Isaiah part 32 - The Consolation of the World (chapters 40-42)Posted: Fri. Nov, 13 2020
Immediately after we hear the message of disaster in 39:5-7 we hear the message of comfort (40:1-2). Though judgment and its accompanying disaster must come upon unfaithfulness, there is still a people on earth that belong to God, to whom He has made a covenant. They must trust while the world burns around them.
To Israel, to the remnant of that generation and all future ones to come, God promises that their warfare will be over and that the iniquity of the nation of Israel will be removed. The captives of Babylon will return home.
Isaiah prophesied to king Hezekiah:
'Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and all that your fathers have laid up in store to this day shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,' says the Lord.”
And in the next line of the prophet’s own work:
"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God.
2 "Speak kindly to Jerusalem;
And call out to her, that her warfare has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received of the Lord's hand
Double for all her sins."
The promises of God, to Israel and to the nations, can be forfeited by individuals, but they cannot perish. God has spoken, and God reveals Himself in this section as Creator of all things in our vast and massive universe, and as the Ruler of history, easily moving all the players and forces on the world stage. Therefore, what man or angel or group of them could undo or overrule what God has spoken. God will ask them, and so us, “Are you listening?”
The Lord takes counsel
As we see the Lord in 1KI 22:19, sitting on His throne with a multitude of attending angels at the ready to be His perfect messengers, so He is in the opening of Isa 40. He seems to be sending out His many messengers to speak comfort to Israel. In the future, when the exiles return from Babylon, God finds her punishment to have been satisfactory, and so her warfare is over.
A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
4 "Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
5 Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
“A voice crying” tells the people to prepare a way for the Lord. They are to be ready for Him.
MAT 3:3 tells us that this is a prophecy about John the Baptist.
God tells him to call out, to which he responds, what shall I call out? The revelation to man, proud as he can be in himself, is that man is physically and morally a complete failure. He is no better than grass that is fit to be thrown into the furnace. All believers must remember this and remain humble before God. Anything we have that can be called good, and there is a lot, is a gift from the grace of God.
A voice says, "Call out."
Then he answered, "What shall I call out?"
All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.
The Voice of Zion
Jerusalem is called to tell the surrounding nations that the Lord is fast approaching, and He is coming with great strength (His arm ruling, 40:10) and with reward, and He is going to gather His flock and gently press them to His bosom and gently lead them. The Lord’s arm makes its debut here in chapters 40-55, the symbol of personal strength and action (48:14; 51:5, 9; 52:10; 53:1). Isaiah uses this metaphor more than any other prophet. In 40:11 there is a shift from sovereign to shepherd.
Behold, the Lord God will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His recompense before Him.
11 Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs,
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
Shepherd is a common motif and one that David enjoyed very much. The Shepherd is gentle and watchful and identifies with the concerns of the flock.
Zion is not to be afraid (40:9) but to get upon the highest mountain and shout the good news with boldness. No herald should be afraid, nor entertain doubts about the truth of the tidings. God Himself is coming. And whether He is coming in a year of ten-thousand, it doesn’t matter, for all of us, when we die, will wait with Him to return. So all of us can say that we will see Him in our lifetime.
The incomparable God of Israel is the Creator (40:12-31).
This wonderful section simply has to be read. The idol maker somehow thinks that God doesn’t see him. Isaiah presents God as sitting above the earth seeing everything and having unaided wisdom and absolute rule. God as Creator shows the folly of those who reject His authority and gives comfort to those who do. God assures the remnant of Israel their security:
All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Isaiah will continue to use the doctrine of creation this way to assure Israel of her special status (43:1, 7, 21; 44:1ff; 43:15; 54:5.). Every believer has to rest on the power of God to do all that He says He will. It sounds simple enough, but if we’re honest, when times get tough, we don’t do it enough.
But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel,
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!”
In both Babylonian and Canaanite creation stories the creator must overcome opposing forces before the way opens for the work of creation. In Babylonian mythology, the creator god Marduk could not proceed with creation without consulting Ea, the all-wise. The one God is shown in Isa 40 as sufficiently wise and powerful all on His own, and without equal.
Also, God is shown as precise and exact in His work. He is said to measure and mark off and also weigh. Not the smallest detail is overlooked by Him.
Deity vs. idol
To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare with Him?
19 As for the idol, a craftsman casts it,
A goldsmith plates it with gold,
And a silversmith fashions chains of silver.
20 He who is too impoverished for such an offering
Selects a tree that does not rot;
He seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman
To prepare an idol that will not totter.
Then from this we run into the idol makers and worshippers. In view of the incredible and beautiful creative work of the Almighty, we are introduced to idols that hopefully won’t fall over. The idol cannot move on its own, and when it does, it only topples due to outside knockings and God’s law of gravity. Also, the quality of the idol, silver vs. wood, depends upon the wealth of the owner, in other words, the quality of the god they worship depends on their own wealth, yet they ignore this obvious issue and bow down to the graven image. There is an obvious reversal of grandness between deity and created. The poor bloke who can’t afford silver hopes he can find a tree from which to make his poor quality idol that won’t rot. Again, the irony is obvious, the worshipper has to hunt out the proper tree. Against the backdrop of the Creator of the earth who needs no wisdom or help from another is the idol who has no ability but what a human can impart to it, and still then it isn’t much.
God loves to make fun of tottering idols.
He established the earth upon its foundations,
So that it will not totter forever and ever.
Only God knows the right way to make anything
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is He who sits above the vault of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
23 He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
24 Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
All the material parts of the universe are in the right and perfect place, and so also, the same Creator who presides over human history, has all of history in place. “Do you not know, have you not heard?” Our faith in Him as Creator of material and event, gives us grasshoppers peace.
There is only one Holy One
"To whom then will you liken Me
That I should be his equal?" says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power
Not one of them is missing.
The title Holy One is a killing blow to any other claimants of greatness. There is only One. Who is His equal? And He bids us to depend upon Him.
Other religions worshipped the stars. The Babylonian religion did so, and Israel was drawn in fascination to that religion. But impressive as the stars are, especially in their world without artificial light pollution, they are but creatures. And God has not overlooked one of them, though there are billions and billions (Carl Sagen voice).
Do not despair what is about to come
Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the Lord,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God"?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
29 He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
30 Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
31 Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
Remember, in chapter 39, Isaiah told them that great suffering was coming upon Israel from the east, from Babylon.
Vs. 27 puts the name ‘Jacob’ next to the name ‘Israel’. Perhaps this is to recall the wrestling match between Jacob and the Lord in GEN 32:22-32 after which the Lord changed his name. Israel - God will bless and give strength to the helpless, but they must not let go of Him though Israel limps on. The ways of Jacob/Israel are not hidden from the Lord. They will, in the future when Babylon appears at the wall of Jerusalem, scream “How can the Lord do this to us? Why does He not care?” But, “Do you not know? Have you not heard?”
Is there not still time, even then, even if they end up in captivity, to cling to God, weak as they are, and He will give them strength and flight? Yes. They must open their ears and recall to mind that their captivity will be just, for the Creator, who alone puts all things in their proper place, has judged as He said that He would; but He is also compassionate, merciful, and slow to anger. Consider Daniel who would go captive to Babylon in the first wave (of three) and his three companions. Think of Ezekiel who would also go in exile. These were youths who grew weary and tired, but God gave them strength and increased power within them.
If we are alive and aware enough that we can place faith in the power and character of God, there is always hope. And hope in Him, never disappoints.
Blessing and peace to God's family,
Pastor Joe Sugrue