Isaiah 48 closes out a section of the prophecy that began in chapter 40. It ends with the warning that “there is no peace for the wicked” (48:22), a warning echoed in 57:1 and again at the end of the book (66:22-24).
“Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and have come forth from the wellsprings of Judah; who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel,
but not in truth or in righteousness . . . .” (Isaiah 48:1-22).
YOU HAVE NOT HEARD
Yahweh addresses the house of Jacob that has come from the “waters” of Judah (Isaiah 48:1). They swear by Yahweh’s name, invoke the God of Israel, named themselves by the holy city of Jerusalem, lean on the God of Israel (48:1-2). But Yahweh knows that their hearts are not with him (48:1). He knows that they have iron necks and bronze foreheads (48:4). So once again, He calls Judah away from idols back to her basic confession: “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh your God is one God” (Isaiah 48:1; Deuteronomy 6:4). Yahweh speaks and acts to turn Judah from idols. He foretells what is going to happen before it happens so Judah won’t trust idols (48:5-6). He creates new circumstances so that Judah won’t be able to say, “I saw it coming” (48:7). But it hasn’t worked, because Judah’s ears are closed (48:8; cf. Isaiah 6). The people of the Shema (“Hear”) don’t list. Yahweh will not destroy Israel; He restrains and delays His wrath (48:9). But He will put Judah through the furnace of exile to refine her (48:10).
FIRST AND LAST
Again, Yahweh calls Judah to “Hear” (Isaiah 48:12). As the first and last, He can speak of former things and of things yet to come (48:12). And as the Creator who founded earth and spread heaven, He can remold the world as He wills (48:13). He promises to stretch out an arm against Babylon through the one who will do His pleasure (48:14-15). The “beloved” one (48:14) is Cyrus, the Persian Shepherd of Israel who does the Lord’s pleasure (44:28). Verse 16 doesn’t fit easily into the context, and contains the words of Yahweh’s Servant (cf. 42:1). Though Cyrus will be the agent of Yahweh’s vengeance against Babylon, Yahweh’s Servant, send by Lord Yahweh and His Spirit, will be active as well. Cyrus is not free-lancing. He is guided by the Servant of Yahweh.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
Despite Judah’s idolatry and sin, Yahweh is still the God of Israel (“Yahweh your God,” 48:17). He reminds Judah that He is their teacher (48:17), and tells them what blessings they have forfeited by their disobedience: Peace flowing like a river (48:18), justice like the waves of the sea (48:18), the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise that they would be like sand on the beach (48:19). The seed of Judah might have produced an abundant harvest (48:19), an eternal name.
Even so, Yahweh refuses to give up on His people. They have rejected His gifts and closed their ears to His commands. Yet He promises to bring them out from exile in a joyful procession (48:20). He will do the exodus all over again, splitting the Rock to let water flow in the desert (48:21). Yet, as in the first exodus, the wicked rebels in Israel will not survive the desert or inherit the land (48:22).