Lesson 6 – God is with Us Through Our Trials
Between 1st Isaiah (740-686 BCE) and 2nd Isaiah (537? BCE) stood two of the other great prophets who were given the task of reminding God’s people of God’s presence in times of trial. These were Jeremiah and Ezekiel and they set the context for 2nd Isaiah (the passages we read for this lesson).
Jeremiah: (626-587 BCE) Jeremiah prophesied during a time of great upheaval in the life of God’s people, the nation of Judah. More than 100 years before, the Assyrians had destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and scattered most of their people abroad, thus ending their existence. During Jeremiah’s time, the enemy was Babylon. Babylon had crushed Assyria and Egypt, thus making Judah a vassal state. Unfortunately, nationalism continually gripped Judah and they rebelled. Jeremiah warned against this rebellion. He told them that if they were patient, God would care for them. One of the ways in which he tried to demonstrate God’s promised care, was during a lull in the siege of Jerusalem he went and bought some property (Jeremiah 32:1-25). The property was to symbolize the people’s return to their land after the coming exile. It was a powerful reminder of God’s continuing during a horrific time of trial.
Ezekiel: (698-570 BCE) Ezekiel prophesied during the exile. One of the central themes of his prophecy was that the “Glory of God” (which represented God’s presence), left the Temple (Ezekiel 10:18-20), traveled to be with the people of God in their exile (11:16-17) and then returned to what would be the rebuilt Temple (43:1-3). This was a promise of God’s presence in the people’s most difficult hour. Without the assurance of both Jeremiah and Ezekiel the people might have given up hope, believing that their God had forgotten and abandoned them, or that their God was inferior to the Babylonian gods.
Once again, the historical context matters. There is hope for deliverance because God has sent a deliverer, Cyrus the Great, who will be the messiah of the people (Isaiah 45:1). In our passage Cyrus is described as the “victor from the east.” Cyrus the Great was the leader of the Persian forces that would destroy Babylon and create an empire that would last until the time of Alexander the Great. Cyrus’s victories over the Babylonians were seen by 2nd Isaiah as fulfillment of the earlier promises of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. If 2nd Isaiah was written early in Cyrus’ conquests the writer would have been unaware of just how much a liberator Cyrus would be. He would eventually not only allow the Jews to return home, but he would give them money to rebuild their Temple.
What this means is that God’s promises are not based in some pie-in-the-sky promises, but in historical precedent (the Exodus) but also in present realities where God can be seen at work liberating the people. Because of this present reality the people are called to:
If we were to continue in this chapter, we would find even more promises of the renewed Holy Land that God was preparing for the people. (41:17-20).
This passage is a promise of complete restoration of the people of God in their ancestral land. Even though the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed hundreds of years earlier, the promise is to bring them back from all four corners of the earth (43:5-6) so that God’s people will be made whole. The language used in this section is past, present and future tenses so God can be trusted because:
This is a Psalm of confidence that God as represented by Zion (Jerusalem and the Temple which was the dwelling place of God) will keep Israel safe from both cosmic forces (vs. 2-3) and other nations (vs. 6-11). This confidence is because in creation, God had subdued the elemental forces (past) and had subdued nations in David’s conquests (past) so people could be confident during the trials of the moment.
The people do not have to fear in their time of trials because they can see how God was, is, and will be at work. In one sense, this trust is like getting a reference on someone who is doing work for you. You can trust them because their work in the past (whether home remodeling or surgery) has been, and in the present, is excellent.