The True God Foretells Deliverance
1, 2. (a) What questions does Jehovah raise? (b) How will Jehovah prove that he alone is the true God?
‘WHO is the true God?’ This question has been asked throughout the centuries. How surprising, then, that in the book of Isaiah, Jehovah himself raises the question! He invites humans to consider: ‘Is Jehovah the only true God? Or is there another who can challenge his position?’ After initiating the discussion, Jehovah provides reasonable criteria for settling the issue of Godship. The reasoning presented leads honesthearted people to one irresistible conclusion.
2 During the days of Isaiah, images are widely worshiped. In the frank and clear discussion recorded in chapter 44 of Isaiah’s prophetic book, how futile image worship is shown to be! Yet, God’s own people have fallen into the trap of worshiping idols. Hence, as seen in previous chapters of Isaiah, the Israelites are in line for strong discipline. Lovingly, though, Jehovah offers the nation reassurance that although he will allow the Babylonians to take his people into captivity, he will deliver them in his own due time. The fulfillment of the prophecies of deliverance from captivity and of restoration of pure worship will prove beyond doubt that Jehovah alone is the true God, to the shame of all who worship the lifeless gods of the nations.
3. How do Isaiah’s prophetic words help Christians today?
3 The prophecies in this part of Isaiah and their fulfillment in ancient times strengthen the faith of Christians today. Moreover, Isaiah’s prophetic words have a fulfillment in our day and even in the future. And those events involve a deliverer and a deliverance even greater than the ones predicted for God’s ancient people.
Hope for Those Who Belong to Jehovah
4. How does Jehovah encourage Israel?
4 Chapter 44 begins on a positive note with a reminder that Israel has been chosen by God, separated from the surrounding nations to become his servant. The prophecy says: “Now listen, O Jacob my servant, and you, O Israel, whom I have chosen. This is what Jehovah has said, your Maker and your Former, who kept helping you even from the belly, ‘Do not be afraid, O my servant Jacob, and you, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.’” (Isaiah 44:1, 2) Jehovah has cared for Israel from its mother’s womb, as it were, ever since Israel became a nation after coming out of Egypt. He calls his people collectively “Jeshurun,” meaning “Upright One,” a title expressing affection and tenderness. The name is also a reminder that the Israelites must remain upright, which they have often failed to do.
5, 6. What refreshing provisions does Jehovah supply for Israel, and with what result?
5 How pleasant and refreshing are Jehovah’s next words! He says: “I shall pour out water upon the thirsty one, and trickling streams upon the dry place. I shall pour out my spirit upon your seed, and my blessing upon your descendants. And they will certainly spring up as among the green grass, like poplars by the water ditches.” (Isaiah 44:3, 4) Even in hot, dry country, stands of trees can flourish by water sources. When Jehovah provides his life-giving waters of truth and pours out his holy spirit, Israel will flourish mightily, like trees alongside irrigation canals. (Psalm 1:3; Jeremiah 17:7, 8) Jehovah will give his people the strength to carry out their role as witnesses to his Godship.
6 One result of this outpouring of holy spirit will be a renewed appreciation by some individuals of Israel’s relationship with Jehovah. Thus, we read: “This one will say: ‘I belong to Jehovah.’ And that one will call himself by the name of Jacob, and another will write upon his hand: ‘Belonging to Jehovah.’ And by the name of Israel one will betitle himself.” (Isaiah 44:5) Yes, there will be honor in carrying the name of Jehovah, for he will be seen to be the only true God.
A Challenge to the Gods
7, 8. How does Jehovah challenge the gods of the nations?
7 Under the Mosaic Law, a repurchaser—normally a male next of kin—could buy a person out of bondage. (Leviticus 25:47-54; Ruth 2:20) Jehovah now identifies himself as Israel’s Repurchaser—the one who will redeem the nation, to the embarrassment of Babylon and all her gods. (Jeremiah 50:34) He confronts the false gods and their worshipers, saying: “This is what Jehovah has said, the King of Israel and the Repurchaser of him, Jehovah of armies, ‘I am the first and I am the last, and besides me there is no God. And who is there like me? Let him call out, that he may tell it and present it to me. From when I appointed the people of long ago, both the things coming and the things that will enter in let them tell on their part. Do not be in dread, you people, and do not become stupefied. Have I not from that time on caused you individually to hear and told it out? And you are my witnesses. Does there exist a God besides me? No, there is no Rock. I have recognized none.’”—Isaiah 44:6-8.
