16 January 2012

Isaiah 44:6-8, 21-23

"Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you, you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you." (vv. 21-22)


Chapter 44 begins with a blessing and reassurance from God for Jacob and the people of Israel. God is both their creator and redeemer, the one who formed them in the womb and who will save them from destruction. On the basis of God's nature and commitment to them, there is no need for fear.

Verses 6-8 then affirm the absolute sovereignty and uniqueness of God, piling up images and claims. This is underlined by a rhetorical challenge: "Who is like me?" (v. 7). Israel is called to be a witness to God's complete incomparability, drawing on their experience both now and in the past (verses 7-8).

The chapter concludes with a reaffirmation of Jacob and Israel's servant status before God as a cause for rejoicing (verses 21-23). The idea of servanthood today is often associated with 'knowing one's place'. Servants are portrayed in television programmes like Downton Abbey as menial people who know their place and obey without question. Even when in the modern media employees of local and central government are described as 'public servants', it is often as a device to downplay their right to take disruptive industrial action. Who on earth would want to be a servant and how could this ever be a cause for rejoicing?

In Isaiah 44 the status of a servant of God also contains a strong element of 'knowing one's place'. But it is precisely this that is the cause for rejoicing since God identifies Jacob and Israel's place as that of chosen people, formed in the womb and marked in the future, by the Holy Spirit. This is the place from which they are to witness to the Eternal One who has formed them, who will never forget them and yet can sweep their sins and failings away like passing damp weather.

To Ponder

"You're gonna have to serve somebody, well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve somebody." Was Bob Dylan right?

What are the spheres in which your service can be a witness to God's faithfulness and forgiveness?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Tim Woolley

The Revd Dr Tim Woolley is superintendent minister of the Hinckley Circuit in Leicestershire and an adjunct faculty member at Cliff College. Tim has a passion for Wesleyan theology and for fresh ways of being church and doing evangelism, and he is a vice chair of Methodist Evangelicals Together.