I Blot Out Your Transgressions for My Own Sake

43: 22-28

   DIG: With what attitude do you imagine the exiles carried out their religious practices? What does that show about their view of God? Although the LORD has not wearied them with His demands, how have they wearied of Him? In spite of their attitudes, what has God done for them? What does the LORD say about Himself in these verses? What does ADONAI mean by blotting out sins for His own sake?

   REFLECT: In your worship life, are you lavishly giving yourself to God? Or callously wearying Him with meaningless rituals? When has it been different? What accounts for the change? In your service to the LORD, are you wearying yourself for Him? Or are you wearying Him?

    ADONAI will show favor on Israel and bring the Jews back from Babylon, but it is not on the basis of Israel’s merit. Israel is unworthy of God’s goodness. She did nothing to please Him while in Babylon and did not call upon His name. On the contrary, she grew tired of calling upon His name and always burdened Him with her sins. Israel also stopped the sacrifices. Being captive in Babylon, Israel could not bring sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem. The purport of the accusation, therefore, cannot be blame for not doing the impossible, but rather to contrast the LORD’s treatment of His people with their behavior towards Him. In the absence of sacrifices, Israel should have attuned her mind and heart to the true service of ADONAI and acted in the spirit, if not the letter, of the prescribed sacrificial ritual. However, some of Isaiah’s hearers believed that any deliverance from Babylon would be deserved in the light of their acceptable worship of Him.

    Instead, God declares that Israel had burdened Him with their sins and bothered Him with their offenses. Yet, you have not called upon Me, O Jacob, you have not bothered yourselves for Me, O Israel (43:22). The double use of the pronouns Me . . . Me, emphasizes the need to convey the correct interpretation. Although the Israelites had been formed for the purpose of praising the LORD, they had not done it. Why not? Were they bothered by the LORD’s excessive demands? How could they be, since they did not conform to what God really wanted? ADONAI is saying that although they may have thought they were giving Him acceptable worship, they were not, and that is the reason that He was so tired of their unacceptable worship (1:11-14, 66:3; Jeremiah 7:5-10; Hosea 6:6; Amos 4:4-6; Micah 6:3-8).

    As far as God was concerned, they had shut Him out. As a result, what they thought of as worship, the LORD viewed as mechanical, aloof repetition. Earlier, Amos had prophesied: I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring Me burnt offering and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps (Amos 5:21-23). Then Isaiah had said to the rebellious nation: When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen (1:15a). Finally, Yeshua would say it this way: They worship Me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men (Matthew 15:9). Sin always takes you further than you want to go and costs you more than you wanted to pay.

    Regardless if one lives before the cross or after the cross, faith always saves. In fact, without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6a). Bringing a sacrifice to the bronze altar (see my commentary on Exodus Fc – The Sin Offering) for a sin offering did not forgive the sin of the Israelite; the faith of bringing a sacrifice to the bronze altar forgave the sin. ADONAI is always looking for internal change, not external ritual. Micah said it this way: He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

    You have not brought Me sheep for burnt offerings (see my commentary on Exodus Fe – The Burnt Offering), nor honored Me with Your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with grain offerings (see my commentary on Exodus Ff – The Grain Offering) nor wearied you with demands for increase (43:23). Rituals themselves were not what ADONAI wanted, so He could say here and elsewhere that He had not commanded them (Amos 5:25-26; Jeremiah 7:22). What He really wanted was a people with whom He could have fellowship because their characters reflected His own. The rituals were useful representations of lives surrendered to Him, but the symbols themselves could not save.

    You have not brought any fragrant calamus for Me (43:24a). Calamus is possibly sweet, fragrant cane (Exodus 30:23 and Jeremiah 6:20). You have not lavished, literally saturated, on Me the fat of your sacrifices (43:24b). The people had certainly drenched the bronze altar with fat, the most desirable part of the sacrifice and hence the part reserved for God (Leviticus 4:26). But it was all for show. But you have burdened Me with your sins and bothered Me with your offenses (43:24c). God had not burdened and bothered His people with tiring, worn out ritual; they had burdened and bothered God with their sins and transgressions. It was as if the Holy Spirit was saying to the Israelites, “Your carefully planned rituals are useless because they do not reflect a broken heart. You are not crushed by your sin. You have no change of heart and are merely going through the motions.” Their efforts to manipulate God had failed. They had refused to release the steering wheel of their lives to the King. They were sitting on the throne of their own hearts and they stubbornly refused to get off. But even though they were sinful and stubborn, they were still the apple of His eye (Deuteronomy 32:10). God’s remedy was, and always is, grace.

    So, yes, ADONAI would return Israel to the Land from which they had come, but it certainly was not because they had earned it. Well, then why? Their return would be on the basis of His grace. God would forgive them on the same basis that He forgives us. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

    No sooner was the need diagnosed, than the remedy was given: I, even I, am He would blot out your transgressions (deliberate rebelliousness), for My own sake, and remember your sins no more (43:25). To blot out their sins meant to wipe them clean. After King David was confronted with his twin sins of murder and adultery (Second Samuel 11) by the prophet Nathan (Second Samuel 12:1-13a), he cried out: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin (Psalm 51:1-2). Sin leaves a mark that only ADONAI can wash away. And not only does He wash our sins away, but He remembers them no more (Jeremiah 31:34), as if throwing them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19b).

    Therefore, the only reason God will show favor to Israel is on the basis of His grace. He announces that He will blot out, or forgive Israel’s sins. Notice that the LORD says He will do this for His own sake. Not for Israel’s sake, as if she earned this forgiveness, because nothing Israel had done, or could do, would qualify them for forgiveness like this.

