The Children of Israel

Week Thirty-Nine: Isaiah 40-49

In Isaiah Chapters 44-47, The Lord talked to the House of Israel as a Father would talk to His children. Isaiah was directly quoting the words of the Lord as Isaiah specifically uses the pronoun “I” as he repeats the Lord’s words to us. As we are of the House of Israel, His words of caution, warning, advice, and promise are as applicable to us now as they were for the Children of Israel in 700 BC.

There are three concepts the Lord taught in these chapters:

  1. As children of Israel, the Lord has chosen us, and He will call us by our name.[i]
  2. The Lord will bear us up and deliver us from harm, if we follow Him.[ii]
  3. Our Heavenly Father must be the only God we worship, and we must not worship meaningless, worldly idols.[iii]

FIRST, the Lord has chosen us and calls us by our name.

When I teach a class of students, I know that it makes a profound difference when I remember each student’s name and call them by their name. The Lord personally knows me by my name. He does not need to look me up or memorize my name, as I do my students. He knows me as a parent knows His child. As I communicate with Him, He directs and counsels me in the decisions I make in my life.

In these Isaiah chapters, the Lord is calling us by name: “Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel whom I have chosen.”[iv] We were chosen even before we were born. “Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee, Fear not, O Jacob, my servant and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen.”[v] The name Jesurun is a poetic or diminutive name for Israel found in the Hebrew Bible. He is calling us by name, as one of Jacob’s descendants because we have been chosen by Him to bear witness to the world that He is the God of this world and there is no other God beside Him. The Lord said “Ye are my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any.”[vi]

In these chapters, the Lord prophecies of Cyrus whom he calls by name a 150 years before Cyrus will “subdue nations before him” and the gates of these nations shall open before Cyrus. The words of the Lord to Isaiah were a message of hope. Isaiah warned Samaria of their future Assyrian destruction and Judah of their Babylonian captivity. The Lord also gave Israel hope that they would return through Cyrus’ future role as ruler of Persia. He would conqueror Babylon, and be a savior of Israel, allowing Israel to return to their Promised Land.

“…Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden to subdue nations before him….[vii]

Biblical scholars argue that Cyrus’s anointing confers a temporary office on him, or a commission, and does not evoke a permanent anointed relationship with God; Cyrus never converted to the Lord God of Israel and his appointment as the Lord’s anointed is not translated as “Messiah.”[viii] Some scholars do point out that Cyrus’ anointing does mean the end of the Davidic monarchy; Cyrus will be anointed as king. What God once did through King David, bringing glory and honor to Israel, the Lord will do now through Cyrus[ix] as the king commissioned by the Lord to help Israel’s return.

SECOND, the Lord will bear us up and deliver us from harm, if we follow Him.

The Lord reminded the House of Israel: “Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb: And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”

Our God has made us; He cares for us as a Heavenly parent from birth to hoar hairs or gray hairs are on our head. He will carry and deliver us if we rely on Him throughout our life.

In sharp contrast, man made the gods of this world. Instead of the loving care and bearing up of the God of Israel, the Babylonian gods do not save their people, but must be saved by them. Rather than helping their people, these gods become a hindrance and a burden, causing the donkeys and oxen to groan under the extra weight they have to carry.[x] The God who made us cares for us and carries us through times of trial and hardship. Putting our love and trust in Him will bring us safety and peace.

Elder Bednar reminded us: “We are not and never need be alone. We can press forward in our daily lives with heavenly help. Through the Savior’s Atonement we can receive capacity and ‘strength beyond [our] own.’[xi] …I wonder if we fail to fully acknowledge this strengthening aspect of the Atonement in our lives and mistakenly believe we must carry our load all alone—through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline and with our obviously limited capacities. It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to the earth to die for us. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to enliven us—not only to guide but also to strengthen and heal us.”[xii]

THIRD, the Lord must be our only God and we must not worship meaningless, worldly idols.

In the first verse of chapter 46, the Lord mentioned the gods Bel and Nebo who were major gods of the Babylonian empire. Bel was the chief sky-god of the Babylonians and Nebo (or Nabu) was the Babylonian god of scribes and wisdom. These idols were so heavy they had to be carried by beasts of burden. They were probably made of a heavy metal such as gold.[xiii]

Bel is another spelling for Baal. [xiv] Over a hundred years previously, Elijah proved to the Israelites that Baal was not a true god. Elijah challenged Ahab to bring all the Israelites and all the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel. Elijah asked the people, “How long will you waver between two different opinions?” The Lord asked a similar question through Isaiah: “To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me…?”[xv] The Lord answered His own question: “…I am God and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me.”[xvi]

Cyrus’s conquest of Babylon will prove to both the Babylonians who survive and to the Israelites who return that to trust in idols for victory is useless. Wooden gods could not foresee Cyrus’s conquest, but the Lord, the only true God, predicted it long before it happened. By submitting to the one true living God, the people will find victory, righteousness, and strength. Those who follow God will join in the glory of Zion and be victorious over the world. [xvii]

“…yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it. Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted that are far from righteousness. I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry; and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory.”[xviii]

Elder Anderson described ways to overcome these gods of the world in order to receive salvation in Zion: “Overcoming the world is not a global invasion but a private, personal battle, requiring hand-to-hand combat with our own internal foes….The world is incessantly pulled by a flood of enticing and seductive voices. Overcoming the world is trusting in the one voice that warns, comforts, enlightens, and brings peace ‘not as the world giveth.’”[xix]

Thus, the God of Israel is our God and nothing else should take His place. As we listen to His call, as we trust in his deliverance, and as we make Him our only true God, we will feel of His support and presence in our lives always. We are not alone!

May we find joy in the Lord this week as we leave the gods of the world behind us and seek the God of our Fathers, the one true God.

[i] Isaiah 44:1-2; 45:1

[ii] Isaiah 46:4

[iii] Isaiah 44:-10; 46:1

[iv] Isaiah 44:1

[v] Isaiah 44:2

[vi] Isaiah 44:8

[vii] Isaiah 44:28; 45:1

[viii] Westermann, Deutero-Isaiah, 160–61; Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 40–55 (AB; New York: Doubleday, 2002) 248–49. 

[ix] Harvard Theological Review, Volume 95, Issue 4, October 2002, pp. 373-393.

[x] Isaiah 46:1-2

[xi] “Lord, I Would Follow Thee,” Hymns, no. 220

[xii] David A. Bednar, “Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease,” GC April 2014.

[xiii] “Isaiah 46”

[xiv] “Isaiah 46”

[xv] Isaiah 46:5

[xvi] Isaiah 46:9

[xvii] Flemming, Donald C. “Commentary on Isaiah 46:1”. “Fleming’s Bridgeway Bible Commentary”. 2005.

[xviii] Isaiah 46:11-13

[xix] Neil L. Andersen, “Overcoming the World,” GC April 2017.

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