Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Wednesday prior to Epiphany 1


Isaiah 43:1-7 -God’s servant is anointed with the Spirit to bring justice. This is a servant song about Israel as God’s servant who will be anointed with the Spirit to bring justice and light to the nations. We can see the fulfillment of this prophecy in Jesus, and then the church as God’s servant carrying on the work of Jesus in the world.

Here is a much needed conception of the church as God’s servant. To be this, the church needs to be anointed by the Spirit (verse 1).  As servant, the church will not use force but the compassion of life to attain her goals (verses 2, 3).  She will not be discouraged in her work – in spite of setbacks in a hostile world (verse 4).

But now thus says Yahweh” (v. 1a).  As noted above, “But” in this verse is linked to 42:21-25—verses that speak of Judah’s disobedience and Yahweh’s anger.  The use of “But” in this verse assures us that Yahweh’s anger is history. The new reality of chapter 43 is that of Yahweh’s love and the redemption of God’s people.  The words, “Thus says Yahweh,” heighten the emphasis—lend the Lord’s imprimatur to what is said here.

he who created you, Jacob, and he who formed you, Israel” (v. 1b).  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).  In like manner, he created the nation Israel.  That creation began with the call of Abram (Genesis 12:1) and continued through the lineage of Isaac, Jacob/Israel, and Israel’s twelve sons.  But it was in Egypt that Israel’s family grew to nation-size, and it was in the Exodus that they first became an independent nation.  This mention of Israel’s creation, then, is the first allusion in our text to the Exodus story.

Don’t be afraid, for I have redeemed you” (v. 1c).  The words, “Don’t be afraid,” appear frequently in the Old and New Testaments (42 times), but especially in the book of Isaiah (15 times) and most especially in Second Isaiah (10 times).

Fear is a common human condition.  These exiles, who have endured a half century of servitude with no end in sight, have reason to be afraid.  Can they look forward to anything other than more of the same?  Will they forever be servants of the Babylonians?  Is there any hope that they will one day be free?

The prophet, speaking for Yahweh, assures them that, in spite of their suffering and the apparent hopelessness of their situation, they need not fear the future.  The reason is that Yahweh has redeemed them.  For Jewish people, this word, “redeemed,” would bring to mind their understanding that the firstborn, human or animal, belongs to the Lord and must be redeemed by the payment of a price.  This practice has its roots in the Passover, where the Lord killed the firstborn of Egypt but allowed the Israelites to redeem their firstborn with the blood of a lamp smeared on their doorpost (Exodus 11:1-13:16).  This use of the word, “redeemed,” is the second allusion in our text to the Exodus.

I have called you by your name.  You are mine” (v. 1d).  For these people, names are important.  A person’s name reveals the person’s character and identity.  In key moments in Israel’s history, God named particular people.  He changed Abram’s name to Abraham, “for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5).  He changed Jacob’s name to Israel, “for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28)—and Israel’s name became the name of the nation.  The bestowing of a new name, then, is tantamount to conferring a new identity—acknowledging a new character.

To bestow a name is an act of authority, denoting possession, responsibility, and protection” (Myers, 747).  Yahweh’s calling by Israel by name, therefore, constitutes a kind of adoption ceremony that signifies that “you are mine” (v. 1d)—that Yahweh is the parent and Israel is the child.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.  When you walk through fire, you will not be burned, and  flame will not scorch you”(v. 2).  Yahweh has named Israel and Israel belongs to Yahweh, so Israel can count on Yahweh’s protection.  The promise is not that Israel’s way will be easy or without danger, but rather that when exposed to danger Israel will be neither overwhelmed nor consumed.  Calvin says, “The Lord has not redeemed you so that you might enjoy pleasures and luxuries…but so that you should be prepared for enduring all kinds of evil” (quoted in Oswalt, 138).  That brings to mind the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, “Deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13 KJV).

Pass through the waters” is another allusion to the Exodus, where Israel passed unharmed through the waters of the Red Sea to escape the pursuing Egyptian army, but the pursuing army was overwhelmed by the waters, eliminating the threat to Israel (Exodus 14-15).

Some scholars think of “pass…through the rivers” as an allusion to the end of the Exodus, when Israel finally crossed the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land (Joshua 3).  That crossing might seem to have posed little danger compared with the crossing of the Red Sea, but that is hardly how Israel perceived it.  When Moses sent spies to view the land of Canaan, the spies returned with this report:  We came to the land where you sent us; and surely it flows with milk and honey; and this is its fruit.  However the people who dwell in the land are strong and the cities are fortified and very large….  There we saw the Nephilim: …and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:27, 33).

It would not be until later, when Joshua sent two spies to Jericho, that Israel would hear the voice of faith proclaiming, “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands; moreover all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before us” (Joshua 2:24).  Clearly, these later spies understood that it would not be their strength that would make the land theirs, but the Lord’s strength.

The fire and flame of v. 2b are metaphors for any danger, but would also evoke vivid memories for the exiles who had watched Jerusalem burn.

For I am Yahweh (YHWH) your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (v. 3a).  God has spoken of naming his people.  Now he reveals his own name in four dimensions:  (1) Yahweh (2) your God (3) the Holy One of Israel and (4) your Savior.  As with other names, these names reveal the identity and character of God.

Yahweh” (Hebrew: YHWY) is the holy name of God, the name by which God revealed himself to Moses (translated “I Am” in Exodus 3:14 NRSV).  Most Jewish people decline to pronounce this name lest they accidentally profane it.  However, it is the name used for God in the Psalms, the prophets, and several of the historical books of the Old Testament.

The other three names, “your God,” “the Holy One of Israel,” and “your Savior” all emphasize the relationship of Yahweh to the nation of Israel and its people.  Israel belongs to Yahweh, and Yahweh belongs to Israel.

While the name, “the Holy One of Israel,” is found elsewhere in the Bible (2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:19; Jeremiah 50:29; 51:5), fully 24 of the 30 occurrences of this name are found in the book of Isaiah.  Moreover, it occurs in all three parts of the book, twelve times in chapters 1-39, ten times in chapters 40-55, and twice in chapters 56-66.  In addition, the name, “The Holy One of Jacob” is used once (29:23) and “the Holy One, the Creator of Israel” used once (43:15).  Scholars point to the distinctive use of this name as one of the key indicators of the unity of the book (by which they do not necessarily mean a single author).

Your Savior” has been true in the past.  Yahweh saved Israel in the Exodus, in David’s encounter with Goliath, in Gideon’s encounter with the Midianites, and on countless other occasions.  This verse assures the exiles that Yahweh is still their savior and will save them from their exile.[2]

Collect for the likeness of Christ—O God, by the patient suffering of Your only-begotten Son, You have beaten down the pride of the old enemy. Now help us, we humbly pray, rightly to treasure in our hearts all that our Lord has of His goodness born for our sake that after His example we may bear with patience all that is adverse to us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. [3]-5 January 2022

[1] The Baptism of Jesus, copyright © Ed Riojas, Higher Things

[3] Collect for the likeness of Christ, Lutheran Service Book © 2006 Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis

No comments: