Isaiah 48:1-22 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. With what charge does the Lord confront His Old Testament people in Isaiah 48:1 (printed below?)

Listen to this, O house of Jacob, you who have been named Israel and come from the lineage of Judah, you who take oaths in the name of Jehovah and invoke the God of Israel—but not in truth or righteousness (Isaiah 48:1)

The Lord confronts Israel with the fact that they have not been true to their high spiritual calling. They have been named “Israel”—they are identified with the Old Testament patriarch as his descendants and they are numbered among that body of people who are designated as God’s own possession. They “take oaths in the name of Jehovah and invoke the God of Israel”—they acknowledge that the Lord is God, and they confess Him to be their God; and they engage in public acts of worship addressed to Him. But they do not do these things “in truth or righteousness”—their state of heart and mind does not conform to God’s standard, does not conform to the name they bear, does not conform to the religion they profess and the identify they assume to possess.

2. According to verse 10 (printed below), what did the Lord do to His people? What was the result of this process?

Look! I have refined you, but you have not proven yourself to be like silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)

The Lord subjected His people to the refining process, as one would test precious metals. He subjected them to “the furnace of affliction;” that is to say, He subjected them to various trials and testings to see how they would react—would they give their allegiance to Him and remain faithful to their God and to His commandments? The outcome of this process of testing has regretfully demonstrated that they are “not like silver;” that is to say, they are not the spiritual equivalent of precious metal; rather, they show themselves to be spiritual dross with many impure alloys.

3. Having brought charges against His people (verses 1-2) and having proven them to be spiritual “dross” and not spiritual “silver,” what surprising testimony does the Lord make in verse 9 (printed below?)

For my own name’s sake I will defer my anger, and for the sake of my praise I refrain from expressing my wrath against you, so that I do not cut you off. (Isaiah 48:9)

Against this background of holy accusation supported by the hard evidence of spiritual apostasy, is seen the wonder of the Lord’s testimony in verse 9: “For my own name’s sake I will defer my anger, and for the sake of my praise I refrain from expressing my wrath against you, so that I do not cut you off.” Sinful lives, characterized by superficiality of worship, stubbornness of heart, and absence of obedience, provoke the Lord to righteous anger—an anger that would move the Lord to cut His people off from the covenant and consign us to the judgment of everlasting punishment. But in His mercy He defers that holy anger (literally, He “makes his anger long,” He restrains Himself from inflicting the sentence of everlasting judgment)—and this He does for His own Name’s sake: faithfulness to His promise that Abraham shall have a nation of descendants (Genesis 15:5) and Christ shall have spiritual fruit for His labor (Hebrews 2:13b).

4. How is the Lord able to have mercy on His sinful, unfaithful people without violating His justice? Note Romans 3:25-26 (printed below)

God presented him (Christ Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement…(26) He did it to demonstrate his justice… so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)

The Lord is enabled to defer His anger and show mercy to His people because His justice has been executed upon the Person of our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. Note, also, 1 Peter 3:18, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones, so that he might bring us to God.”

5. What did the Lord desire for His people to do and what would have been the result had they complied? See Isaiah 48:18-19 (printed below)

If only you had paid attention to my commandments, your peace would have been like a river and your righteousness would have been like the waves of the sea. (19) Furthermore, your descendants would have been like the sand, and your children like its countless grains; his name will never be cut off from my presence nor destroyed. (Isaiah 48:18-19)

The Lord implores His people to walk in His ways, “If only you had paid attention to my commandments!” (verse 18a), with the promise that by so doing they would experience the blessings He enumerates: “your peace would have been like a river”—the blessing of peace with God is compared to the idyllic scene of a peacefully meandering river, “and your righteousness would have been like the waves of the sea”—the life of the individual and the people of God collectively would overflow with the fruit of righteousness just as the waves cover the sea. Note: Whereas Old Testament Israel failed to heed the Lord’s admonition and purpose for their lives as expressed in verse 18a, the passage indicates that the divine purpose shall yet be fulfilled through our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. The use of the singular pronoun in verse 19b (“his name”) as well as the future tense (“will never be cut off from my presence.”) reminds us that there is only One who was truly obedient to the Lord—Jesus Christ our Redeemer—and it is by faith in Him that we enter into His righteous life and God’s purpose with regard to us is realized (note 2 Corinthians 5:21).