me, and his Spirit.’

The interpretation we have given now clarifies who is speaking here. These are either the words of Isaiah as representative of God’s Servant, or more possibly the Servant himself as here represented by Isaiah (this would tie in better with ‘from the beginning’, that is, from the call of Abraham). He is the one who has ‘declared these things’ (Isaiah 48:14), God’s faithful servant. He calls on Israel to come near and listen, and consider. He has at no time ever spoken in secret right from the beginning. When each thing ‘was’, there was He declaring it openly.

But if Israel as a whole is the Servant, how can we see the Servant as talking to them? The fact that we can is revealed in chapter 49. That is exactly what we have in Isaiah 49:3 compared with Isaiah 49:6, the distinction between Israel as a whole, and the true and faithful Israel.

And now he has a further task assigned to him. He has been sent by the Sovereign Lord Yahweh and His Spirit. This can surely only signify the future activity of the Servant shortly to be declared (Isaiah 49:1-13). Through him the Spirit of Yahweh will continue to act (compare Isaiah 42:1), declaring the words of Yahweh.

Isaiah 48:17-19

‘Thus says Yahweh, your redeemer, the Holy One Of Israel,

“I am Yahweh, your God, who teaches you to profit,

Who leads you by the way that you should go,

Oh that you had listened to my commandments,

Then had your peace been as a river,

And your righteousness as the waves of the sea.

Your seed also would have been as the sand,

And the offspring of your bowels like its grains,

His name would not be cut off,

Nor be destroyed from before me.” ’

The suggestion that the last verse is spoken by the Servant fits well with this reply here. Yahweh is giving all Israel the opportunity to be part of the Servant in his ministry. It clearly stresses thatpotentiallyall Israel is the Servant, with the opportunity of serving Him if they are willing, while it will shortly in fact be made clear that theactualServant is faithful Israel (Isaiah 49:3), (commencing from Abraham, Isaac and Israel, and continuing through to the greater David yet to come - see on Isaiah 41:1 onwards).

Here Yahweh Himself makes His appeal as their Redeemer and as the Holy One of Israel. The title Redeemer signifies One Who saves by the payment of a price. At first sight it is speaking here of God redeeming by exerting His power on behalf of those whom He redeems (although chapter 53 will give it a deeper meaning). But whose Redeemer is He? The answer is that He is the Redeemer of Israel as an entity, as His ‘firstborn’. It may be that the title is to be seen as referring back to the redemption from Egypt, but we can hardly doubt that it is intended to have a present meaning too. He Who redeemed them from bondage in Egypt can now redeem them from the bondage of sin and from the bondage of their enemies.

Thus God aims to be the Redeemer of the entity Israel. But as always those who will may drop out by refusing to submit to Him. While He will heavily influence men and seek to deliver them, He will not force them. He sees Israel as an entity. They are His firstborn. And men can unite within that entity by submitting to the covenant or can withdraw by rejecting the covenant. He will redeem the Israel who want to be Israel. (This was in fact always the choice in Israel. Men could choose to opt in or opt out of the covenant and take the consequences).

Not all those who thought of themselves as Israel would be redeemed even in the wildest dreams of the Jews. Isaiah knew full well that many were lost among the nations by choice, that many had sinned grievously and had died, that many still stood firm against Him and clung to idols, and did not want to respond to Him under any circumstances, and would not. They would refuse any call. They would not be redeemed. So it is a plea to all physical Israel from their potential Redeemer. They had the opportunity as the sons of Abraham to respond if they willed it. It came from One Who wanted to be their Redeemer, and Who would be the Redeemer of those whom He had chosen, who would be revealed in the fact that they responded. (Compare the way that in the New Testament salvation is offered to all and He wants to be their Redeemer and Saviour, and yet it is clearly stated that redemption and salvation is finally only for God’s elect).

For we should note that He was also the Holy One of Israel. Should they desire redemption they must be willing to be made holy, acceptable to Him and set apart in righteousness as He is righteous. God cannot redeem without making holy. It is part of the essence of His redemption (see Isaiah 4:2-3).

‘“I am Yahweh, your God, who teaches you to profit (teaches you what is profitable for you), who leads you by the way that you should go. Oh that you had listened to my commandments.’ He introduces Himself as their God Who teaches them what is profitable for them, what is truly best for them. He is the One Who has sought to lead them in the way that they should go, especially through His Torah (His Law, His Instruction). And He expresses His yearning, His longing that they might have kept His commandments. If only they had! What consequences would follow.