8 Jehovah challenges the gods to present their case. Can they call the things that are not as if they are, predicting future events with such accuracy that it appears as if they are already happening? Only ‘the first and the last,’ who existed before all the false gods were thought of and will still be there when they are long forgotten, can do such a thing. His people need not fear to bear witness to this truth, since they have the support of Jehovah, who is as firm and stable as a massive rock!—Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Samuel 22:31, 32.
The Vanity of Image Worship
9. Was it wrong for the Israelites to make any kind of representation of a living thing? Explain.
9 Jehovah’s challenge to the false gods brings to mind the second of the Ten Commandments. That commandment clearly stated: “You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them.” (Exodus 20:4, 5) Of course, this prohibition did not mean that the Israelites were not to make decorative representations of things. Jehovah himself directed that representations of plants and cherubs be placed in the tabernacle. (Exodus 25:18, 33; 26:31) However, these were not to be venerated, or worshiped. No one was to pray to or offer sacrifices to those representations. The divinely inspired commandment prohibited the making of any kind of image to be used as an object of worship. Worshiping images or bowing down to them in reverence constitutes idolatry.—1 John 5:21.
10, 11. Why does Jehovah view images as shameful?
10 Isaiah now describes the uselessness of lifeless images and the shame awaiting those who make them: “The formers of the carved image are all of them an unreality, and their darlings themselves will be of no benefit; and as their witnesses they see nothing and know nothing, in order that they may be ashamed. Who has formed a god or cast a mere molten image? Of no benefit at all has it been. Look! All his partners themselves will be ashamed, and the craftsmen are from earthling men. They will all of them collect themselves together. They will stand still. They will be in dread. They will be ashamed at the same time.”—Isaiah 44:9-11.
11 Why does God regard these images as so shameful? First, it is impossible to represent the Almighty accurately with material things. (Acts 17:29) Moreover, to worship a created thing rather than the Creator is an affront to Jehovah’s Godship. And is it not really beneath the dignity of man, who was created “in God’s image”?—Genesis 1:27; Romans 1:23, 25.
12, 13. Why can man not craft any image worthy of worship?
12 Can physical matter somehow acquire holiness because it has been crafted to become something to be worshiped? Isaiah reminds us that making an image is just a human endeavor. The tools and techniques of an image maker are the same as those used by any other artisan: “As for the carver of iron with the billhook, he has been busy at it with the coals; and with the hammers he proceeds to form it, and he keeps busy at it with his powerful arm. Also, he has become hungry, and so without power. He has not drunk water; so he gets tired. As for the wood carver, he has stretched out the measuring line; he traces it out with red chalk; he works it up with a wood scraper; and with a compass he keeps tracing it out, and gradually he makes it like the representation of a man, like the beauty of mankind, to sit in a house.”—Isaiah 44:12, 13.
13 The true God made all the living creatures on this earth, including man. Sentient life is a wonderful testimony to Jehovah’s Godship, but of course, everything that Jehovah created is inferior to him. Is it possible that man can do better than that? Can he make something superior to himself—so superior that it is worthy of his devotion? When a man makes an image, he gets tired, hungry, and thirsty. These are human limitations, but at least they show that the man is alive. The image he makes may look like a man. It may even be beautiful. But it is lifeless. Images are in no way divine. Further, no carved image has ever ‘fallen from heaven,’ as if its source were anything more than mortal man.—Acts 19:35.
14. How are image makers completely dependent on Jehovah?
14 Isaiah proceeds to show that image makers are completely dependent on natural processes and materials that Jehovah created: “There is one whose business is to cut down cedars; and he takes a certain species of tree, even a massive tree, and he lets it become strong for himself among the trees of the forest. He planted the laurel tree, and the pouring rain itself keeps making it get big. And it has become something for man to keep a fire burning. So he takes part of it that he may warm himself. In fact he builds a fire and actually bakes bread. He also works on a god to which he may bow down. He has made it into a carved image, and he prostrates himself to it. Half of it he actually burns up in a fire. Upon half of it he roasts well the flesh that he eats, and he becomes satisfied. He also warms himself and says: ‘Aha! I have warmed myself. I have seen the firelight.’ But the remainder of it he actually makes into a god itself, into his carved image. He prostrates himself to it and bows down and prays to it and says: ‘Deliver me, for you are my god.’”—Isaiah 44:14-17.