    But there is a fundamental problem in both Israel and ourselves. We humans do not like grace; we like to feel that we deserve everything we get. We want to be able to say that our good behavior has earned favorable treatment for us before the bar of God. Interestingly, the same verb, my praise, that occurred at the end of 43:21 occurs here, your innocence, at the end of 43:26. But here instead of recounting the praise of ADONAI, the people are recounting all their good deeds, and by association, the mistreatment they have suffered at the hands of God. This is always the way it is. Until we recognize our need for grace, all of our energies, energies designed for the praise of the LORD, will be spent in fruitless self-justification.164

    So to make sure it is not on the basis of Israel’s merit, God again issues a challenge to Israel. The easiest way to understand these next few verses is as a brief court scene in which the accused is given the opportunity to establish his or her innocence. He says: Convince Me that you have earned forgiveness on your own. Review the past for Me, let us argue the legal matter together, state the case for your innocence and show me that you have not sinned against Me (43:26). But there is only silence because Israel’s history is one of sin. But the LORD answered as if in rebuttal.

    The prosecution’s case is stated. Before Israel can be judged, she must be confronted with the hopelessness of her case. God says: Your first father sinned (43:27a). Adam was the first father of mankind, but Abraham was the first father of the nation of Israel. He was the first one to be called a Hebrew (Genesis 14:13). Tracing their sin back to Abraham did not get them off the hook however. In biblical thought, their guilt increased with each succeeding generation (Matthew 23:31-32, 35-36).

    Then He added that Israel’s spokesmen, their prophets and priests, had also rebelled against Him (43:27b). Those who interpreted the LORD’s word, spoken or written, to His people also had their faults and sins. We only need to read about the lives of Moses, Samson, David, Solomon, Hezekiah or Josiah to be reminded of this ugly fact. Nor could anything glorify their transgressions as is typical of heroic literature. Their stories are distasteful and embarrassing, and their sins had deadly consequences. These could not be sugarcoated.

    For example, as we read about Abraham’s life we will find that God appeared to him seven times, each time to develop faith in his life. But this does not mean he was faultless. The fact of the matter is that he failed many times. ADONAI gave him seven tests and he fell flat on his face on four of them. First, he stayed in Hebron when he should have gone to the Promised Land (11:31b). Secondly, he left Palestine, went to Egypt, lied to Pharaoh, and picked up an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar (12:10-20). Abram turned down riches from the King of Sodom and passed that test; if he were going to be rich, it would be from God and not from man. Thirdly, he listened to his wife instead of waiting on the LORD, which resulted in the birth of Ishmael and untold problems (16:1-16). And fourthly, his lapse of faith continued as he refused to trust ADONAI for his and Sarah’s safekeeping when he lied to Abimelech (20:1-18). Abraham’s last two successful tests occur at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the offering of his son Isaac. But he still failed four times. However, like Simon Peter, he got up, brushed himself off, learned from his mistakes, and started to follow the LORD again in faith.

    Rather than being of any merit, from the very beginnings of Israel’s history, there was the characteristic of sin right from her very first father Abram, later renamed Abraham (Genesis 17:5). So here is the fork in the road. If Israel chose the route of self-justification, they were lost. If we chose the same route, indeed, we are lost also.

    Because of the persistent sinfulness of Israel, God had no other choice but to judge her. By His very nature, He cannot tolerate sin. Utterly disgusted with them, He said: I will disgrace the dignitaries of your Temple (43:28a). The priests had led the nation astray and the disgrace the LORD described here is the judgment of defilement. It would have been particularly horrible for them because they had spent their entire lives concerned with supposedly being holy (Isaiah 65:2-5 and Leviticus 10:3). Now ADONAI Himself would disgrace them with defilement of the Temple, which the Babylonians destroyed in 586 BC.

    Furthermore, God said that I would consign Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn (43:28b) when they went into Babylonian captivity for the next 70 years. This term destruction refers to the cherem judgment of the LORD, which literally means devoted to destruction. Before the battle of Jericho, ADONAI said to Joshua: Keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. So they devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it – men, women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. Then they burned the city and everything in it (Joshua 6:18, 21, 24). When God used this word, He was signaling that the nation had sunk so far into sin, that there was no further justification for its existence. The irony here is that the destruction was particularly applied to the Canaanites and Amalekites, the enemies of Jacob’s family who sought to prevent the fulfillment of ADONAI’s promises to them (Joshua 6:17; First Samuel 15:21). The holy place had become unholy in the LORD’s eyes and Jacob had become Canaan. Israel, created to witness to the glory of God by sharing in that glory (Exodus 19:5-6), had been turned over to the greatest mockery possible. The nation had not merely sinned; it had become the very opposite of what it was meant to be. Far from its behavior providing some justification for deliverance, that behavior gave ample reason for its complete abandonment. Nevertheless, the LORD will not allow that to happen. Why not? Solely because of His own grace.165

    In Chapter 43 we have seen a brilliant and devastating satire against idolatry. Unfortunately, this will become a reoccurring theme until the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity had been completed. The human heart has a way of turning from God to some idol. Today, we do not go after graven images like the Israelites did, but we need to understand that anything that a person gives himself or herself to instead of ADONAI is an idol. It can be wanting to accumulate money for it’s own sake, seeking fame or self adoration. Or it could even be good things in life that we abuse, like pleasure, sex, alcohol, or a career. Even our families or our ministries can become idols. In fact, anything that we replace God with in our lives is an idol. The LORD said: I Am a jealous God (see my commentary on Exodus Dl – You Shall Not Make For Yourselves an Idol). That means if there is anything between you and Him, He wants it out of the way no matter what or who it is. As we leave this chapter, we leave the darkness of judgment and move into the light of the coming Messianic Kingdom and the promise of the Holy Spirit.

 

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