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An Argument for Flexible Interpretation in Isaiah 44:18

Isaiah 44 18 5 smallThe identity of “HE” in Isaiah 44:18[1] is in the end a mystery, but the question itself and the journey that results from the pursuit of an answer is invaluable. Isaiah says of Idol makers and Idol worshipers, “They do not know; they do not understand because he plastered over their eyes so they cannot see, their hearts so they cannot understand.”

Some claim that the “HE” is YHWH/God, others that “HE” is the deceived heart of the worshiper (there is no IT in Hebrew), and still others glory in the possibilities of “HE” as the idol or god.” Each is both grammatically and theologically possible, and I believe worthy of holding in tension without the need to establish a hard and fast line.

In this regard, I wanted to finish off our discussion of this text with a consideration of remarks by Paul, each of which seems to me to be a possible reflection on this passage. I don’t normally advocate multiple interpretations, and won’t exactly do so here, but there does seem to be a dynamic at work in Isaiah 44:18 that leaves room for being flexible and weighing the worth of each suggestion in light of that dynamic.

In the first instance we find Paul’s own diatribe about idol worshippers who, having witnessed the glory of creation and what it teaches about God, throw over that message and stoop to worship idols, giving themselves over to every form of depravity in that kind of worship.

He writes in Romans 1:18-25  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Here, the theme begun in Deuteronomy and continued so powerfully in Isaiah is continued. Man has given his heart over to idolatrous folly and God has given him over to it, leaving him unable to save himself.

Then we have Paul’s depiction of the depth of the struggle to redeem the lost with the gospel in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4.

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

That menace that stands behind the Old Testament category IDOL both personally and in his own New Testament category populated by lesser entities,[2] here, perhaps, replaces the “HE/Idol/god” of Isaiah 44:18 to become the blinding god of this world.

As dynamic we do not necessarily have three distinct answers to the question of identity for the pronoun “HE” in Isaiah 44:18, but a complex one without a clear solution. Personally, I glory in the tension, seeing some small reflection of the situation where humanity, having willfully breached the barrier set before him by God, coaxed on by devilish forces, has become ensnared in those outer reaches separated from God, blind and deaf, victimized by his own dedication to his chosen path, bedazzled by those same spiritual powers that enticed him there.

There is no path of escape, save by the gracious offering, as the Spirit of God moves in conviction, at least for the time of that visitation, granting the opportunity for repentance and healing.

 

[1] ADD LIST of past posts with links

[2] Satan in the New Testament is both Chief of demons and the rubric for demonic forces generally. (Mark 3:22-23)

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