15. What total lack of understanding is shown by a maker of images?
15 Can an unburned piece of firewood deliver anybody? Of course not. Only the true God can provide deliverance. How can people idolize inanimate things? Isaiah shows that the real problem lies in a person’s heart: “They have not come to know, nor do they understand, because their eyes have been besmeared so as not to see, their heart so as to have no insight. And no one recalls to his heart or has knowledge or understanding, saying: ‘The half of it I have burned up in a fire, and upon its coals I have also baked bread; I roast flesh and eat. But the rest of it shall I make into a mere detestable thing? To the dried-out wood of a tree shall I prostrate myself?’ He is feeding on ashes. His own heart that has been trifled with has led him astray. And he does not deliver his soul, nor does he say: ‘Is there not a falsehood in my right hand?’” (Isaiah 44:18-20) Yes, imagining that idolatry can provide anything good spiritually is like eating ashes instead of nutritious food.
16. How did idolatry originate, and what makes it possible?
16 Idolatry really got its start in the heavens when the powerful spirit creature who became Satan coveted the worship due Jehovah alone. So strong was Satan’s desire that it alienated him from God. That was really the beginning of idolatry, since the apostle Paul said that covetousness is the same as idolatry. (Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:13-15, 17; Colossians 3:5) Satan induced the first human couple to entertain selfish thoughts. Eve coveted what Satan offered her: “Your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.” Jesus stated that covetousness issues from the heart. (Genesis 3:5; Mark 7:20-23) Idolatry becomes possible when hearts are corrupted. How important, then, for all of us to ‘safeguard our hearts,’ never allowing anyone or anything to occupy Jehovah’s rightful place there!—Proverbs 4:23; James 1:14.
Jehovah Appeals to Hearts
17. What should Israel take to heart?
17 Jehovah next appeals to the Israelites to recall that they are in a privileged, responsible position. They are his witnesses! He says: “Remember these things, O Jacob, and you, O Israel, because you are my servant. I have formed you. You are a servant belonging to me. O Israel, you will not be forgotten on my part. I will wipe out your transgressions just as with a cloud, and your sins just as with a cloud mass. Do return to me, for I will repurchase you. Joyfully cry out, you heavens, for Jehovah has taken action! Shout in triumph, all you lowest parts of the earth! Become cheerful, you mountains, with joyful outcry, you forest and all you trees in it! For Jehovah has repurchased Jacob, and on Israel he shows his beauty.”—Isaiah 44:21-23.
18. (a) Why does Israel have reason to rejoice? (b) How can Jehovah’s servants imitate his example of mercy today?
18 Israel did not form Jehovah. He is not a man-made god. Rather, Jehovah formed Israel to be his chosen servant. And he will prove his Godship once again when he delivers the nation. He addresses his people tenderly, assuring them that if they repent, he will completely cover over their sins, hiding their transgressions as if behind impenetrable clouds. What a reason for Israel to rejoice! Jehovah’s example motivates his modern-day servants to imitate his mercy. They can do so by seeking to help erring ones—trying to reestablish them spiritually if possible.—Galatians 6:1, 2.
The Climax of the Test of Godship
19, 20. (a) In what way does Jehovah bring his case to a climax? (b) What heartwarming things does Jehovah prophesy for his people, and who will be his agent to bring these things about?
19 Jehovah now brings his legal argument to a powerful climax. He is about to present his own answer to the severest test of Godship—the ability to foretell the future accurately. One Bible scholar called the next five verses of Isaiah chapter 44 a “poem of the transcendence of the God of Israel,” the one and only Creator, the sole Revealer of the future and Israel’s hope of deliverance. The passage rises in a dramatic crescendo to the announcement by name of the man who would liberate the nation from Babylon.
20 “This is what Jehovah has said, your Repurchaser and the Former of you from the belly: ‘I, Jehovah, am doing everything, stretching out the heavens by myself, laying out the earth. Who was with me? I am frustrating the signs of the empty talkers, and I am the One that makes diviners themselves act crazily; the One turning wise men backwards, and the One that turns even their knowledge into foolishness; the One making the word of his servant come true, and the One that carries out completely the counsel of his own messengers; the One saying of Jerusalem, “She will be inhabited,” and of the cities of Judah, “They will be rebuilt, and her desolated places I shall raise up”; the One saying to the watery deep, “Be evaporated; and all your rivers I shall dry up”; the One saying of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd, and all that I delight in he will completely carry out”; even in my saying of Jerusalem, “She will be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “You will have your foundation laid.”’”—Isaiah 44:24-28.
