Who is Like our God?
1 Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD's hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling:
"In the desert prepare
the way for the LORD ;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
6 A voice says, "Cry out."
And I said, "What shall I cry?"
"All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever."
9 You who bring good tidings to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
"Here is your God!"
10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has understood the mind of the LORD,
or instructed him as his counselor?
14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge
or showed him the path of understanding?
15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.
18 To whom, then, will you compare God?
What image will you compare him to?
19 As for an idol, a craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and fashions silver chains for it.
20 A man too poor to present such an offering
selects wood that will not rot.
He looks for a skilled craftsman
to set up an idol that will not topple.
21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
25 "To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.
26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God"?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
1 "Be silent before me, you islands!
Let the nations renew their strength!
Let them come forward and speak;
let us meet together at the place of judgment.
2 "Who has stirred up one from the east,
calling him in righteousness to his service
He hands nations over to him
and subdues kings before him.
He turns them to dust with his sword,
to windblown chaff with his bow.
3 He pursues them and moves on unscathed,
by a path his feet have not traveled before.
4 Who has done this and carried it through,
calling forth the generations from the beginning?
I, the LORD -with the first of them
and with the last—I am he."
5 The islands have seen it and fear;
the ends of the earth tremble.
They approach and come forward;
6 each helps the other
and says to his brother, "Be strong!"
7 The craftsman encourages the goldsmith,
and he who smooths with the hammer
spurs on him who strikes the anvil.
He says of the welding, "It is good."
He nails down the idol so it will not topple.
8 "But you, O Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
you descendants of Abraham my friend,
9 I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, 'You are my servant';
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
11 "All who rage against you
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish.
12 Though you search for your enemies,
you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
will be as nothing at all.
13 For I am the LORD, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.
14 Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob,
O little Israel,
for I myself will help you," declares the LORD,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
15 "See, I will make you into a threshing sledge,
new and sharp, with many teeth.
You will thresh the mountains and crush them,
and reduce the hills to chaff.
16 You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up,
and a gale will blow them away.
But you will rejoice in the LORD
and glory in the Holy One of Israel.
17 "The poor and needy search for water,
but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the LORD will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
and the parched ground into springs.
19 I will put in the desert
the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set pines in the wasteland,
the fir and the cypress together,
20 so that people may see and know,
may consider and understand,
that the hand of the LORD has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.
21 "Present your case," says the LORD.
"Set forth your arguments," says Jacob's King.
22 "Bring in your idols to tell us
what is going to happen.
Tell us what the former things were,
so that we may consider them
and know their final outcome.
Or declare to us the things to come,
23 tell us what the future holds,
so we may know that you are gods.
Do something, whether good or bad,
so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.
24 But you are less than nothing
and your works are utterly worthless;
he who chooses you is detestable.
25 "I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes—
one from the rising sun who calls on my name.
He treads on rulers as if they were mortar,
as if he were a potter treading the clay.
26 Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know,
or beforehand, so we could say, 'He was right'?
No one told of this,
no one foretold it,
no one heard any words from you.
27 I was the first to tell Zion, 'Look, here they are!'
I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good tidings.
28 I look but there is no one—
no one among them to give counsel,
no one to give answer when I ask them.
29 See, they are all false!
Their deeds amount to nothing;
their images are but wind and confusion.
1 "Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his law the islands will put their hope."
5 This is what God the LORD says—
he who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
6 "I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
8 "I am the LORD; that is my name!
I will not give my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you."
10Sing to the LORD a new song,
his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
you islands, and all who live in them.
11 Let the desert and its towns raise their voices;
let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice.
Let the people of Sela sing for joy;
let them shout from the mountaintops.
12 Let them give glory to the LORD
and proclaim his praise in the islands.
13 The LORD will march out like a mighty man,
like a warrior he will stir up his zeal;
with a shout he will raise the battle cry
and will triumph over his enemies.
14 "For a long time I have kept silent,
I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, like a woman in childbirth,
I cry out, I gasp and pant.
15 I will lay waste the mountains and hills
and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn rivers into islands
and dry up the pools.
16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.
17 But those who trust in idols,
who say to images, 'You are our gods,'
will be turned back in utter shame.
18 "Hear, you deaf;
look, you blind, and see!
19 Who is blind but my servant,
and deaf like the messenger I send?
Who is blind like the one committed to me,
blind like the servant of the LORD
20 You have seen many things, but have paid no attention;
your ears are open, but you hear nothing."
21 It pleased the LORD
for the sake of his righteousness
to make his law great and glorious.
22 But this is a people plundered and looted,
all of them trapped in pits
or hidden away in prisons.
They have become plunder,
with no one to rescue them;
they have been made loot,
with no one to say, "Send them back."
23 Which of you will listen to this
or pay close attention in time to come?
24 Who handed Jacob over to become loot,
and Israel to the plunderers?
Was it not the LORD,
against whom we have sinned?
For they would not follow his ways;
they did not obey his law.
25 So he poured out on them his burning anger,
the violence of war.
It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand;
it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.
1 But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give men in exchange for you,
and people in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
6 I will say to the north, 'Give them up!'
and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.'
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth-
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made."
8 Lead out those who have eyes but are blind,
who have ears but are deaf.
9 All the nations gather together
and the peoples assemble.
Which of them foretold this
and proclaimed to us the former things?
Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right,
so that others may hear and say, "It is true."
10 "You are my witnesses," declares the LORD,
"and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
11 I, even I, am the LORD,
and apart from me there is no savior.
12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "that I am God.
13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
When I act, who can reverse it?"
14 This is what the LORD says—
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
"For your sake I will send to Babylon
and bring down as fugitives all the Babylonians,
in the ships in which they took pride.
15 I am the LORD, your Holy One,
Israel's Creator, your King."
16 This is what the LORD says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 "Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the desert
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21 the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.
22 "Yet you have not called upon me, O Jacob,
you have not wearied yourselves for me, O Israel.
23 You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings,
nor honored me with your sacrifices.
I have not burdened you with grain offerings
nor wearied you with demands for incense.
24 You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me,
or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices.
But you have burdened me with your sins
and wearied me with your offenses.
25 "I, even I, am he who blots out
your transgressions, for my own sake,
and remembers your sins no more.
26 Review the past for me,
let us argue the matter together;
state the case for your innocence.
27 Your first father sinned;
your spokesmen rebelled against me.
28 So I will disgrace the dignitaries of your temple,
and I will consign Jacob to destruction
and Israel to scorn.
If you are familiar with Handel's Messiah, you will surely hear the music of that great oratorio going through your head as we read the verses of the fortieth chapter of Isaiah. Handel chose the first verses of this chapter for the opening chorus of Messiah.
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2 RSV)
In a musical overture, the themes of the piece to follow are all presented in brief form. That is what we have in these first eleven verses of Chapter 40, as Isaiah introduces the chapters to follow. It is noteworthy that his first emphasis is this wonderful word of forgiveness to Israel. The prophet seems to be carried forward in time to the occasion of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He is told to announce to the disobedient nation that the basis for their forgiveness has already been accomplished. He is to speak to the heart of Jerusalem (that is what the word "tenderly" means), "and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, and that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins."
That last phrase, "double for all her sins," does not mean that God has punished the nation twice what their sins required. This is a reference to an Eastern custom. If a man owed a debt he could not pay, his creditor would write the amount of the debt on a paper and nail it to the front door of the man's house so that everyone passing would see that here was a man who had not paid his debts. But if someone paid the debt for him, then the creditor would double the paper over and nail it to the door as a testimony that the debt had been fully paid. This beautiful picture therefore is the announcement to Israel as a nation that in the death and resurrection of her Messiah her debt has been fully paid.
Today, too, Jew and Gentile alike are given the same wonderful announcement concerning our sins in Paul's great declaration in Second Corinthians 5, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation," (2 Corinthians 5:19 RSV). That is the gospel -- the good news. There may be someone here this morning who feels burdened about the mistakes, the wrong things he has done, or the hurt he or she has caused. To you this wondrous word of forgiveness and reconciliation is directed. All that is needed is to confess your sinfulness and believe that God himself has borne your sins. "Your iniquity is pardoned, you have received from the Lord 'the doubling' for all your sins."
In these eleven verses, three voices are heard. We have heard the first, announcing forgiveness. The second voice is introduced in Verses 3-5:
A voice cries:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." (Isaiah 40:3-5 RSV)
We need not be in doubt as to whose voice this is, for the gospels record that this is what John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord, declared about himself. John announced that he was the fulfillment of this promise. The gospel of John records that a delegation from Jerusalem inquired of John, "Who are you?" (John 1:19 KJV). The account states, "He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, I am not the Christ [the Messiah] (John 1:20). And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" (John 1:21a RSV). He said, "I am not," (John 1:21b). "Are you the prophet?" (John 1:21c RSV). And he answered, "No," (John 1:21d). They said to him then, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" (John 1:22 RSV). He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said," (John 1:23 RSV). In Verse 6 the first voice, the voice of God, speaks again:
A voice says, "Cry!"
And I[the second voice] said, "What shall I cry?"
[The answer is] All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people is grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand for ever. (Isaiah 40:6-8 RSV)
These two passages define the ministry of John the Baptist, the forerunner of our Lord. He was to declare that when the Messiah came, his ministry would not only be one of reconciliation, but also one of reconstruction. He declared there would be a highway, built in the heart, for God to travel on. Four steps would be involved in the building process: "Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low, the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places plain." Construction engineers know that this is exactly how highways are built yet today.
In this beautiful symbolic language the prophet is saying that this is what God undertakes when he comes into our lives. When we have received his forgiveness, the next step is that he begins to change us, to reconstruct our lives. "Every valley is lifted up." In the low places of life, the discouraging times, times when you feel crushed and defeated, there will be comfort and encouragement from the Lord. Also, "Every mountain shall be brought down." All those places where our ego manifests itself, our proud boasts, our graspings for power, these must be cut down. We find ourselves humbled in many ways. Then, "The crooked places will be made straight." In the gospels we read that Zacchaeus paid back fourfold all the money he had stolen from people. Our deviousness will be corrected. We will steal no more; we will report our income properly.
Ah, but it is more than that, as we see in Verses 6-8. It is a word of reassurance as well. What is man? "All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field." All the great things we boast about will fade away and disappear. All man's knowledge and power will amount to nothing. "The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; ... but the word of our God will stand for ever." What a comfort that ought to be to us. Our natural strength will never accomplish what we want; human help will fail us. "But the word of our God will stand forever." What comes after the reconciliation, the reconstruction, and the reassurance? The voice continues.
"Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings,
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
'Behold your God!'" (Isaiah 40:9 RSV)
This is a word of witness, a proclamation that always follows, never precedes, the work of reconciliation, reconstruction and reassurance. We of the evangelical world have failed to understand this. We try to train people to go out and do witnessing. I have always regretted that. That is not the correct approach at all. Jesus did not say to his followers, "Behold I send you forth to do witnessing." He said, "Behold, I send you to be witnesses," (Matthew 10:16, Luke 10:3, Acts 1:8). A witness is one who talks about what happened to him. If nothing has happened to you, you do not have anything to say. If you cannot tell somebody of God's grace in your life, you cannot be a witness. All you can witness to is your knowledge of a certain set of verses, perhaps, and that is not true witnessing. Ah, but if something has happened, if you have been changed, if you sense the work of God in your heart, then "lift up your voice" and say to the all the people around, "Behold your God." What kind of a God? The voice goes on:
Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd,
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:10-11 RSV)
What a tender, beautiful scene is portrayed in that last verse. But there are two portraits of God here. The God we proclaim is the God who is a Judge, with power and might to overcome all who resist him, all w ho attempt to deceive him or ignore him. But he is also a Shepherd. Those who cast themselves upon him he will nourish with tender care, even the feeblest among them, "and gently lead those that are with young." These, beautiful words remind us of Jesus' own words in John 10, where he says of himself, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep," (John 10:11 RSV).
Verse 11 brings to mind the words of Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul." The rest of the chapter gathers around a theme that is given to us twice, in Verses 18 and 25:
To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?[Who is like God?] (Isaiah 40:18 RSV)
And again in Verse 25:
To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One. (Isaiah 40:25 RSV)
What other god is there that you can trust, and how does the true God compare to him? This section has some of the most majestic and superb language about God found in Scripture. Listen to these words in Verse 12:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance? (Isaiah 40:12 RSV)
Here God himself is asking man, "Can you do what I do? Can you hold the waters of earth in the hollow of your hand?" I stood on the beach at San Diego yesterday, a gorgeous day throughout all of California, watching the great combers coming in from the Pacific. As I watched those great billows crashing on the sand I thought of the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, extending thousands upon thousands of miles to the west. These words came to my mind, "Who has measured the waters and held them in the hollow of his hand?" God himself in majesty and greatness controls all the forces of earth. Verses 13 and 14 speak of God's incredible wisdom.
Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
or as his counselor has instructed him?
Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
and who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding? (Isaiah 40:13-14 RSV)
Who could do that? Well, many attempt to. I confess there have been times when I have been confronted with a difficult problem which I analyzed and thought I had solved. Then I have come to God and told him step by step what he could do to work out the problem -- only to find, to my utter astonishment, that he completely ignored my approach and did nothing about it. I have become a little irritated over this. I have said to him, "Lord, even I can see how to work this out. Surely you ought to be able to understand." But as the problem remained, and a whole new situation came to light, I realized that God saw far more than I could see, that he knew of obstacles I had no knowledge of, complexities that touched the lives of hundreds of people. He was working out purposes that would go on not only for the moment, but on and on into one generation after another; that his solution ultimately was the best one. I had to say, as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 11, "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33 RSV). In Verses 15 to 17, God compares himself with the proud nations of earth.
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
[In Isaiah, "the isles" are a reference to the continents, the great land masses, washed by the sea.]
Lebanon [the forests of Lebanon] would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. (Isaiah 40:15-17 RSV)
How feeble seem the boasts of men, the leaders of the nations, with their claims to glory and might and power, when compared with the greatness, the majesty and the strength of God himself. They are nothing, God says, absolutely nothing. God concludes this section with a word to those who feel forgotten and neglected. Verse 27:
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
"My way is hid from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God?" (Isaiah 40:27 RSV)
Have you ever felt that God does not notice you, that he has no concern about your affairs? Have you felt neglected, forgotten, and thought that God does not care about you? We all feel this way at times. Here is God's answer to this.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary,
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
[Watch the Super Bowl today and you will see it happen.]
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31 RSV)
How many thousands through the centuries have taken those promises literally and found that to "wait upon the Lord" does this very thing. It all hinges on that one word, wait. Wait! The hardest word to learn in the language for some, especially young people. Wait. Let God work. The Hebrew word has a note of expectation about it: expect God to work, wait in expectation that God will move. It takes time, you cannot have it overnight, but they that wait upon the Lord shall find their own strength renewed. They shall find their spirit mounting up like the eagle in its flight, their souls able to run the gamut of emotions. They shall never be weary. And they shall walk (in body) and not faint.
Chapter 41 picks up these themes (as do all these subsequent chapters), and repeats them again and again. The chapter deals with Israel's trust in the idols of Babylon. Some 100 years after Isaiah uttered this prophecy, Israel was taken captive and carried off to Babylon. There, amidst the idolatries and deceitfulness of Babylon, the people were tempted to worship the false gods of that city. Here, God, through the prophet, rebukes them but promises also to deliver them. He speaks of one from the East whom he is going to raise up to accomplish this.
Who stirred up one from the east
whom victory meets at every step? (Isaiah 41:2a RSV)
In later chapters this one will be identified as Cyrus the Mede, who was God's instrument for the deliverance of his people from the idolatry of Babylon. In Verses 8-9 God describes their unbelief in the midst of this:
But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, "You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off"; (Isaiah 41:8-9 RSV)
Here is a remarkable promise to Israel, that even though they turn their backs on God, even though they wander off in unbelief and fall into the trap of worshipping the idols around them, nevertheless God will not cast them off. The Apostle Paul picks up that argument in Romans 9, 10 and 11, and asks the question, "Has God rejected his people?" (Romans 11:1 RSV). His answer is, "Absolutely not." God has a future for Israel, That is why the nation exists today still in unbelief. But God promises to deliver them some day.
All of this has its counterpart in our own lives. Even though we turn our backs on God, even though we wander off in rebellion and hurtful, hateful submission to the idols that men follow today, God does not abandon us. He works in our lives to bring us back. In a remarkable passage, Verses 21-24 of Chapter 41, God challenges these idols of men to prove their word.
Set forth your case, says the Lord;
bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
Let them bring them, and tell us
what is to happen.
Tell us the former things, what they are,
that we may consider them,
that we may know their outcome; (Isaiah 41:21-22a RSV)
God is challenging the idols. "Go back over history and tell us what its meaning is. Tell us how things came into the present from out of the past, if you are as smart as you say."
...or declare to us the things to come[predict the future].
Tell us what is to come hereafter,
that we may know that you are gods;
do good, or do harm[Do something!],
that we may be dismayed and terrified. (Isaiah 41:22b-23 RSV)
A word of contempt follows:
Behold, you are nothing,
and your work is naught;
an abomination is he who chooses you. (Isaiah 41:24 RSV)
What a withering, sarcastic description of the idols in which men trust. Do we have idols today? At our staff meeting last week, Rich Carlson, our college pastor, reported that he finds on all the campuses that students are living in fear. They are afraid to get a job, afraid to get out into the modern world, afraid of failure. They live in constant fear that they are not going to measure up, be successful, or somehow achieve all they want out of life. Even Christian students are not trusting the Lord, he told us. They do not see him in charge of life. In their eyes "the system," the powers that be, the company, their own sex drive, the urge to climb the corporate ladder; these are in charge of men's affairs.
These are the gods that the world constantly worships, the gods of every generation -- ambition, fame, wealth, pleasure, comfort. But what do they offer really? Can they explain the past? Can they predict the future? A couple of days ago I addressed people some of whom are among the foremost men of industry and science. I found that among them and their contemporaries many have arrived at the place where they have everything they have always wanted but they do not want anything they have. They feel life is empty and meaningless. This is what idols do to those who worship them. We need to read these closing words of Chapter 41, where God says:
But when I look there is no one;
among these there is no counselor
who, when I ask, gives an answer.
Behold, they are all a delusion;
their works are nothing;
their molten images are empty wind. (Isaiah 41:28-29 RSV)
That is all the idols of man can deliver! Chapter 42 begins the unveiling of the suffering Servant of Jehovah. Increasingly he will come to the forefront throughout this last section, until at last, in Chapter 53, we find the sun of Messianic revelation at its meridian.
Behold, my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights,
I have put my Spirit upon him,
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not fail or be discouraged till
he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isaiah42:1-4 RSV)
Jewish commentators claim that this Servant is a reference to the nation Israel. They base their view upon the passage we just read in Chapter 41, Verse 9, "You whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, 'You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off.'" Clearly that refers to Israel. The Jewish commentators reject the claims of Christians that these verses in Chapter 42 refer to Jesus, claiming that it is only the nation that is the servant of Jehovah.
How do we respond to that? I do not think we can ever understand this whole section of Isaiah until we realize the close connection of the nation of Israel with its Messiah. God sees them as one. In fact, "The servant of Jehovah" is always Israel; we must admit that. But sometimes that servant is viewed as the whole unbelieving mass of the nation, as is the case in the land of Israel right now. The new nation of Israel is not a believing nation. It is made up largely of scoffers and atheists, skeptics who have little time for even their own Scriptures.
