I Have Swept Away Your Sins Like the Morning Mist, Return to Me for I Have Redeemed You

44: 21-23

   DIG: In contrast to the idols that can do nothing, what things has God done for Israel? In turn, what does He call upon the people to do? What does He mean by it? The LORD has already redeemed Israel before they returned to Him. What does that say about His nature? Who has to take the first step in the salvation process? Why?

   REFLECT: Is your worship life more characterized by singing and joy, or ritual and dullness? Why? What helps you move toward joyful worship? Our faith is based on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ and not some here-today-and-gone-tomorrow theological fad. Can you remember the times that the LORD has proved Himself faithful to you? When? Under what circumstances? Or is it difficult to think of anything? Why?

    Here Isaiah repeats one of the great themes of the fifth book of the Torah, to remember. Moses wrote: You are to remember everything of the way in which ADONAI led you these forty years in the desert, humbling and testing you in order to know what was in your heart – whether you would obey his commandments or not (Deuteronomy 8:2, also see 8:11 and 18, 9:7). At the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites were to remember as a means of motivation to obedient living. God asked them to remember what He had faithfully done for them in the past. Here in Isaiah, it is not so much the LORD's specific acts that are to be remembered, but His very nature. Nevertheless, the meaning is the same. They were to remember the character of ADONAI as He had revealed Himself to them in the past, and were not to chase after every current theological fad blowing in the wind. They were, however, to remember His faithfulness.

    Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel (44:21a). Then God asks the people to remember what He had done for them. He uses the name Jacob because he had twelve sons that became the twelve tribes of the nation; his name is representative of all the tribes. But after Jacob wrestled all night with the LORD and his name was changed to Isra'el (see my commentary on Genesis Hw – Jacob Wrestles with God) ADONAI said: Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome (Genesis 32:28).

    Therefore, the LORD spoke of the nation as being His faithful servant, depending on Him. He declared: I have made you, you are My servant (44:21b). This is no ordinary servant but a bondservant. Doulos is a Greek word that means bondservant. In the New Covenant times it was not uncommon for a freed slave to voluntarily re-enter servitude to a master whom he loved. This servitude was called bond-service. Only a freed slave could be a bondservant, and once he had chosen to become one, he could never be freed again. Neither could he be bought or sold, and he served his chosen master until death. When a man chose bond-service, he was taken to the front entrance of the house, and his right ear was laid against the door post. A nail was driven through his ear, and a golden earring was placed in it. This golden earring was a symbol to all of the servant’s choice and of his immunity to being sold. ADONAI wanted Israel to willingly choose to be His bondservant.

    Furthermore, He declared His unwavering devotion to her when He said: O Isra'el, I will not forget you (44:21c). In the worship of dead idols everything depended on the devotee, but here, everything depends on the living God. But even if Israel would forget, the LORD declares for all the ages: I will never forget you (see Ip – Zion Not Rejected). This verse refutes replacement theology, or the belief by some today that the Church has replaced Israel. That false theology states that all the promises given to Israel are now transferred to the Church. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Rabbi Sha'ul and Peter spoke of themselves as being bondservants to Christ (Romans 1:1 and Second Peter 1:1). And a servant to Christ does not seek to be served, but rather has a focus of serving others (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45). And as believers, we need to be conformed, literally pressed or molded, into the likeness of Yeshua (Romans 8:29).

    Here it is not so much specific acts of God that are to be remembered, as are certain concepts about Him. Yet, the sense is the same. Life is to be lived on the basis of reflection on the character of ADONAI, not human psychology. So when the LORD says to remember these things, He is saying, “Remember all the evidence that you have witnessed - I am superior to idols.” No idol could possibly save them. God, not the idols, would redeem His people, for He had redeemed her for a special purpose (see my commentary on Exodus Bz - Redemption); to declare to the world that the LORD was the one and only ADONAI. Therefore, she must not interpret the Babylonian exile to mean that He had forgotten her. But physical deliverance was not her greatest need. The real cause of the exile was the sin of idolatry. And until that idolatry was addressed, not only forgiven but repented of, the real significance of the exile would not be realized.  To repent means to turn around and go in a different direction. Then, and only then, He could sweep away their offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist (44:22a). And in fact, idolatry was never a temptation after the seventy years of the Babylonian exile.

