In the last half of this chapter, reference is again made to the rise of Cyrus who would do Yahweh’s “pleasure upon the Chaldeans”. Israel is invited to consider such foreknowledge as it proves their Redeemer to be the true God. There is also a lamentation that Israel had not heeded His commandments and benefited from blessings which would then have flowed upon them. Finally there is a call for the captives in Babylon to flee and return home, the sequel to the destruction of the metropolis by Cyrus.

Isaiah 48

48:12–13 The creator appeals to Jacob to hearken to him

Verses 12–13 “Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.

Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.”

“Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called” This call to listen punctuates the first three sections (see v12,14,16). Notice also that verse 18 laments the fact that His people had failed historically to listen. It is an emotional appeal, both the natural and the spiritual names of the nation being used again (see v1). In verse 1 we are told that whilst they were “called by the name of Israel”, they were not so in reality. Here they are reminded of their calling and special relationship. So whilst they were unfaithful, that charge could not be made of their God: they were still His chosen people!

“I am he; I am the first, I also am the last” Reference is here made to His eternity (57:15); His existence spans all time and history. In this He is unique and hence He should be heeded! This appellation is taken up by the risen Lord who is now part of “the eternal scheme of things” (Rev 1:11,17; 2:18; cp Isa 44:4).

“Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth…” This verse challenges the chosen people to factor into their thinking what it means to have the Creator of heaven and earth as their God and Redeemer. What a privilege was theirs; there could be no failure or inability to perform His gracious intentions towards them. He will bring to a triumphant conclusion what He started when He chose them. His power to initiate, to create, to summon if need be the heavens and earth, is Jacob’s guarantee: if He controls the universe, He certainly can direct history.

48:14–15 The plan to raise and use Cyrus confirmed

Verses 14–15 “All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them hath declared these things? Yahweh hath loved him [Cyrus]: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans.

I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous.”

In these verses the difference between Yahweh and other gods is stated: He predicts and fulfils; His plan to use Cyrus against Babylon will succeed. Seeing He has “called” Cyrus, He will superintend his career, ensuring success.

“All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear” He Who can summon heaven and earth here calls upon His chosen people to heed Him!

“which among them hath declared these things?” The preceding chapters have challenged idolaters. Can their idol-gods prognosticate? (cp 41:26, 23; 43:9; 44:7; 45:21). Here, however, the challenge is addressed to Yahweh’s own people in an attempt to give them grounds for believing His plan to so use Cyrus. So Yahweh is unique, for clearly none could declare such things years in advance.

“Yahweh hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon…” Cyrus is clearly in mind as the instrument God will use to bring down the Chaldean empire (see 44:28; 45:1–5). Cyrus is a glowing type of Messiah, for He is called “my shepherd”, “His [God’s] anointed”, while here he is said to be “loved” because he will do His will (cp Matt 3:17); and the true Messiah will “do his pleasure” on Babylon the Great (Rev 18).

“I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called… brought him [lb ‘sent him on an errand’]… shall make his way prosperous [niv ‘succeed in his mission’].”

History vindicates these words and the record of Cyrus’ remarkable success is legendary; for detailed notes see commentary on 41:2–3; 45:1–3.

48:16 Yahweh’s appeal and Isaiah’s commission

Verse 16 “Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord Yahweh, and his Spirit, hath sent me.”

Again there is an appeal made to the called and chosen nation. Again it is pointed out that He has not “spoken in secret” from the beginning. Had he done so, it would have provided opportunity to adapt and correct His predictions, should the outworking of history prove different! (cp 45:19; John 18:20). No, Yahweh presides over His Word ensuring its fulfilment. “The word of God is quick [living] and powerful [energetic]” and will accomplish its stated ends (Isa 55:11). It is as if God personally accompanies His Word!

“and now the Lord Yahweh, and his Spirit, hath sent me” Early in his ministry Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” He responded positively, “Here am I; send me” (6:8). He recounts that experience effectively in these words. His words echo those of the contemporary prophet Micah, “But truly I am full of power by the spirit of Yahweh, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression…” (3:8)

48:17–19 Impassioned appeal: what blessings would have resulted from obedience!

Verse 17 “Thus saith Yahweh, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am Yahweh thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way thou shouldest go.”

