Tuesdays are for the Old Testament
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 17, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66.St. Louis: Concordia, 1972. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 44” pp. 103-121
At the start of Isaiah 44, Luther observes that God speaks comfort to those who trust in him. The rejection of idols is clear. However, those who are trusting in God and his righteousness will be cared for (LW 17, 103). God promises a blessing to those who are faithful to him. This blessing will extend from generation to generation (vv. 3-4) and people will consider themselves as the Lord’s people (v. 5). Luther applies this to the Church, the people called by God’s name in every generation (LW 17, 104).
In verse 6, the Lord turns to words of command. He identifies himself as the true God and speaks to those who would pursue idolatry (LW 17, 105). Specifically, in verse 7, God points out that he has always been God and that he is the one who has established a people. This should draw his people to trust in him. His revelation is clear and well known, with plenty of witnesses. Yet, as Luther observes, people reject God’s Word and depart from his truth (LW 17, 106). This departure from the truth rightly deserves confrontation. The result is depending on something other than God, which is the root of idolatry (LW 17, 107). All the things which seem the most valuable, apart from trusting in God, are useless. “He who is deceived in faith and in the free grace of God errs everywhere, and nothing but error that puts forward more error will be applied to him” (LW 17, 109).
The rejection of God causes the idolators to assemble against God’s people, as noted in verse 11. Luther points out that all sorts of people who are not trusting in God and who cannot present a unified front in most matters will band together against the Gospel. They cannot see any reasonable way of living except by their own labor. This leads us to the specific description of the work of an idol-maker, beginning in verse 12 (LW 17, 110). The work is exhausting, but the idol-maker persists, even to his great harm. Counter to this, Luther points out that the Christian receives heaven by grace, not by his own works. The self-righteous work and work to no avail. This is because they have nothing greater than themselves. It is futile (LW 17, 111). In the very pursuit of idolatry and self-opinion, people even lose the ability to discern truth (v. 18). Luther sees this as the kind of delusion which trusts in ourselves as opposed to anything outside of ourselves (LW 17, 114).
In verses 21 and following, the prophet calls people to remember God’s mercy, which is secure. This is, after all, the only reasonable course of action (LW 17, 115). Luther lists many distractions which arise throughout all ages. We become occupied with various issues, judgments, and disciplines. It is very easy to be pulled away from the Gospel. However, these are traps of Satan. In verse 22 God points out that he sweeps away our sin, including those distractions. He is the true forgiving God (LW 17, 116). Our role in this is quite simple. We are not entirely passive. Our toiling draws us away from God. So we are called to return daily. “As it is Christ’s business always to forgive, so it is our business, as we are engulfed by daily cares, to be converted day by day. Therefore we must toil and urgently strive to be converted” (LW 17, 117). This happens as we lay down our attempts to earn our salvation, replacing them with trust in God’s mercy.
What is the response to God’s call? in verse 23 and following, the whole creation sings of God’s grace (LW 17, 117). The world recognizes God’s creative and redemptive work. It recognizes that God is the one who speaks the truth over against all others (LW 17, 118). God is here seen as the one who restores the places made desolate by warfare, including the invasions of the Babylonians. Luther considers this to be a foreshadowing of Christian doctrine, bringing reconcilation (LW 17, 119).