Trusting God: Confidence; Fear Not
1 Thessalonians 1:8
1 Thessalonians Lesson #015
November 18, 2014
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths,” Proverbs 3:5-6. “They that wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint,” Isaiah 40:31. “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness,” Isaiah 41:10. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall defend your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 4:6-7. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee because he trusteth in thee,” Isaiah 26:3. “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever,” Hebrews 4:12.
Before we begin our study we will take a few moments of silent prayer to make sure that we are in fellowship. The Scripture teaches that when we sin we are out of fellowship with God. We lose that on-going rapport with God. We are no longer walking by the Spirit. We are no longer walking in truth. We are no longer walking in the light. We are walking in darkness according to the power of the sin nature. All we need to do to recover is to confess our sin, which simply means to name, to admit, to acknowledge our sin to God; to identify the sin that we committed, and at that point we are forgiven, cleansed of all unrighteousness. We will begin with a few moments of silent prayer and then I will open in prayer. Let’s pray.
Father, we are thankful that we have this time to come together to study Your Word to learn to think through what You have said in Your Word in a way that helps us to see what the underlying principles are in each promise and how we can incorporate the confidence stated that underlies each promise that is stated in each promise, and how we can incorporate that within our own mental attitude so that when we face the significant problems, adversities, and challenges of life, rather than becoming derailed by them we can focus even more upon Who You are and Your provision for us and not cave into self-absorption and self-pity. Father, we pray that you will strengthen us now in Christ’s Name, amen.
We are continuing our study on the promises of God and how to use what we call the faith-rest drill. That is faith emphasizes our dependence upon God; rest indicates the fact that we are resting in Him. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t do what God says to do. It is not a pure passivity. It is doing what God says to do and resting in God’s provision. We’ve entered into this study as a side study from our study of 1 Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians 1:8 we are told that the Thessalonian church had a faith and a reputation for their faith; their trust in God that went out throughout both Achaia and Macedonia. So we are stopping or pausing in that study to look at how to use the faith-rest drill; how to grow in our faith. So we are looking at some different promises, taking some time to work our way through them, to understand how this works.
There are basically three components to the faith-rest drill. The first is to mix our faith with the promises. We have to know something. We have to grab a hold of some promise, maybe just part of a verse, all of a verse, or a section of Scripture, but we are focusing on God’s Word. When Jesus handled the temptation from Satan, He didn’t handle it by just leaping to abstract principles. He focuses upon God’s Word. It is God’s Word that has the power. It is God’s promise that is significant. We need to make that a part of our life. The Psalmist said, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.”
1. The first part is grabbing a hold of that promise, mixing that promise with faith; we are working through how to do that.
2. The second part is to think through the underlying rational.
Now this is really nothing more than what the Scriptures talk about when they use the term “meditation.” Meditation is a thought word. In fact, the English word “meditation” is translated or translates several different Hebrew words. Most of these Hebrew words have something to do with going over something again and again, thinking something through. Some of them are more concrete terms, for example, just repetitive action. It is the idea that we are thinking something through, and we are turning it over in our mind again and again; juicing it for everything we can get out of that particular verse. That means we have to understand something about Bible study methods. I really encourage people to go back and listen too the classes I taught on Bible Study Methods. It gives us an ability to dig below the surface in the Word of God: http://www.deanbibleministries.org/index.php/completed-studies-menu/important-topics-menu/messages/series/bible-study-methods
Everybody has the capability to do this. I’ve often used the analogy of a mining engineer versus your average early miner. If you go back to the mid-1800s or the Gold Rush in California you would find people who would just go out and pan for gold. They understood a few basics about how to identify gold, how to tell the difference between pyrites and gold, and they would pan for gold. Then when they found a section, for example, in a creek where there was a lot of gold they would then look for a vain of gold that is sort of washed out and more of that gold had gone into the creek at that point. Then they were able to go a little deeper. If they had a little more knowledge about mining, they could begin to dig a hole and dig down to find the ore. But at some point you have to have more advanced knowledge of mining engineering in order to dig those deep, deep shafts, to build them out and to extract the real riches of the ore that are buried far beneath the surface. That is the role of the pastor-teacher, but the everyday believer can pan for gold in the Scriptures. They can skim the surface and maybe go a little bit below the surface just by using some of the basic tools that are available, a good concordance, some of the good tools that are out there on the Internet, and perhaps looking at a few good commentaries.
You always have to understand something about commentaries if you are going to use them, but they can be very useful, for example, if you are looking at our passage, Isaiah 40:31, you can go to some basic commentaries and just get some information about the background, maybe the structure of the passage, an outline of the passage, and understanding just a few things about the words in the passage. One of the most basic commentaries that I encourage people to get that is very helpful is the one that is produced by Dallas Seminary in the early 80s called the Bible Knowledge Commentaries, in two volumes, volume one is the Old Testament (OT); volume two is the New Testament (NT), and unlike a lot of smaller one-volume or two-volume commentaries, the Dallas Commentary sought to actually give you content, especially more difficult passages. But you always have to understand that commentaries can have certain weaknesses.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary was written by different professors at Dallas Seminary. So different books have different strengths; there are some that are much better because they have been written by professors who taught that book for decades. Other books, not quite so much. There are some who are written by men who are more consistently dispensational, and some that were written by men who were really less dispensational. Although it doesn’t necessarily show up in everything that they wrote; for example, in Isaiah, which in many ways is a little helpful, but the professor who wrote the commentary on Isaiah, his name was John Martin. I always read his commentary on Isaiah with my skeptical glasses on because John Martin left the seminary faculty a couple of years later and at an evangelical theological society meeting for the dispensational study group, some ten years later, he actually admitted that he had seriously questioned dispensationalism for about five or six years before he ever left the faculty at Dallas Seminary, which would mean during the time that he wrote this commentary on Isaiah.
So it’s important to kind of know some things like that when you are reading because not everything written is of equal value, but it is still helpful. Another one I recommend is Tom Constable’s Notes. His name is spelled like a constable, like a sheriff, Dr. Tom Constable. He was a professor. He was a little bit ahead of me at Dallas and he had already gotten his doctorate and was a professor. He’s got a set of notes that cover the entire Bible. They are a little bit more in depth than the Bible Knowledge Commentary. He is very clear on the gospel. He is free grace and he is dispensational. So Constable’s Notes are pretty good; but these are just basic summaries of passages, but they help you get the kind of basic framework for studying or thinking through a passage.
That is what we do when we are in that second stage with a passage. We are just trying to understand it and think through the underlying doctrinal rational, because what you have to do is dig through the broader context of the passage, because God didn’t just drop Isaiah 40:31 (slide 4) out of heaven. It is within the framework of a line of reasoning that is stated in Isaiah 40. So we have to learn to think our way through that. It’s also, if you notice, I’ve got a New King James version, and I know New American Standard versions and some other versions will take a passage like Isaiah 40 and break it out like poetry because it is written in Hebrew poetry; whereas Isaiah 39 is written as prose. That is historical narrative. A lot of prophecy is actually written in poetry, so it is important to understand some of the characteristics of Hebrew poetry as well.
One of those characteristics is the use of figures of speech; and in figures of speech you have a lot of comparisons that are made: similes are where you have two things compared in a stated comparison that this is “like” that or “as” that, “like” and “as” are used; and a metaphor is an unstated comparison, which simply calls something something else. So it is an unstated comparison. When you have a phrase such as “white as snow” that’s a simile, but when God calls Jerusalem “Sodom and Gomorrah” He is not stating it as a comparison saying Jerusalem is “like” Sodom and Gomorrah. He just addresses them as Sodom and Gomorrah. That is a metaphor. He is making a comparison with Sodom and Gomorrah, but it is an unstated comparison because it doesn’t use the word “like” or “as.” Now in a lot of passages where God is talking about or where God is the subject we’ll find anthropomorphisms (slide 5) and anthropropathisms.
Now in this passage, as we looked at last time, we saw that it’s built on certain anthropomorphisms. Anthropomorphism means that God is credited or viewed as having certain human attributes, physical human attributes that He doesn’t actually possess. The word is made up of two Greek words, ANTHROPOS, meaning man, and MORPHE, meaning form. So it is attributing certain physical forms to God, which He doesn’t actually possess. That is really important to understand that phrase “He doesn’t actually possess.” There are certain figures of speech that attribute a “hand” to God, which is really a figure indicating His power; the “arm” of God, again indicating His power, His omnipotence; the “eyes” of God going to and fro over the earth, indicating His omniscience; things of that nature. So it is important to understand these anthropomorphisms and just exactly what they mean.
