16 December 2013

Isaiah 48:12-22

"O that you had paid attention to my commandments." (v. 18)


Earlier in this wonderful book, Isaiah had proclaimed the downfall of the regime in Babylon; God's people will be set free - free to return to their homeland.

In verse 14, who is it that 'the Lord loves'? It is Cyrus, the rule of Persia, referred to in Isaiah 45:1 as 'the Lord's anointed'. He is God's chosen one, to break the power of Babylon and institute a much more 'friendly' regime, under which God's people can hope for better things. But there is a stern reminder here. God not only promises better things for God's own people; God expects better things of people. In verses 17-22, the people had been given this message before but sadly they had neglected it.

One of the conundrums in the prophet's message is this: the strategy for avoiding the impending military defeat was social reform; bring to an end injustice and cruelty and all will be well. But this raises questions. How was the moral quality of God's people going to affect the behaviour of the rulers of their mighty neighbours? Was Cyrus moved to conquer Babylon by the high moral tone he saw in the Judean community? Or did he simply see an opportunity to eliminate a troublesome neighbour?

Are we to believe that a change in the way we behave towards one another will avert disaster? No doubt injustice and decadence have their consequences, social as well as personal. But will they sway dictators and tyrants? Why should we behave well? Just to please God?

To Ponder

  • This passage invites us to reflect on the idea that people who (on the face of things) have nothing to do with God can nevertheless be prompted to play a key role in God's purposes. What does this say to you about our human freedom?
  • According to Isaiah, God's promises to us and God's expectations of us go hand in hand. In your reading of the Bible, what promises and expectations do you find?
  • Isaiah links the destiny of God's people (in human military and political terms) to their ethical behaviour. How can this work?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr John Ogden

John Ogden spent most of his life (he is now in his late 70s) teaching Computer Science in the universities of Glasgow and Reading. A local preacher since 1964, he served the Reading and Silchester Circuit as a circuit steward in the 1980s, then candidated for (non-stipendiary) ministry.