This chapter concludes a lengthy section commencing in chapter 40 in which sins of Judah are enumerated and the reasons for the impending Babylonian captivity are given. But Yahweh’s purpose with His people  will not fail “for his name’s sake” (v9). “New things” He declares which He will bring to pass, a feat beyond  the idol-gods to which the nation has been addicted historically. These “new things” relate to the fall of  Babylon (v14), the decree to be given by Cyrus for the liberation and return of the captives (v20–21), and  in the following chapters the redemptive work of Yahweh’s suffering servant (ch 49 onwards).

48:1–8 Judah Reproved for Hypocrisy, Obstinacy and Idolatry

  Verses 1–2 “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which  are called by the name of Israel, and are come  forth out of the waters [rsv ‘loins’] of Judah, which swear by the name of Yahweh, and make  mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.

For they call themselves of the holy city, and stay  themselves upon the God of Israel; Yahweh of  hosts is his name”

“Hear ye this, O house of Israel” This is a call to attention in view of serious shortcomings in their worship. It is reminiscent of Moses’ warnings (Deut  32:1; 6:4; cp Micah 1:2; 3:1, 9; 6:1).

“… house of Jacob… Israel… JudahThe use of these three significant names defines the nation, the covenant people and the particular audience  addressed.

“but not in truth, nor in righteousness” These  are the governing words in these two verses, and  they are abruptly introduced in the midst of all the outward evidences of true worship: they bore the distinguished name of Israel; could claim high status being descended from the royal tribe of  Judah (Gen 49:10); showed allegiance to God by  taking oaths in His name (cp 65:16); professed a  living relationship with God by “mentioning the  God of Israel”; identified themselves as citizens  of “the holy city”, Jerusalem (52:1; Neh 11:1 Matt  4:5; 27:53; Rev 21:2–27), and leaned “themselves  upon the God of Israel”. But all of these displays were but a façade. They lacked sincerity and were not genuine. Their hearts were not behind their words and deeds and their worship was in reality an exercise in hypocrisy, mere play-acting (chs 1, 58).  “Not in truth [genuineness], nor in righteousness” summarises the matter: they had forfeited the name and membership of Israel and their unique relationship with God, so they could not in truth call themselves Israel. How wicked it was to come  before Him in such a false manner so that while they were professedly worshipping Him their hearts inclined to their idols!

This is an ever present danger. We, too, can do  and say all the right things that accompany true worship while our hearts and minds are elsewhere. While men might be deceived, we can never fool God Who knows and searches the heart. Hypocrisy was the sin that Jesus constantly reprobated (Matt 6).

“Yahweh of hosts is his name” Mention of  God’s Name raises the question of whether His  purpose with them has failed. Is this the end of the  story? Surely He is the Almighty and His Name is synonymous with the redemption of this very people (Exod 6:6–8; 3:7–15). Twice in these two verses He identifies Himself as “the God of Israel”,  the God Who chose this people and entered into covenant relationship with them (Exod 19:5–6;  24:8). So what will be the end of the matter? These thoughts anticipate verses 9–11, where we learn that  Yahweh is longsuffering, perseveres and never will cast off or abandon His people.

Verses 3–5 “I have declared [niv ‘foretold’] the  former things from the beginning; and they went  forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass.”

Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;

I have even from the beginning declared it to thee;  before it came to pass I showed it thee: lest thou  shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my molten image, hath commanded them.”

Here God through Isaiah uses again the argument from prediction and fulfilment to demonstrate His claim to be the One true and living God in contrast to the idol-gods. Many times He has forecast events in the near and distant future, none of which have failed. He has done this in order to bring His people to the full conviction that He alone is God. Consider how Israel’s history was fully outlined in Deuteronomy 28 and 30 and especially in the Song of Witness, chapter 32. History has been pouring into this mould, so proving that the Most High knows all things and does “rule in the kingdom of men” (Dan 4). Such knowledge and power could never be attributed to a dumb, lifeless man-made object. How ludicrous to even imagine such a thing!

“Because I knew that thou art obstinate” (mg  ‘hard’) This is an expression taken from a bullock which refuses to take the yoke.

“and thy neck is as an iron sinew” Again this  metaphor is taken from oxen when they make their  neck stiff and refuse to submit to the yoke (cp Deut  32:15 “But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked…”).  “and thy brow brass” (niv ‘a forehead of bronze’).  The forehead is hard and as insensible as brass, that is, as a person opinionated with a set mind (cp Ezek  3:7 [mg]; 22:18; Jer 3:3).

