Rejoice for Redemption! Isaiah 44:21-28
This post will cover Point 3 of the outline introduced in the Journal Entry 2.18.
Septuagint Isaiah 44 Quick Outline
I. God’s Provision for Old Testament Israel Isaiah 44:1-6
II. The Foolishness of Those Who Make and Worship Idols Isaiah 44:6-20
III. God’s Good News for Old Testament Israel Isaiah 44:21-28
In a pattern not unfamiliar to Isaiah, God through the prophet switches back from condemnation of those who make idols to declaring that Jacob, which is Israel, is his servant. To whom does God direct this speech? Not to the singular Servant, Messiah-Israel, but to his people. The reader knows this from the content of verses 21 through 22. This content encourages them not to forget God (verse 21). God proclaims that he has blotted out their lawlessness and sins. And using future tense, he states that he will redeem them (verse 22). Messiah, of course, will have no sin. Therefore, these lines could not be addressed to him. But does Isaiah speak in these two verses to the remnant of Israel who will be saved (Isaiah 10:22), or to the entire people? Speaking from the advantage of hindsight, the entire context from verses 21-28 would indicate that God addresses the remnant who believe and will turn back to God.
Isaiah Uses Symbols
We have previously seen that Isaiah does speak metaphorically at times (See Journal 2.18). In Isaiah 44:3-4, God through Isaiah says, “For I will give water to the thirsty that walk in a dry land: I will put my Spirit upon your seed, and my blessings upon your children” (verse 3). These two lines form a poetic couplet, similar in style to that found in many psalms (See, for example, Psalm 1:5 and 24:1). That is, the lines are synonymous, line 2 restating line 1 in different words. In Isaiah 44:3, the second line (Spirit, seed, blessings, children) explains the first (I will give water to the thirsty). The dry land where the thirsty people walk would be the nation, or religious culture, of Israel. Jesus-Messiah fulfilled this prophecy. In his ministry, he often referred to the giving of the Holy Spirit as supplying the thirsty with water. This prophecy of Isaiah became fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. Then, Isaiah 44:4 also uses poetic metaphors. God compares the children of verse 3 to growing grass surrounded by water and willows growing near flowing water (1).
So, when we come to Isaiah 44:21-23, we find that the fulfillment of this prophecy will be among those children of Israel who believe. “Return to me, and I will redeem you” (Isaiah 44:22 NETS). The ones who return (believe) are the ones upon whom God will put his Spirit (verse 3).
The result is that all creation will rejoice (Isaiah 44:23). This verse also uses poetic metaphors. That is, we all know that physical creation doesn’t express emotions. The physical heavens cannot be glad. The foundations of the earth do not blow trumpets. Physical mountains and hills don’t shout, nor do trees. These are poetic metaphors for joy over God’s believing remnant.
And yet, there will be a rejoicing of all God’s physical creation when Israel is redeemed and glorified. But first, notice the tenses in the Septuagint text.
Rejoice, O heavens, because God has had mercy on Israel; trumpet, O foundations of the earth; shout for joy, O mountains, the hills and all the trees that are in them, because God has redeemed Iakob, and Israel will be glorified! (Isaiah 44:23, NETS)
God’s first two actions are past tense. The prophecy is so sure that it is presented as though already fulfilled. God has already had mercy on Israel and he has already redeemed Jacob. This is cause for God’s nature to rejoice. But the third action concerning Israel is future tense. Israel will be glorified.
A New Testament Parallel
Isaiah presents the gospel of Jesus Christ in prophetic form. Jesus Christ has already fulfilled the first two clauses of the prophecy. God displayed his mercy and redemption through the incarnation, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. In shortened version, the cross of Christ achieved God’s mercy and redemption, both for believing Israel and for all Gentiles who believe. Spiritually speaking, there is already a certain amount of glory in God’s expanded olive tree. That olive tree is the root, Israel, and the branches that have been grafted in, believing Gentiles.
Paul in Romans writes a statement that is parallel to Isaiah 44.
Romans 8:15 For you… received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs– heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him… 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies… 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (ESV)
Just as in Isaiah, the redemption and justification Paul speaks of have already occurred through the cross of Christ. But all God’s children still await the glory to be revealed with the “redemption of our bodies” (verse 28). Paul speaks of an eternal glory. The “redemption of our bodies” will occur at the end of the ages with the resurrection.