    The final phrase starts with, return to Me. The Hebrew word return, or shuv, is the key word in the book of Jeremiah (see my commentary on Jeremiah Ac – The Book of Jeremiah From a Jewish Perspective). It has two forms. The first form means to turn away from, backslide or apostatize. But the second form means to repent, to return or turn back. Here, God is telling Isaiah’s spiritually wicked generation to turn around and go in a different direction. Why? Because their redemption had already taken place, opening the door for a return, making Israel’s redemption both possible and effective.

    For I have redeemed you (44:22b), underlines the importance of the human response to God’s plan. Israel was captive, both to Babylon and to her sins. She could do nothing to deliver herself. The first step is always up to God. If she was to be bought back, redeemed, God alone must do it. But how would Israel respond to the LORD’s first step? His taking the first step does not, in and of itself, produce a response. Israel herself must be willing to act in faith (Genesis 15). As long as Isra'el lies down in hopelessness and despair, the coming of Cyrus, or even the coming of the Messiah, will be in vain. This is why God says to the Israelites not to fear and not to believe that they were forgotten. He said: See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands (49:16). This is a figurative way of expressing that ADONAI will never forget Isra'el. The greatest danger of the exile would not be that God would be unable to act on her behalf, but that Israel herself would fail to respond in faith to His first step. Like a man wooing or courting his bride, the LORD is always the initiator and we are always the responders.

    We can say no to God and make it stick. The LORD can open the door for us, but we have to walk through it. As much as He loves us, He will not violate our free will. The unique thing about love is that it cannot be forced. You cannot make someone love you. The exciting thing about love, however, is that when someone loves you, they choose to love you. That’s what ADONAI wants, He wants us to choose Him over Satan and this world. But the Holy Spirit is a gentleman; He will not kick down the door to your heart. He can only be invited in. What’s your choice?

    In the far eschatological future God’s redemption of Israel will cause all of creation to rejoice. All idolatry will ultimately cease because it will be shown to be what it is – folly and futility. But the One God, who works in history, who is eternal, will prove Himself to be all that He has claimed when with regard to the restoration of Israel. Why? For ADONAI has redeemed Jacob (44:23b). The Hebrew verb has redeemed is a prophetic perfect, meaning an action still in the future but being just as certain as if it had already happened. He displays His glory in Israel (44:23c). At that time, all of creation will rejoice along with him. The Hebrew verb displays is an imperfect, indicating a continuing statement of fact. It is with Israel that the LORD chooses to adorn Himself.

    This section ends with the hymn of praise. ADONAI wanted Isra'el to focus on her hopeful future to motive her to turn from their idol worship. He tells her to sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees (44:23a). When ADONAI accomplishes redemption for Jacob, the curse will be lifted from the whole of creation (Romans 8:19-21). The idolater cut down trees to make an idol, but redemption frees the Israelites to burst into song for the true God. The prophet calls for all nature to join in song in celebration of the marvelous redemption of God’s people, a redemption that is fraught with the greatest consequences in the religious history of the world. The heavens above and the earth below are invited to sing for joy.

    The emphasis on ADONAI’s redemption of His people is completely appropriate to precede the Cyrus oracle that follows (see La – The Deliverance by Cyrus the Great). The cycle will be complete when heaven and earth themselves participate in the redemption (65:17-25, 66:22-23). It is clear that this blueprint of redemption is progressively revealed in Isaiah and includes a lot more than merely the Babylonian Exile and return. Though it does provide the background for the larger picture of Isra'el’s ultimate redemption (Psalm 96:11-13).

    We can’t imagine what our Redeemer has in store for us. The Holy Spirit gives us a few clues, but it is like a person blind from birth trying to comprehend color. Imagine if you lived in a world of darkness – then could suddenly see. Imagine if you lived in a world without taste – and suddenly could taste a wonderful holiday buffet with all the trimmings. Imagine if you lived in a world without sound – then could hear beautiful music. How awesome is THAT! That is a little bit of what it will be for those who have been redeemed by the Lamb. That is a little bit of what it will be for those who are children of God (by Andy Grossman, Sermon Central).

 

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