The deliverance of God’s people out of their captivity in Babylon was a thing upon many accounts so improbable that there was need of line upon line for the encouragement of the faith and hope of God’s people concerning it. Two things were discouraging to them—their own unworthiness that God should do it for them and the many difficulties in the thing itself; now, in these verses, both these discouragements are removed, for here is,
I. A reason why God would do it for them, though they were unworthy; not for their sake, be it known to them, but for his name’s sake, for his own sake, Isa. 48:9-11. 1. It is true they had been very provoking, and God had been justly angry with them. Their captivity was the punishment of their iniquity; and if, when he had them in Babylon, he had left them to pine away and perish there, and made the desolations of their country perpetual, he would only have dealt with them according to their sins, and it was what such a sinful people might expect from an angry God. “But,” says God, “I will defer my anger” (or, rather, stifle and suppress it); “I will make it appear that I am slow to wrath, and will refrain from thee, not pour upon thee what I justly might, that I should cut thee off from being a people.” And why will God thus stay his hand? For my name’s sake; because this people was called by his name, and made profession of his name, and, if they were cut off, the enemies would blaspheme his name. It is for my praise; because it would redound to the honour of his mercy to spare and reprieve them, and, if he continued them to be to him a people, they might be to him for a name and a praise. 1. It is true they were very corrupt and ill-disposed, but God would himself refine them, and make them fit for the mercy he intended for them: “I have refined thee, that thou mightest be made a vessel of honour.” Though he does not find them meet for his favour, he will make them so. And this accounts for his bringing them into the trouble, and continuing them in it so long as he did. It was not to cut them off, but to do them good. It was to refine them, but not as silver, or with silver, not so thoroughly as men refine their silver, which they continue in the furnace till all the dross is separated from it; if God should take that course with them, they would be always in the furnace, for they are all dross, and, as such, might justly be put away (Ps. 119:119) as reprobate silver, Jer. 6:30. He therefore takes them as they are, refined in part only, and not thoroughly. “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction, that is, I have made thee a choice one by the good which the affliction has done thee, and then designed thee for great things.” Many have been brought home to God as chosen vessels and a good work of grace has been begun in them in the furnace of affliction. Affliction is no bar to God’s choice, but subservient to his purpose. 3. It is true they could not pretend to merit at God’s hand so great a favour as their deliverance out of Babylon, which would put such an honour upon them and bring them so much joy; therefore, says God, For my own sake, even for my own sake, will I do it, Isa. 48:11. See how the emphasis is laid upon that; for it is a reason that cannot fail, and therefore the resolution grounded upon it cannot fall to the ground. God will do it, not because he owes them such a favour, but to save the honour of his own name, that that may not be polluted by the insolent triumphs of the heathen, who, in triumphing over Israel, thought they triumphed over the God of Israel and imagined their gods too hard for him. This was plainly the language of Belshazzar’s revels, when he profaned the holy vessels of God’s temple at the same time that he praised his idols (Dan. 5:2, 4), and of the Babylonians’ demand (Ps. 137:3), Sing us one of the songs of Zion. God will therefore deliver his people, because he will not suffer his glory to be thus given to another. Moses pleaded this often with God: Lord, what will the Egyptians say? Note, God is jealous for the honour of his own name, and will not suffer the wrath of man to proceed any further than he will make it turn to his praise. And it is matter of comfort to God’s people that, whatever becomes of them, God will secure his own honour; and, as far as is necessary to that, God will work deliverance for them.