Verses 6–7 “Thou hast heard, see all this [rsv  ‘now see all this’]; and will not ye declare [niv  ‘admit’] it? I have shewed thee new things from  this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not  know them” [rsv ‘From this time forth I make you  to hear new things, hidden things which you have  not known’].

“They are created [Heb bara] now, and not from  the beginning; even before the day when thou  heardest them not [rsv ‘before today you have never heard of them’]; lest thou shouldest say,  Behold, I knew them.”

In verse 6 God tells His people that they have  heard His prophetic words and now they can see it  all accomplished. They are called upon to declare  and admit that it is so, to be witnesses to the entire  fulfilment of the prophecy.

“I have shewed thee new things” Now God intimates  that from this time forth He is going to show them  “new things”, “hidden things” that have been kept in reserve until now. Those “new things” are the coming ministry of Yahweh’s servant (42:9), and  the liberation of Jewish captives and their return from Babylon (43:19). Both are described as “new things”.

“They are created now, and not from the beginning”  These events were not foreseen, nor could they be  conjectured by contemplation of natural causes.  The fall of Babylon by Cyrus and the deliverance  of the exiles from bondage were unexpected and  when they happened it was as if it had been “created  anew”.

Verse 8 “Yea, thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest  not; yea, from that time that thine ear was not  opened [Lowth ‘from the first, thine ear was not  open to receive them’]: for I knew that thou  wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called  a transgressor from the womb.”

These words reaffirm what has already been said (v4), that they had always been perverse, hardened and insensible people. Yahweh had spoken but there was no hearing, no mental response leading to knowing, no openness to the Word of God. This is summed up in the charge of treachery; they had reneged on their covenant obligations that they had entered into at Sinai (Exod 24:8).

and wast called a transgressor from the womb”  This was an appropriate appellation. From their very inception as a nation, indeed in all their  national history, they had transgressed.

48:9–11 God’s Wrath upon Judah Deferred for His Name’s Sake

Verse 9 “For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee,  that I cut thee not off.”

Verses 9–11 answer a question that emerges from  the foregoing description of the nation’s perversity,  namely, if their sins are so great, why not give them  over to the affliction and annihilation that they deserve? Why raise up Cyrus? Why overthrow  Babylon? Why lead them back across a pathless wilderness and provide for them? It was not because they were deserving of His favour, but because of  what He is in Himself, because of His character and  steadfast love (cp Deut 7:7–9; 9:4–6); it was in order  to show His covenant faithfulness to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Rom 11:28–29).

His Name defines His character (Exod 34:6–8).  Because he abounds in “goodness [chesed,  steadfast love] and truth” [emeth, faithfulness],  He will always act in ways consistent with these  attributes. So “His Name” is given as the reason for  “deferring His anger”; and for “His praise”, which is synonymous with His Name, He refrains from  destroying His people and “cutting them off”. Such  moderation and mercy will at length bring to Him praise and glory.

Verse 10 “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with  silver [rsv, roth ‘like’]; I have chosen [rsv ‘tried’]  thee in the furnace of affliction.”

Reference is made to the affliction God has brought on Israel which had a beneficent objective, correction and redemption. The word “refined” means “to melt”, to smelt metals, to subject them to fire to remove the dross. The trials of the Babylonian invasion and the captivity were positive; a spiritual revival took place and the remnant that returned re-established themselves and their worship in their homeland.

“I have refined thee, but not with [like] silver”

When silver is refined all the scoria and dross are progressively removed until nothing but pure silver remains. If this had been done, God says, then only a few would have been left. So His affliction of His people has always been measured and restrained (cp Jer 30:11; Isa 27:7–9).

“I have chosen [tried] thee in the furnace of  affliction” This phrase reaffirms the thoughts of the previous phrase. The nation had been brought  forth out of the “iron furnace, even out of Egypt”  (Deut 4:20), and now was about to go into captivity again with the same objectives.

Verse 11 “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name  by polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another”

Notice the emphasis. Twice God affirms that Jewry would be subject to the refining fires of captivity for His own sake lest His holy Name should be polluted (cp Ezek 20:9,14,22). What does this mean? It means that God would be acting out of character if He did not move to correct and preserve His wayward, disobedient people. When the conduct of His people dishonours Him, even bringing Him into reproach with the wicked (Ezek 36:22–23), He will visit them with heavy judgments. He had to act as a responsible “parent” and discipline His disrespectful son. So in order to correct this evil, and hopefully to prevent it in the future, He brought judgment upon them and removed them to Babylon. History has shown the wisdom of this course of action: the punishment was effective and the lengthy trial in Babylon served to correct all their idolatrous tendencies as a nation.