We now move into the second section of the chapter dealing with the deliverance of Israel from captivity.
Read Isaiah 42:9. What are these “things” being mentioned here? These are actually prophecies. The “former things” are those prophecies given by both Isaiah and Jeremiah, predicting Judah’s captivity, which have now come to past. Read Isaiah 39:5-7, Jeremiah 15:1-2. Now that those prophecies have been fulfilled, the Lord has “new things” or new messages to give the people describing what will happen in the future.
We don’t know what God is going to do until verses 13-16, but we do know it is going to be something wonderful and encouraging because the verses that follow speak of rejoicing and praise.
Read Isaiah 42:10-12. Here we have a list of two different groups praising and worshiping God: aspects of nature such as “all that is in the sea”, “the islands”, “the desert” and people groups from “the ends of the earth”, “fishermen and sailors” (you who go down to the sea), “islanders”, “Arab desert dwellers – those living in cities, as well as nomads” (Kedar), and “people of Sela” (that is Petra, the rock capital city of Edom, to the south of Israel). Isaiah appears to be describing primarily the areas and peoples surrounding Israel: those who would be most aware of when the Jews return from captivity in Babylon. In God’s perfect world, all these peoples and areas would be rejoicing that the Jews have been redeemed and forgiven by God and living once more in their Promised Land. He does include from “the ends of the earth” in his list to show that this is something worthy of rejoicing on a world wide scale.
Now we learn what God is going to do. Read Isaiah 42:13. The Lord is going into battle like a mighty man, like a warrior. This is called an “anthropomorphism”, where one describes God using human terms, to better understand His character and actions. He is going to fight for captive Israel like he fought for the Israelites against the Egyptians during the Exodus. Read Exodus 15:3-4. The Israelites didn’t physically see God as a giant warrior, tossing Pharaoh’s chariots about; they only saw the results of his power, when he caused the waters to come crashing down and drowning the Egyptians. The same is true here in Isaiah: the Israelites wouldn’t actually see God in the shape of warrior, a mighty man, or hear an audible battle cry but they would see his deeds when he destroyed their enemies, the Babylonians. Notice that they are also “his” enemies, for they have mistreated his chosen people, the Jews.
Read Isaiah 42:14. In verses 10-13 Isaiah was speaking, but now the Lord, Jehovah, speaks once more. Here, in this anthropomorphism (God being described as being like a woman in childbirth) we get a glimmer of the depth of God’s feelings for Israel/Judah. He was silent for a time (50 to 60 years), watching as his people suffered, and said and did nothing, but now the pain of watching has become so great, like that of going through childbirth, that He can no longer stand back and do nothing. What a graphic image!
I thought about what is all involved in childbirth: inside the mother’s womb the fetus is growing and changing. The mother must carry the fetus and in the process goes through many inconveniences and discomfort to keep the unborn child healthy. If the baby is to survive outside the womb the mother must carry it to term, for a certain length of time; if the baby is born prematurely, it may die. The Jews were not ready to return to Jerusalem until their 70 years were complete; they could not be “born” again until they had spent their allotted time in captivity. They needed time to repent and grow spiritually. But it was not a comfortable thing for the Lord to go through, biding his time until they “grew up”, especially since, unlike our fetus analogy, they had to go through physical suffering to spiritually grow. But just as a mother loves her child, so the Lord greatly loves his chosen people and was willing to go through great pain for them.
To be continued…
Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford (notes). The Student Bible. NIV Version
H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell (editors). The Pulpit Commentary Volume 10: Isaiah