Please notice that Paul does not separate out the children of physical Israel and the children of non-Israel (Gentiles). Nor does Isaiah. Although Isaiah 44 does not speak directly to the redemption of Gentiles, many other places in Isaiah do. See, for example, Isaiah 49:1-6 (2).
The theme of Isaiah 44:24-28 returns to God’s challenge to idols and idol makers. Verse 24 picks up from verses 21 through 23, God as Redeemer and Creator. His challenge takes the form of asking questions. Who else besides God has done any of the things God has done in his long relationship with His people? Who scatters the false prophets and their prophecies? (vs 25). Whose word prophesies Israel’s future and brings it to pass? (vs 26). Who else controls and commands the flow of mighty waterways? (vs 27).
Then, for the first time in Isaiah, the prophet mentions the name of the Persian ruler, Cyrus.
28 Who bids Cyrus be wise, and he shall perform all my will: who says to Jerusalem, You shall be built, and I will lay the foundation of my holy house. (LXE, Brenton in Modern English).
Is Cyrus a Type?
Verse 28 is a fantastic prophecy that serves double duty. First, as a local prophecy, its detail is astounding. Isaiah’s time of writing is still future to the Persian Empire. Yet, the prophet names the ruler who will be responsible for writing the edict that sends the Israelite people back to their home. (See Ezra 1:1-3; 3:10-13; and 6:14-16.)
Ezra 1:1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of the Persians, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremias might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of the Persians, and he issued a proclamation through all his kingdom, and that in writing, saying, 2 Thus said Cyrus king of the Persians, The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has given me a charge to build him a house in Jerusalem that is in Judea. 3 Who is there among you of all his people? for his God shall be with him, and he shall go up to Jerusalem that is in Judea, and let him build the house of the God of Israel: he is the God that is in Jerusalem. (LXE)
Yet, there is more. As we will discover in the next post, Cyrus is a type of a much larger person and a much larger event. Consider this quotation by Archer and Chirichingno.
Cyrus is a type of Christ as liberator of the captivity of Israel. (3)
HOW CAN A READER KNOW THIS ON THEIR OWN?
What if I as a reader don’t have access to a library of commentaries to interpret the Scripture for me? God will provide, just as he did by sending Phillip to the Ethiopian eunuch. Additionally, the language of the Scripture provides clues to those who carefully with much prayer read, reread, and ponder the text. Just as Phillip applied the New Testament gospel to the eunuch reading Isaiah, so those familiar with the Holy Spirit and the New Testament will hear the Spirit apply New Testament light in their hearts. Remember, the Spirit gives his hungry children fish, not rocks (Luke 11:9-13).
- First, then, even though Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28, LXE is a Gentile, God “bids Cyrus be wise.” Wisdom is the one thing most of God’s people usually lacked. Wisdom, however, Christ had in plenty. (See Luke 2:52; John 6:44-45; 7:15.)
- In the next phrase in the Septuagint, God tells Cyrus to “do all my will.” Only Christ ever did “all” of God’s will (John 4:34, 6:38).
- Finally, God speaks directly to Jerusalem in verse 28, saying, “You shall be built, and I will lay the foundation of my holy house.” The New Testament itself tends to “spiritualize” the Old Testament. In the gospel of John, Christ refers to his body as the temple of God (John 2:19). Paul, on the other hand, describes the Corinthian believers as the temple of God, “… you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17). Elsewhere in the same chapter (same context), Paul states that Christ is the “foundation” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). The book of Revelation again spiritualizes when Jesus names believers as pillars “in the temple of my God” (Revelation 3:12). Jesus calls Jerusalem the “city of my God” and says that it will itself be coming down from God out of heaven (ibid). And, spiritualizing even more, John declares–
Revelation 21:22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. (ESV)
As we move on to chapter 45, Lord willing, we will find more prophecies in Isaiah concerning Cyrus and Christ.
1 There is a willow growing by a stream of water near where I live. There’s no stopping it. This past season alone, it sprouted new growth amounting to many meters.
2 I am reminded of a verse from another context completely. Nevertheless, it speaks what is in my heart. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:9)
3 Archer, Gleason L. and Gregory Chirichigno. Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 1983, page 51.