Summary: God is punishing Israel but he hasn't abandoned them. He’s a loving father who knows his child must be punished but only to bring them back to him.We’re to show to those who have no faith in God hat God is real and active in the world.
The people are in a desperate situation. They’re described in ch42 as being blind and deaf, imprisoned in darkness. God’s patience has worn out and he’s on the warpath. Listen to what he says to them: “42:13The LORD goes forth like a soldier, like a warrior he stirs up his fury; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes. 14For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant. 15I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbage; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools.” It sounds like there’s no hope for them. Disaster has fallen on them.
But then comes a dramatic change of tone. The message turns from one of danger from the fire of God’s wrath to a promise of salvation, rescue from the flames.
God is punishing them but that doesn’t mean he’s abandoned them. In fact he’s like a loving father who knows his child has to be punished but only to bring them back to him.
And so he reminds them of
Who they are
- I made you what you are
He says: “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel.” They need to be reminded where they came from. It wasn’t one of the many nations of the time that God decided to give his name to. No, he created them from nothing. He chose Abraham to become the father of a brand new nation. And 400 years later, through the exodus from Egypt he formed them into a unified nation, with him as their God.
- I have redeemed you
He did that by redeeming them, releasing them, from slavery in Egypt.
And now that they’ve been punished for their sins he’s redeeming them again; again, bringing them out from slavery to be his own people in their own land.
- I have called you by name, you are mine
And to cement their identity he says “I have called you be name, you are mine.” In the ancient near east to call someone by name had the idea of exercising authority over them. So here he says it gives him ownership of them. They are his.
Later on he tells them “4you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”
And so he tells them what’s about to happen to them
What is about to happen
- I will be with you -
He’s going to bring them back from Babylon, through the desert, across rivers, a long journey. And he’s not pretending that it’ll be easy. There’ll be suffering, but God will limit it to what we can bear. There’ll be waters to cross, trials by fire to go through but in all that he’ll be with them.
- I will protect you
Even in the extremes of suffering God will keep them safe. The waters won’t overwhelm them, the fires won’t burn them. We might be reminded here of the story of Daniel’s three friends being thrown into the fiery furnace in Babylon. Or it might simply be a reference to the burning of God’s anger towards them. In any case God promises to keep them safe, to keep the flames from consuming them.
God tells us a similar thing in 1 Peter: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.” (1 Pet 4:12-13)
- I will ransom you
To assure them that he will keep his promise to redeem them he reminds them that he’s ransomed them before. He’s already given Egypt and Ethiopia and Sheba in exchange for them. That’s how precious they are to him. See v4: “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life”. What could be better than that, what could show how much God loves you than that? Nothing, unless of course he were to give his own Son in return for us.
- I will bring you back to me
Then he makes the great claim of the gospel: I will call you from the far ends of the earth. In fact it’s expressed as a command, isn’t it? “6I will say to the north, ‘Give them up,’ and to the south, ‘Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth.’” This is a bit different to the picture we get in the parable of the Prodigal Son or the Waiting Father. God isn’t just waiting around for us to make up our minds. He’s actually going out to bring us home. He’s actively calling us to return to him. This is where we get the idea of election or predestination. We’re people whom God has chosen and called out of the world to be his people.