‘Then had your peace been as a river, and your righteousness as the waves of the sea. Your seed also would have been as the sand, and the offspring of your bowels like its grains.’ If only they had kept His commandments and walked in His ways, then they would have had peace, flowing smoothly like a river, and their righteousness would have been as the waves of the sea lapping gently against the shore, continuing peacefully on and on. What is more they would have grown into a large nation, their children as abundant as grains of sand, just as God had promised Abraham (Genesis 22:17).

‘His name would not be cut off, nor be destroyed from before me.’ There is here an implied, if theoretical, threat. Should it reach a stage where none of His people obeyed His commandments then they would be cut off and destroyed, and ‘his name would be cut off’. Of course it would not happen because of God’s faithfulness to Abraham, and the working of His Spirit. But nevertheless they must beware.

‘His name.’ But the question is whose name will be cut off? In view of the sand of the sea comparison the probable answer is Abraham’s name, for it was to him that the promise was given. If his ‘sand of the sea seed’ are cut off it is Abraham’s name that is cut off. If this be so we have even more reason for seeing the one whom Yahweh has loved as identified in some way with Abraham. The loved one being the Servant, with Abraham as the prime Servant and of course those who are the sand of the sea being potentially a part of that corporate Servant which was in Abraham’s loins.

Verses 20-22

The Call To Flee From Babylon (Isaiah 48:20-22).

As we come to the end of the section from chapter 40 to 48 we find God’s final charge. It is to ‘flee from Babylon.’ Babylon with all that it stood for was the opposite of the Servant. It represented all that was at enmity with God. That was why it had to be destroyed for ever, and why all men had to flee from it as from danger and peril (compare Revelation 18:4). After this Babylon will not again be mentioned. Her influence is over.

But the question must arise as to whom the call comes to flee. Who are the ones who are to flee from it and to testify to what Yahweh has done? Most see it as referring to the exiles from Judah. But if it is spoken of them (referred to as ‘His servant Jacob’) then this is the only example in the whole book of Isaiah where speakers speak of themselves indirectly in the third person, i.e. ‘saying Yahweh has redeemed (not ‘us’ but) His servant Jacob’. This would give weight to the suggestion that these words are not spoken by Jacob/Israel themselves but by third parties (compare Isaiah 47:13), who are fleeing from Babylon and testifying in amazement to the deliverance of His servant Jacob as they are filled with wonder at the coming destruction of Babylon and realise why it has happened (see Isaiah 45:6 where the activities of Cyrus were to cause just such an effect, and Isaiah 44:23 where the whole world is to sing at the redemption of God’s Servant Jacob).

And this is especially so in view of the fact that return from exile is never spoken of in terms of fleeing (the word used generally signifies fleeing from danger). Always when return from exile is mentioned we are given the idea of Yahweh’s activity (Isaiah 11:11-12; Isaiah 56:8) and/or of a triumphant homecoming (Isaiah 14:1-2; Isaiah 49:12; Isaiah 49:22-23; Isaiah 60:9), often with the nations giving their assistance. Note also the contradictory ‘you will not go out in haste, nor will you go by flight’ (Isaiah 52:12), if that is taken to mean the return from exile. So if this was directly referring to return from exile it would be doing so in a unique and even contradictory way. This therefore tends to emphasise that the idea is rather of Babylon being deserted by its ‘friends’ as they become aware of the disaster that is looming, who sing of Jacob’s deliverance because they have recognised in what is happening the hand of Yahweh.

Indeed it is probably intended to be symbolic. All men everywhere must flee from what Babylon is, and from its pernicious influence. And so we may see this as an appeal to all men to flee from Babylon and all that it means. It does of course include any exiles from Israel but they are only indirectly in mind. Rather it is they who are being redeemed by what is happening.

This may then also be seen as the reversal of what was declared in Isaiah 39:6-7. There a part of the Servant would be dragged off to Babylon. Now the Servant must be made complete (‘His Servant Jacob’). For we have already seen the profound effect that Hezekiah’s failure had had on Isaiah. It is reflected in chapters 13-14. And he knew the consequences of it. Thus he would know that he could have no peace until those exiles returned. They were a necessary part of the completeness of the Servant. Here then in the light of Yahweh having promised to deal with Babylon (Isaiah 48:14) he is possibly including in his words a call to any exiles to return. But that is secondary to the main significance. The flight from all that Babylon is, with its licentious, good-time living and its deep died idolatry was required of all people, because of what Babylon was, and what was about to happen to it. All must flee from Babylon.

Isaiah 48:20

‘Go forth from Babylon, flee from the Chaldeans,

With a voice of singing make your declaration,

Tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth.

Say, “Yahweh has redeemed his servant Jacob.”

