Even though I’ve known this for a while, I’m still constantly amazed at how helpful Calvin’s commentaries are. I’m preaching through a passage in Isaiah 43 this week, so I’ve dug into a number of solid, modern commentaries, but I still come back to Calvin and am pleasantly surprised to see how well they hold up.
In any case, I ran across a passage that “warmed my heart”, so to speak, that I thought was worth highlighting.
It comes in his comment on Isaiah 43:3, but before I quote it, here is the scriptural passage:
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
In the context, Isaiah is presenting us with YHWH’s speech to the future Exiles, promising his salvation to come. Despite their idolatry and faithlessness, YHWH will come, punish the Babylonians through the hand of Cyrus and the Persians, and save his people. He will redeem them. Why? Because, “I am the YHWH your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” God’s identity is the guarantee of Israel’s salvation.
Calvin comments here:
For I am Jehovah thy God. He confirms the preceding statement by the experience of the past; for the Lord had formerly assisted his people in such a manner that it was reasonable and proper that believers should safely rely on his grace. We must always remember what we had in the former verse, — “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I am thy Lord.” These ought to be read unitedly and in immediate connection, because they have the same object; for if the Lord is our God, it follows that he is on our side, and therefore we shall find that he is our Savior.
But if we wish to know by experience that he is our Savior, we must be a part of Israel, not in name only, but so as to give true evidences of godliness during the whole course of our life. This is therefore the foundation of our confidence, that “Jehovah is our God;” and hence it follows that they who do not acknowledge God to be their Father, and who do not rely on his kindness, are wretched, and tremble continually. Wicked men, indeed, indulge in mirth, and even act disdainfully towards God; but their indifference is intoxication and madness of mind, by which they are the more rapidly carried headlong to their destruction. To believers alone this brings the assurance, that he who hath chosen them wishes to be continually their God, and to preserve them; and therefore hath separated them to be his inheritance.
In this sense he calls himself The Holy One of Israel, because while the whole human race is by nature estranged from him, he hath chosen his people that he might set them apart to be his own. Now, though external separation is of little moment, unless God sanctify the elect by the power of his Spirit, yet, because Israel had openly polluted himself, God declares that still his covenant shall not be made void, because he is always like himself. Besides, it is well known that the word holy is used in an active sense for “him who sanctifies;” and therefore if we wish to be certain of God’s love towards us, let us always remember the testimony of our adoption, by which we are confirmed in our hearts, as by a sure pledge, and let us with all earnestness ask it from God.
Those two names: YHWH, your God (Jehovah, the Lord), and “The Holy One of Israel” are to anchor and ground Israel’s hope. This is YHWH your God, the one who has covenanted himself to be your God. He has “chosen to be your God continually.” This isn’t a temporary, passing fancy with him. He has adopted you for life and bound himself to you. As Calvin notes just a bit earlier on verse 1:
I have called thee by thy name. To “call by one’s name” means here, to admit into close relationship, as when we are adopted by God to be his children…For the same reason he adds, Thou art mine, that believers may know that there will always be left a Church among the elect people, because God refuses to be deprived of his rightful possession. In short, he declares that they are his dear inheritance, of which he will never suffer himself to be robbed.
If God has promised to be your God, and you his children, his people, his inheritance, then he is on your side. He is for you.
Of course, Calvin brings out the implied exhortation, which is to demonstrate that you truly are Israel, by clinging to him with our hearts, calling him Father from our soul and walking in growing godliness before him. It is here, of course, where some of us can get discouraged. Who feels that they are showing evidence in their life of holiness? Who isn’t constantly aware of the hundreds of daily failures in their life? The petty thoughts, cheap words, and selfishness the seems to cling to even our best efforts?
It is here that YHWH’s second name comes in. Yes, God is the Holy One of Israel because he has set Israel apart for himself, unlike the other nations. God is the Holy One of Israel because Israel is holy to God. But pushing even deeper, Calvin calls our attention to the promise and comfort attached in that name. God is the Holy One of Israel precisely because he makes Israel holy, not only externally according to the covenant, but eventually in their own nature. In other words, when God adopts you, sets you apart as his own, by his Holy Spirit he’s going to sanctify you, clean you up, change your heart. Why? Because God is unstoppably unchanging. He is not going to let your sin stand in the way of the reality that he has committed himself to being your God. He will be your God and you will be holy to him because he is unchangingly the Holy One.
YHWH God, the Holy One of Israel, has promised to be your God in Christ. That’s enough good news to rest in today
Soli Deo Gloria