What kind of God does the prophet proclaim in Isaiah 42:18– 43:21? What must God be like if He promises to restore and renew despite the abject failure of His people?
What kind of God is our covenant Lord? The answer is that He is like no other!
I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. (Isa. 43:11)
In a series of statements that open chapter 43, a sixfold depiction of God’s glory emerges.
First, God is the Creator. Using two distinct words, both found in the carefully constructed narrative of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, Isaiah describes God as having “created” and “formed” Jacob/Israel:
But now thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel. (Isa. 43:1)
The first word, “created” (bara), usually refers to the creation of something new. It does not necessarily imply that the creative result was ex nihilo, out of nothing. Genesis 2:7 tells us that man was not created (bara) ex nihilo but from “the dust of the earth.”
The second word, “formed” (yatsar), can be rendered “to knead.” Later in Isaiah, a form of this word is translated “potter” and implies the use of preexisting material. The emphasis is on sovereignty. In “forming” Adam, God used “the dust of the ground” and breathed into him the breath of life. In a sense, God “kissed” Adam into life (Gen. 2:7).
Later, a third word is employed—“made” (yaas). This word suggests the labor of God in “giving perfect expression to his creative designs, bringing the acts of creation to their intended concrete expression.”
Like Adam, Israel is the product of God’s sovereign determination and skill. God’s people are no accident. Thought, premeditation, and divine dexterity are involved in Israel’s creation. Like Adam, Israel owes allegiance, obedience, and reciprocal affection. She is not her own creator. She owes her existence and her salvation to the Lord.
Ideas have consequences. The blurring and sometimes complete loss of the doctrine of creation in our time affects the way we understand our nature and function as human beings. Creation is a reminder that the relationship we have with God is not that of equals. We owe our existence to Him, and we are essentially subordinate. Even in the most intimate of relationships of our redeemed status—that of adopted sons—we are still creatures. Though saved and adopted creatures, we are creatures nevertheless. We exist to serve the Lord, and we are redeemed to serve the Lord.
Second, God is our Redeemer: “I have redeemed you” (Isa. 43:1). He has taken the role of Boaz and acted as our Kinsman-Redeemer, our next-of-kin with all the legal and family obligations this relationship entails. Our debt became His. He paid in full what we, or Israel, could not pay. He fulfilled what the law required on our behalf. It is a glorious truth that the Lord will pay whatever it takes to ransom His people from captivity, even His own Son.
Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child and forever I am.
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
His child and forever I am.
Third, God is our Preserver. Purchase implies ownership. “You are mine,” God says. And, underlying the intimacy of this relationship, we are on first-name terms: “I have called you by name” (Isa. 43:1). God knows my name, and He knows yours. His love ensures that we will come to no ultimate harm. We may be asked to pass through the waters and the rivers, and even fire and flame, but they will not overwhelm or consume (Isa. 43:2). He preserves His people through the trial. We may not be spared from the trial, but we will be spared through the trial. This is what our redemption means: we are His.
Fourth, God is loving. In words of inexpressible beauty and intimacy, God tells Israel,
You are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you. . .. (Isa. 43:4)
We are precious to Him and loved by Him. God calls us by name, introducing us to His name:
“For I am the LORD your God” (Isa. 43:3).
God’s personal name is YHWH or Yahweh (usually rendered in English Bibles as “LORD”). He revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 3 by the name “I am who I am,” (Ex. 3:14), later shortened to “I am.” In that context, His name was closely associated with His promise and covenant. In effect, God was saying, “I am the God who made covenant with your fathers and I will be a God who keeps it with you.
The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Ex. 3:15)
We live in a generation where esteem means a great deal. Nothing spells “esteem” more than the knowledge that we are loved. Loved by another. Loved by God. A love that will not let us go.
Fifth, God is a Gatherer and Rescuer. He will gather from east and west. Wherever we are, He will find us. With more than the future captivity in Babylon in mind, God says:
Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you.
I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth. (Isa. 43:5–6)
The prophet seems to be looking beyond Babylon and into a future—our present and our future. “I will find you,” God seems to be saying, “wherever you are.” Set in the upper New York wilderness in 1757, The Last of the Mohicans tells the story of the transport of the two daughters of Colonel Munro, Alice and Cora, to a safe destination at Fort William Henry. Among others, including Mohican scouts, is Nathaniel (“Natty Bumpo,” played by Daniel Day-Lewis in the 1992 film). In a massacre that ensues following an attack by Huron warriors, Nathaniel sees no way out but to escape and leave Cora to the mercy of the Hurons. “I will find you,” Nathaniel says to her before diving through the waterfall, “no matter how long it takes, no matter how far. I will find you.
Not one will be lost in the gathering of God’s people. “I will find you,” God says. He knows each of us by name. He protects each one individually. The one lost in the darkness of depression. The one trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage. The one tempted and allured by false gods with false promises.
There is no “left behind” narrative in the electing and saving purposes of God. Importantly, this promise is made to the redeemed only. Like a shepherd who braves wind and storm to find the lost sheep, God will leave the “ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he has found it” (Luke 15:4).
Sixth, God is glorious and is determined to get all the glory for Himself. As we saw earlier in this chapter, He formed us to that end: “whom I created for my glory” (Isa. 43:7). In a courtroom drama, Isaiah ushers Israel into an examination of their myopic failure (Isa. 43:8–13). Witnesses are summoned and accusations made. Their unseeing eyes and deaf ears are testimonies to the fact that they have failed to appreciate the sole reason for their existence: to give glory to God. Man’s dalliance with idols is evidence of this shortsightedness:
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.
I, I am the LORD,
and besides me there is no savior.
I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God.” (Isa. 43:10–12)
These “strange gods” are man’s greatest crimes, and they are palpably incapable of delivering Israel from their trials. Yahweh alone is God, and Yahweh alone can deliver.
This excerpt is adapted from Strength for the Weary by Derek Thomas.