This chapter has emphasised Israel’s entrenched sin and obstinacy (v4,8), and though they will be liberated from Babylon by their Redeemer, the problem of sin remains. This unresolved national problem prepares the way for the next Servant Song (49:1–6), and for the Servant to announce that his work will include the bringing back of Israel to their Lord.

“thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” The use of these titles is deliberate: “Redeemer” identifies with their need for liberation and meets it, but as “Holy One” He cannot overlook their sin (JA Motyer).

“I am Yahweh… which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee in the way thou shouldest go”

This is a glorious statement of Yahweh’s purpose with His people, and is applicable to you and me, today. His desire is that we might profit and be educated so that this might happen: all His children will have been “taught of God” (54:13). In our age He has provided His Son, the greatest teacher and leader ever, and from his words and example we learn “the way, the truth and the life” (John 6:45,68; 14:6).

Verses 18–19 “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! Then had thy peace [Heb shalom] been as a river, and thy righteousness as waves of the sea:

Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel [roth ‘grain’] thereof: his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me.”

These verses give us an intimate and wonderful insight into God’s mind. Sometimes we may think that God’s way is too hard, and perhaps even that He has made it so difficult that He does not want us to attain the reward. But this is manifestly not the case: He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked and earnestly desires their return and repentance (cp Ezek 18:32; 33:11; Luke 15:11–32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son; John 3:16 etc).

Similar feelings were expressed by the Psalmist (81:13–16). We are also told here how things would have been had His people been obedient: their “peace” would have been as full and abundant “as a river” (cp allusion Luke 19:42; cp Isa 66:12); and their righteousness as the “waves of the sea”, that is, constant, abounding and limitless.

“thy seed also had been as the sand” Instead of being reduced to a remnant, a small number, by calamity and war, they would have been as numerous as a mighty nation. Sin and its consequences – wars – diseases, enfeebled and depopulated the nation.

“as the sand…” A figure often used to indicate an indefinite number and here it recalls particularly the fulfilment and reality of God’s covenant with the nation’s fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Gen 15:5; 22:17; 32:12).

“and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel [roth grain; rsv “your descendants like its grains”] thereof” Again the figure is one of great multiplication of descendants, being clear evidence of Divine blessings (cp Psa 127:3–5; Ezek 36:37–38).

“his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed” Whilst disobedience brought judgment and a diminishing of Israel’s prestige and influence in the family of nations, they have never been nor will they ever be utterly cut off by their Redeemer (Rom 11:1–2,16–27).

48:20–22 Jacob redeemed from Babylon with blessings and joy

Verse 20 “Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, Yahweh hath redeemed his servant Jacob.”

Here the release of the Jewish captives from Babylon is foretold. Cyrus was made aware of Isaiah’s prophecy which named him and declared his role; and so he gave the decree which called for the captives to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city (Isa 45; Ezra 1). This was accomplished with joy, jubilation, and praise to Yahweh.

Had not his prophet Jeremiah placed a seventy year time limit upon the desolation of Jerusalem? (29:10; Dan 9:2). Truly Yahweh, the Redeemer, would redeem His people.

“his servant Jacob” This description of Jacob as His servant rekindles the theme of the Servant Prophecies and anticipates the matters to be introduced in the following chapters.

Verse 21 “And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out.”

Here is again a recollection of the Exodus model. It would be a second Exodus, an emancipation from captivity and slavery by a gracious, redeeming, forgiving God.

“He caused the waters to flow out of the rock” Exodus 17:1–7 and Numbers 20:11 are recalled in which we find Israel tempting God but receiving His merciful provision as they were led to the promised land. This was not literally true in the second Exodus, but in language they were familiar with they would understand that He would not abandon them but bring them home, meeting all their needs on the way.

Verse 22 “There is no peace, said Yahweh, unto the wicked (roth lawless)”

There has been some discussion as to why this statement should be found here; it appears to be out of context. But the reality is that sin and its consequences would still be found following the return: to return to the Land is not necessarily to return to God. The words are a warning. This chapter has much to say about the persistent sin and disobedience of God’s people. The prophecy is about to re-introduce the Servant who would break Sin’s hold and bring peace, true peace, “to those afar off and to those who are nigh” (57:19–21; Rom 5:1; John 14:27). May it be our lot to enjoy the eternal, enduring peace that comes from sins forgiven in our Redeemer, the Prince of Peace (Phil 4:7; Isa 9:6).