21. What guarantee do Jehovah’s words provide?
21 Yes, Jehovah has not only the ability to foretell future events but also the power to carry out his revealed purpose in its entirety. This declaration will serve as a source of hope to Israel. It is a guarantee that although the Babylonian armies will desolate the land, Jerusalem and her dependent cities will rise again and true worship will be reestablished there. But how?
22. Describe how the Euphrates River evaporates.
22 Uninspired diviners usually dare not be too specific in their predictions for fear that time will prove them wrong. By contrast, through Isaiah, Jehovah reveals the very name of the man he will use to free his people from captivity so that they can go home and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. His name is Cyrus, and he is known as Cyrus the Great of Persia. Jehovah also gives details of the strategy that Cyrus will use to penetrate Babylon’s massive and elaborate defense system. Babylon will be protected by high walls and by waterways that run through and around the city. Cyrus will turn a main element of that system—the Euphrates River—to his advantage. According to ancient historians Herodotus and Xenophon, at a location upstream from Babylon, Cyrus diverted the waters of the Euphrates until the level of the river dropped low enough for his soldiers to wade through. As far as its ability to protect Babylon is concerned, the mighty Euphrates evaporates.
23. What record exists of the fulfillment of the prophecy that Cyrus would liberate Israel?
23 What about the promise that Cyrus will release God’s people and that he will see to it that Jerusalem and the temple will be rebuilt? Cyrus himself, in an official proclamation preserved in the Bible, declares: “This is what Cyrus the king of Persia has said, ‘All the kingdoms of the earth Jehovah the God of the heavens has given me, and he himself has commissioned me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God prove to be with him. So let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of Jehovah the God of Israel—he is the true God—which was in Jerusalem.’” (Ezra 1:2, 3) Jehovah’s word through Isaiah is completely fulfilled!
Isaiah, Cyrus, and Christians Today
24. What relationship is there between the going forth of Artaxerxes’ command “to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem” and the coming of the Messiah?
24 The 44th chapter of Isaiah magnifies Jehovah as the one true God and the Deliverer of his ancient people. Moreover, the prophecy has deep meaning for all of us today. Cyrus’ decree to rebuild Jerusalem’s temple, given in 538/537 B.C.E., set in motion events that culminated in the fulfillment of another remarkable prophecy. Cyrus’ decree was followed by that of a later ruler, Artaxerxes, who decreed that the city of Jerusalem should be rebuilt. The book of Daniel revealed that “from the going forth of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem [in 455 B.C.E.] until Messiah the Leader,” there would be 69 “weeks” of 7 years each. (Daniel 9:24, 25) This prophecy also came true. Right on schedule in the year 29 C.E., 483 years after Artaxerxes’ decree went into effect in the Promised Land, Jesus was baptized and began his earthly ministry.*
25. What does the fall of Babylon at Cyrus’ hands point to in modern times?
25 The release of loyal Jews from exile, made possible by the fall of Babylon, foreshadowed the release in 1919 of anointed Christians from spiritual exile. That release was evidence that another Babylon, described as a harlot, Babylon the Great—a symbol of all the world’s false religions viewed collectively—had experienced a fall. As recorded in the book of Revelation, the apostle John foresaw her fall. (Revelation 14:8) He also foresaw her sudden destruction. John’s description of the destruction of that idol-laden world empire resembles in some ways Isaiah’s description of Cyrus’ successful conquest of the ancient city of Babylon. Just as Babylon’s protective waterways failed to save her from Cyrus, so the ‘waters’ of mankind that support and protect Babylon the Great will be “dried up” before she is justly destroyed.—Revelation 16:12.*
26. How does Isaiah’s prophecy and its fulfillment strengthen our faith?
26 From our perspective, more than two-and-a-half millenniums after Isaiah delivered his prophecy, we can see that God indeed “carries out completely the counsel of his own messengers.” (Isaiah 44:26) The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy is therefore an outstanding example of the trustworthiness of all the prophecies in the Holy Scriptures.
See chapter 11 of the book Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy!, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
See chapters 35 and 36 of the book Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand!, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Can an unburned piece of firewood deliver anyone?
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Cyrus fulfills prophecy by diverting the waters of the Euphrates