The mass of the nation is unbelieving now. Oftentimes it is portrayed this way in the prophets, as we find in Verse 19 of Chapter 42:
Who is blind but my servant,
or deaf as my messenger whom I send?
Who is blind as my dedicated one,
or blind as the servant of the Lord? (Isaiah 42:19 RSV)
These references do envision the whole disobedient nation in its unbelief. There are other verses that view the nation as the believing remnant, the tiny body of Jews who still truly believe their Old Testament Scriptures, who worship the Lord with their whole heart. They, too, are called "the servant of Jehovah." And sometimes, as in this case the phrase is concentrated in the one person of the Messiah, who is the essence of Israel. That is why Jesus said, "Salvation is of the Jews." He would bring salvation to the world, but he was a Jew. He is seen as the very essence of the nation itself. We have this in these first four verses of chapter 42.
Behold, my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights; (Isaiah 42:1a RSV)
Here God gives the characteristics of the servant. He will be Spirit-filled:
I have put my Spirit upon him, (Isaiah 42:1b RSV)
This happened to Jesus at his baptism, when the Spirit descended upon him like a dove. He will be unassuming and obscure.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street; (Isaiah 42:2 RSV)
Jesus did not go about loudly proclaiming himself, trying to gain a following. He conducted himself in an unassuming manner, teaching the truth, which attracted great numbers of people to him. He would be patient and gentle:
...a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; (Isaiah 42:3a RSV)
Wherever there is evidence of faith, he will encourage it. Wherever there is a little strength, he will support it. He will never turn away those with but little faith.
...he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:3b RSV)
Then finally, he will be persistent, and ultimately successful.
He will not fail or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isaiah 42:4 RSV)
All this clearly applies to our Lord. The chapter goes on to describe God's controversy with Israel in its unbelief. And this present section concludes in the opening words of Chapter 43 with a promise of ultimate redemption.
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.
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.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3a RSV)
This is the explanation of why the nation of the Jews, subjected to the most terrible tortures known to man, including the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, have survived and still remain a nation on the earth. "When you pass through the fire, you will not be consumed."
These verses, of course, apply to our hearts in a spiritual way. How many thousands have rested upon this promise, that God would sustain them through times of stress. I like to call this "God's program for stress management." What a marvelous promise: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, when through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you."
Then God speaks even more intimately,
Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.
Fear not, for I am with you; (Isaiah 43:4-5a RSV)
This is God's repeated promise. It is the answer to all our fears. Then comes the promise of ultimate gathering:
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
every one who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made. (Isaiah 43:5b-7 RSV)
What superb language! How majestically it describes the power of God and his intention to carry out his word in human history!
Many ask if the present return of Jews from the nations to the land of Israel is the fulfillment of these words. The answer is clearly, "No." They have come back in unbelief they have not been brought back by the hand of God. Jesus himself said that when he returns, all those on the earth "...will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other," (Matthew 24:30-31). This is the promise that is described here. I close with but one more reference, in Verses 10-11:
"You are my witnesses," says the Lord,
"and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am He. (Isaiah 43:10a RSV)
That is God's purpose for calling anyone to himself: that you may know him, that you may understand him, and believe him. The reason for this is that he is absolutely unique and does what no other can do.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.
I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no savior. (Isaiah 43:10b-11 RSV)
There is no savior besides the Lord. He, alone, has power to deliver men from their sins. This brings to mind those wonderful words of the angels to the shepherds at Bethlehem, "Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all people, for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior," (Luke 2:10-11a). This verse in Isaiah says there is no Savior besides the Lord: "I am the Lord and besides me there is no savior." But the angels declare, "there is born to you this day ... a Savior, who is Christ the Lord," ( Luke 2:11). Clearly, Jehovah is Jesus, and Jesus is Jehovah.
None other Lamb, none other Name,
None other hope in land, or earth, or sea.
None other hiding place from guilt and shame,
None, but in Thee.
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