“You are My witnesses,” Yahweh says to Israel (Isaiah 43:1). Then again, “You are my witnesses” (43:12) And a third time, “You are my witnesses” (44:8). Israel is Yahweh’s Servant, and as Servant a witness.
Israel’s history provides a witness in Yahweh’s defense against the accusations of the nations (Isaiah 44:7–8). He declares things that are going to take place. He announces things that are not yet real. He told Abraham that his descendants would go down to Egypt, be brought out in a great exodus, and inherit the land where Abraham sojourned. Century after century, Israel preserved this promise and this hope. During the 215 years they were in Egypt, they remembered Yahweh’s promise and trusted that He would one day make good on it. They were witnesses because they held to the promise that Yahweh made centuries before. In Egypt, they kept hoping for deliverance.
The exodus itself, is a crowning testimony of Yahweh’s faithfulness. It is testimony that Yahweh is not only a God who makes promises, but a God who keeps promises. It shows what kind of God Yahweh is: He is the kind of God who can declare things centuries ahead of the fact, and then see them through. He is the kind of God who is the first and last, the beginning and end, before whom there are no gods and after whom none will be.
Every time Israel tells the story of the exodus, every time Israel sings one of the Psalms of the exodus, every time they keep Passover as a commemoration of their deliverance, they are witnesses in Yahweh’s defense, providing testimony that He is a faithful, reliable, just God, a God who knows the beginning and end, a God who can do what He promised. In the courtroom that is human history, Israel’s entire liturgical life, all her speaking and teaching about Yahweh is testimony on behalf of the One God and His faithful justice.
When the second exodus finally occurs, it makes Israel witnesses all over again. They can say, “Look, this is just what Yahweh said would happen—just what Isaiah told us. Yahweh said we would be in exile 70 years, and that’s exactly what happened. Yahweh said that the second exodus would be greater than the first, and that’s what occurred.”
At the same time, Israel testifies that Yahweh is a God who wipes out sin, transgression, rebellion. Yahweh drove Israel from the land—the land itself vomited Israel out— because of her abominations and sins. They wearied Him with their rebellions, and burdened Him with their iniquities, so He cast them out.
Seventy years later, He brought them back, and that great return was evidence not only of Yahweh’s reliability but of His mercy. If He brought them back from exile, that could only mean that He had removed their sin. Which is just what Yahweh promises: “I, I am the one who blots out your rebellions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (43:25).
Thus, Israel is a witness in spite of herself. Isaiah says that she is, in herself, disqualified as a witness. She is blind and deaf, and cannot see and hear what God has done. She is rebellious rather than righteous. Still, Yahweh claims this people as His, and He lets Israel claim Him as her own. By making and keeping His promises, by reaching into Babylon and leading Israel out, as He said He would do, He presents them before the nations as the lead evidence in His defense. Israel herself is testimony that “Yah Yah, the compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in faithfulness and truth, who keeps lovingkindness of generations, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin, who does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:6).God’s aim in the world is to establish justice, to undo the damage that sin has done to the world, and to His own reputation. God is determined to be just and He is determined to be justified, to prove Himself in the right. He is determined to prove before all the nations that He is God, that He is merciful, that He is just. And He does that by presenting His people as Exhibits #1, and 2, and 3. He proves Himself justified by justifying us.
Jesus repeats Yahweh’s words to Israel: The Church is His witnesses.We are witnesses when we talk about Jesus and what Jesus has done for us. We are witnesses when we obey Jesus’s commands. We are witnesses in spite of ourselves, in spite of our sin and blindness, because of what God has done for us. What He has done for us and in us is the proof of the God He is, the God who does justice, the God who shows mercy. As His witnesses, as His leading evidence, we are God’s demonstration before the nations that He is just, faithful, merciful, compassionate, kind.
The exodus was the first great act that demonstrated God’s faithfulness. He declared it long before it happened, and then He did it. The second exodus was another great demonstration, further proof of His faithfulness. Jesus went through an exodus from death to life, yet another exodus. But Paul says that God has done mighty acts for us too. He has performed yet another exodus for us.
We too have come out of Egypt; we too have passed through the waters. Baptism is the mighty act of God that demonstrates to the world that He is a faithful God, a God who keeps His promises to lead His people from bondage. The spiritual food and drink that we share every week is the Lord’s miraculous provision for us who are in the wilderness moving toward the promised land that we can dimly see.
These may not look like mighty acts. Which is just what someone might say about the second exodus: It’s not as good as the first. Yahweh says it’s greater, and our exodus is greater still. Consider: What demonstrates God’s power and mercy and justice more fully—to deliver one nation from another through water or to carry them by water out of union with Adam into union with Christ? Every time someone is baptized, we see a fulfillment of God’s promise to bring all nations to Himself through Abraham’s seed. Every time we see someone baptized, there is further proof that God is a God who makes and keeps His promises.
Which is more miraculous—to give Israel manna in the wilderness or to feed the incarnate Son of God to all nations at the Lord’s table? Every time we celebrate the Supper, every week, we are God’s demonstration that He fulfills His purposes to unite all nations in His Son, at the table of His Son.
The first exodus was great. The second exodus was greater. The exodus that you have experienced, the one you witness again and again, is greater still. Forget the former things; behold, I, the Lord, do something new.