“Who gave up Jacob to the looter, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the LORD. . . ? So he poured on him the heat of his anger and the might of battle; it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand; it burned him up, but he did not take it to heart” (42:24–25).
Our study yesterday focused on the identity of God’s servant in Isaiah 40–66, and we saw that the prophet applies servant language to Cyrus, Israel, and an individual who is an idealized Israel, a representative and embodiment of the people before the Lord. The Servant Songs and their contexts (42:1–9; 49:1–6; 50:4–11; 52:13–53:12) are about Israel, both the people as a nation and the people as embodied in God’s idealized obedient servant. Isaiah moves back and forth in 42:1–53:12 between fallen Israel and idealized Israel, who must be the Son of David. This idealized Israel must be the Son of David, the King of Israel, because Scripture teaches that the king of Israel represents the nation. Consider, for example, David’s priestly actions (2 Sam. 6:16–20); Jeroboam’s establishment of idolatry and leading of the people in it (1 Kings 12:25–33); and Manasseh’s exile and return that prefigure the exile and return of the nation (2 Chron. 33:10–13). In today’s passage, the servant described is fallen Israel, the people suffering in exile because of their sin, and not the idealized obedient Israel who brings about the salvation of the world (Isa. 52:13–53:12). Isaiah begins by charging the servant with blindness and deafness, saying that he “sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear” (42:18–20). He goes on to describe the servant as people who have been plundered and looted, and it is no surprise that he identifies the one given up to the plunderer and looter as Israel and Jacob (vv. 22–24a). This describes perfectly the condition of the people in exile, a people who have lost everything and have been forcibly transferred to a foreign land. The blindness and deafness depict the covenant community’s spiritual condition. It should be clear to the exiles that they are suffering because of their flagrant, impenitent sins, but the exiles as a whole do not understand this adequately (vv. 24b–25). Isaiah foresees that even in the midst of their troubles, the nation will be blind to the fullness of the exile’s cause, namely, their own depravity. Nevertheless, God pledges not to leave His people in their blindness and deafness. Isaiah predicts the redemption of Israel, the return of God to His children that He might walk with them and be revealed as their Savior (43:1–3). Because of their fallen condition, the return from exile will be an act of pure grace. Through Isaiah, God promises that He Himself will act to restore His people (vv. 4–7).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Today’s passage reveals divine election, for Isaiah speaks of a people who are precious in God’s eyes (43:4). This is not due to any good in them, given that the people are still blind to their sin (42:18–25). Instead, the Lord, for His own good pleasure, chooses to restore a lost people. This restoration of Israel is happening in Jesus Christ, and we who believe in Him have been chosen by God not because of any goodness in us but because the Lord has graciously willed to love us.