II. Here is a proof that God could do it for them, though they were unable to help themselves and the thing seemed altogether impracticable. Let Jacob and Israel hearken to this, and believe it, and take the comfort of it. They are God’s called, called according to his purpose, called by him out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1) and now out of Babylon, a people whom with a distinguishing favour he calls by name, and to whom he calls. They are his called, for they are called to him, called by his name, and called his; and therefore he will look after them, and they may be assured that, as he will deliver them for his own sake, so he will deliver them by his own strength. They need not fear them, for, 1. He is God alone, and the eternal God (Isa. 48:12): “I am he who can do what I will and will do what is best, he whom none can compare with, much less contend with. I am the first; I also am the last.” Who can be too quick for him that is the first, or anticipate him? Who can be too hard for him that is the last, and will keep the field against all opposers, and will reign till they are all made his footstool? What room then is left to doubt of their deliverance when he undertakes it whose designs cannot but be well laid, for he is the first, and well executed, for he is the last. As for this God, his work is perfect. 2. He is the God that made the world, and he that did that can do any thing, Isa. 48:13. Look we down? We see the earth firm under us, and feel it so; it was his hand that laid the foundation of it. Look we up? We see the heavens spread out as a canopy over our heads, and it was his hand that spread them, that spanned them, that stretched them out, and did it by an exact measure, as the workman sometimes metes out his work by spans. This intimates that God has a vast reach and can compass designs of the greatest extent. If the palm of his right hand (so the margin reads it) has gone so far as to stretch out the heavens, what will he do with his outstretched arm? Yet this is not all: he has not only made the heavens and the earth, and therefore he in whom our hope and help is omnipotent (Ps. 124:8), but he has the command of all the hosts of both; when he calls them into his service, to go on his errands, they stand up together, they come at the call, they answer to their names: “Here we are; what wilt thou have us to do?” They stand up, not only in reverence to their Creator, but in a readiness to execute his orders: They stand up together, unanimously concurring, and helping one another in the service of their Maker. If God therefore will deliver his people, he cannot be at a loss for instruments to be employed in effecting their deliverance. 3. He has already foretold it, and, having infinite knowledge, so that he foresaw it, no doubt he has almighty power to effect it: “All you of the house of Jacob, assemble yourselves, and hear this for your comfort, Which among them, among the gods of the heathen, or their wise men, has declared these things, or could declare them?” Isa. 48:14. They had no foresight of them at all, but those who consulted them were very confident that Babylon should be a lady for ever and Israel perpetual slave; and their oracles did not give them the least hint to the contrary, to undeceive them; whereas God by his prophets had given notice to the Jews, long before, of their captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem, as he had now likewise given them notice of their release (Isa. 48:15): I, even I, have spoken; and he would not have spoken it if he could not have made it good: none could out-see him, and therefore we may be sure that none could outdo him. 4. The person is pitched upon who is to be employed in this service, and the measures are concerted in the divine counsels, which are unalterable. Cyrus is the man who must do it; and it tends much to strengthen our assurance that a thing shall be done when we are particularly informed how and by whom. It is not left at uncertainty who shall do it, but the matter is fixed. (1.) It is one whom God is well pleased in, upon this account, because he is designed for this service: The Lord has loved him (Isa. 48:14); he has done him this favour, this honour, to make him an instrument in the redemption of his people and therein a type of the great Redeemer, God’s beloved Son, in whom he was well pleased. Those God does a great kindness to, and has a great kindness for, whom he makes serviceable to his church. (2.) It is one to whom God will give authority and commission: I have called him, have given him a sufficient warrant, and therefore will bear him out. (3.) It is one whom God will by a series of providences lead to this service: “I have brought him from a far country, brought him to engage against Babylon, brought him step by step, quite beyond his own intentions.” Whom God calls he will bring, will cause them to come (so the word is), to come at the call. (4.) It is one whom God will own and give success to. Cyrus will do God’s pleasure on Babylon, that which it is his pleasure should be done and which he will be pleased with the doing of, though Cyrus has ends of his own to serve and has no regard either to the will of God or to his favour in the doing of it. His arm (Cyrus’s army, and in it God’s arm) shall come, and be upon the Chaldeans, to bring them down (Isa. 48:14); for, if God call him and bring him, he will certainly make his way prosperous, Isa. 48:15. Then we may hope to prosper in our way when we follow a divine call and guidance.