The impression given here is not of an orderly return from exile under the command of an overlord, but of the people in mind fleeing for their lives. They are to go forth, they are to flee, for as Yahweh deals with Babylon in apocalyptic judgment all who would be saved must flee. And as they flee they are to sing, to let the whole world know, that Yahweh has redeemed His servant Jacob by restoring them to be His Servant. He has saved them from all that Babylon represents, and the world is filled with wonder. Compare Isaiah 44:23 where all are to sing because Yahweh has redeemed Jacob. See also Isaiah 55:12.

So this is not just depicting the return of the exiles from Babylon to make up the new Israel (and note here that those who flee are to flee from the city Babylon, not from the surrounding countryside. It is Babylon in its pride that must be avoided). Isaiah’s prophecies elsewhere clearly suggest that he expected exiles to come from all over the known world, but their return is never depicted in these terms. And he knew full well that many men of Israel and Judah were still in their own land, and that many were scattered among the nations. So as far as Isaiah was concerned any actual returnees from Babylon (and we know that men of the northern kingdom had been exiled there - Isaiah 11:11) would only play a small part in the whole. Any who would come would simply be seen as part of a whole and as redressing the failure of Hezekiah so that the Servant may be made complete.

But we may add further the thought that this verse is depicting what all men everywhere must do. They must ‘flee from Babylon’, what it signifies and the hold that Babylonian licentiousness and belief in the occult has on them. Wherever they are they must flee from their sources of wealth that hold them back, they must flee from their comfortable living, they must flee from their compromises. For that apocalyptic moment when final judgment comes on Babylon is approaching and all who are His people must flee from the very idea of it (compare Revelation 18:4).

The picture presented is thus precisely that of one looking far ahead and seeing an apocalyptic event taking place without actually having first hand knowledge of it. It is true that what mattered to him was the completing of the Servant for his worldwide task, and that would involve remedying the disaster of Isaiah 39:6-7, but that was secondary. Primary was for all men to escape from mythical Babylon, the great enemy of God.

We can again compare here what God had said to Abraham. He too had been called on to leave the land of the Chaldees in order to go to where he could fulfil the purposes of God. Thus was it now necessary for his seed to do so also, along with all men. For until they had done so they could not fulfil their ministry as the Servant.

For ‘My Servant Jacob’ compare Isaiah 44:1-2; Isaiah 45:4. For the redemption of Jacob see Isaiah 44:23 with 21, where the redemption is through the blotting out of their sins. This would suggest that the ‘redemption of His Servant Jacob’ is more in terms of God’s work in them which has freed them from the grip of what Babylon stands for, than having anything to do with exile.

Note the voice of singing and compare Isaiah 12:5; Isaiah 14:7; Isaiah 24:14; Isaiah 26:19; Isaiah 42:10; Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 49:9-13; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 52:9; Isaiah 55:12.

Isaiah 48:21

‘And they did not thirst when he led them through the deserts,

He caused the waters to flow from the rock for them,

He split the rock also and the waters gushed out.’

The fact that Yahweh has redeemed His servant Jacob reminds Isaiah of their previous great deliverance when God had brought His people through the wilderness and had done all that was necessary to prevent them from thirsting.

Exiles from all over the world would come as fugitives, (‘fleeing from what Babylon stood for’), as Israel had come as fugitives out of Egypt, and so Yahweh would deliver them as He had His fugitives from Egypt (Isaiah 49:9-13). For them He had caused waters to flow from the rock, He had even ‘cleaved’ the rock for them to bring those waters out (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11). Thus would He preserve all His own from thirst on their way through any deserts they may cross, even deserts in their own land. But comparison with the next verse, and with Isaiah 48:18, suggests that this is to be interpreted spiritually as in Isaiah 44:1-5. It is probably therefore saying that just as those who went through the wilderness were provided with water from a rock, so will the Rock Himself provide spiritual water to all who have found themselves in a spiritual desert and turn to Him so that they might have peace (Isaiah 48:18). In contrast with the wicked He would give them peace in their hearts (compare Isaiah 48:18 and Isaiah 48:22).

Isaiah 48:22

“There is no peace, says Yahweh, to the wicked.”

But for the wicked there is no peace, under any circumstances. Not for them the peace which is like a river (Isaiah 48:18). Compare Isaiah 57:21. This comment sums up the whole section from 40-48. With all the glorious truths and promises that had been revealed and given, the hearts of the majority of Israel were still not at peace. This was what chapter 48 has emphasised. The people are not at peace (Isaiah 48:18). And now Yahweh sums up why. Even with the worldwide exiles returning there is no peace to the wicked. Total reformation will be needed if they are to find peace. But who is there who can bring it about? The answer lies in the chapters that follow as he describes the One Who will come to bring peace, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 48". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.