God’s story includes me, but it’s not about me. There is a fruitful tension between understanding our faith as both individual and interconnected. We are each a unique creation of God, and we’re individually responsible for relating to God, responding to God’s love and grace / initiative in our lives. At the same time, God’s loving concern includes the people and world around me, and draws me to move beyond myself. Both elements are in play here as we reflect on what God is saying here in Isaiah.
By this point as we go through Isaiah, we’re well aware of the existential questions facing the remnant of the Abraham’s descendants. They have reaped the consequences of personal and national lives and priorities that do not reflect a love of God or neighbor, however much they tried to cover their bases in religious activity and words. The impact of God’s withdrawal of support and protection have been devastating, and they have been brought to the point of asking ‘what now? is there any hope?’
In Isaiah 44, we find a continuation of God’s response of hope – God has not given up on them, in their status of being called and chosen to service (remember: being chosen is chosen for a purpose – back to being a light to the nations). These are words of reassurance and remembrance – the God who formed them from the very beginning, gave them a calling and a blessing, will help them.
Like water poured out on dry land, God promises to pour out God’s spirit on the descendants of the people of Israel, and they shall be revived and flourish like the trees and plants by a stream.
Check out the second chapter of Acts – what connections do you see here?
To a people wondering if they belong, God promises that they are named as belonging to God, and not only the ancestors of Abraham, but others will come to know that they too belong to God, adopting the name of Israel – a powerful image of God’s love for all the nations; God’s desire that all may come to know their creator, and find belonging.
In that context, it makes sense that the middle section of Isaiah 44 reflects on the contrast between choosing to worship idols of our own creation, and coming to know and praise the God who is first and last, the one who reigns over all creation.
Can you hear echoes of other parts of the New Testament that draw on or parallel what you read here in Isaiah? (Revelation 21:1-6 is one example)
In contrast to powerless idols crafted by human beings, whose proponents know nothing of the world as it truly is, nor can they speak of purpose for the world, notice how God is described:
- The LORD (YHWH) – the God revealed to Moses (Exodus 3) who is active in history, borne witness to by the experiences of people through time.
- The King of Israel – remember that in Exile, the people have had no king; but God reminds them that they are not forgotten, their identity is not lost, and that God (and ultimately God alone) has true authority and power, over Israel and over all the nations.
- The Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts – In the immediate context, God is acting through Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem and return the exiles to their homeland. However large the armies of the world are, however powerful nations and empires – the Lord of Hosts, (could be understood as the army or legion of the heavens), this God is more powerful still. It is a military term, but one intended to reinforce the understanding that God is able to carry out God’s purposes, despite how overwhelming the opposition may seem to be.
In the midst of this – God speaks to the people a familiar message: “Do not fear, or be afraid.”
God, not the powerless, mute idols of human invention, has formed humanity and specifically (reminding the people of Israel), God has formed them. God will not forget or abandon them. Indeed their sins have been forgiven, and the call comes: “return to me, for I have redeemed you” (v.22)
The God who stretched out the heavens and made all things, who speaks and guides, and has purpose for this life; this God has acted, is acting and will act to restore.
Notice the types of promises God makes throughout this chapter.
Which promises are for individuals, which are for future generations, which are for the people as a whole? How do they interconnect?
In the last verse of chapter 44, God’s promise becomes very concrete – Cyrus (the Persian ruler) is the shepherd chosen by God who will enable the temple of Jerusalem to be rebuilt.
It poses the question – in the midst of these promises, in what will we trust? What will our response be to the challenges of our time? Despair? Shame? Hope?