Now when we look at our passage in Isaiah 40:31, “Those who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles” see there is a comparison. The wings like an eagle mounting, rising from the ground, showing strength and power, as you watch an eagle fly off into the heavens, and so that is a picture of strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, then you have two clear straight statements: they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Now this comes out of a context we looked at last time (slide 6). If you just go back a few verses to Isaiah 40:28 there is a series of rhetorical questions that are asked to draw our attention to God. Israel is in the midst of a problem. The prophecy of Isaiah takes place in the 700s B.C. This is when the Northern Kingdom has already been taken out and the Southern Kingdom is in existence, but Isaiah warning that God is going to bring judgment upon the Southern Kingdom eventually and then it would come from the Babylonians. This was yet to be another 150 years or so later. He has been announcing judgment in the first part and in the second part from Isaiah 40 on to the end of the book, Isaiah 40–66, the focus is on God’s eventual restoration of the nation.
Isaiah knows that during this period of time, from the time that they are taken out under judgment in 586 B.C. and the whole process of their being brought to judgment that occurred through three different invasions by Nebuchadnezzar, starting in 605 B.C. and concluding with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., that Israel would go through some incredibly horrible times, times of massive suffering, times when hundreds of thousands would be killed horribly in battle or through famine or disease, and that there would be times when people would be tempted, seriously tempted to hopelessness and to just giving up and thinking that God had completely forgotten about them. This covers the entire period between 586 B.C. until the restoration of the nation. So a lot of what happened historically is also used as a type or a pattern for what they will go through in time, so that plays a definite role in the prophecies of Isaiah 40–66. So throughout their experience they are going to be tempted to doubt God. So there is a need to turn back to God and understand who He is.
What underlies Isaiah 40 and Isaiah 41, because we are going to get to that before we are done in this lesson, is that in Isaiah 40 what undergirds the promise is understanding the essence of God. So in Isaiah 40:28 (slide 6) he says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God,” that was the first thing we noted last week, referring to eternal life. “The LORD” referring to His covenant identity as Yahweh, indicating the Sovereign God, the Creator, and that He is faithful, faithful to His covenant, which brings in the idea of His immutability, His faithfulness. “The Creator of the ends of the earth,” again emphasizing His sovereignty, “neither faints nor is weary.” That emphasizes His omnipotence, and “His understanding is unsearchable,” which emphasizes His omniscience.
So we have these ten attributes that we put in the essence box summarizing the essence of God (slide 7), His sovereignty, righteousness, justice, love, eternal life, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, veracity, and immutability. Think through these things when you are thinking through promises. How does this promise take me back to the character of God so that everything ultimately becomes Theo centric or God-centered? It focuses us back that the real source of stability in our lives is God. That no matter what we might be facing, whether it is a health crisis, whether it is a financial crisis, whether it is a crisis dealing with our children, or grandchildren, no matter what that crisis might be, that God is not surprised. God is omniscient; He has always known about it. God is omnipotent; He has the capability to handle the situation. God is faithful to us and that never changes; He is immutable. And as the Creator-God He is overseeing His creation and so things may seem to be out of control, but actually they are not out of control. So it throws us back to understanding His character.
This is important for Israel as they go through these changes (slide 8), as they go through discipline, as the warnings of the judgments in the first 39 chapters (Isaiah 1–39) take us to the last part (Isaiah 40-–66) that focuses on God’s restoration. God will solve the problem, but it may not be in our time. For Israel, the final solution of their problem is going to come in the end times, and that is yet to come. So 2,600 years have gone by since these promises were made, and yet God ultimately will fulfill those promises and all will be made right. So the focus is on hope, that confidence. Furthermore, we saw in Isaiah 40:12 (slide 10) and following that through a series of questions Isaiah is focusing our attention upon Who God is, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand? Measured heaven with a span?” These emphasize God’s omnipresence and His omnipotence. He is greater than the creation. “And calculated the dust of the earth in a measure?”
Now this is really an interesting idea because in the ancient world they didn’t have scales that were quite as accurate as ours, and neither were those who weighed things out quite as concerned about accuracy. So when it uses this idea “Who calculated the dust of the earth in a measure?” That if you were weighing something and there was a little dust or something else in there that wouldn’t be taken into account, and so calculating the weight of dust, something microscopic, something that what would at that time have been difficult for them to measure, God could measure. That is the sense of that question. That is something very, very small, something that is on the small end of the scale, and then in the other end you have the statement “weighed the mountains in scales” so this is something incredibly heavy. How could you weigh something like Mt. Everest or Mt. Rainer, or something of that nature, Mt. Carmel? How could you weigh that? But God could weigh it. So you have that God’s knowledge extends from the most minute to the largest of the enormity of large mountains and hills. That emphasizes the knowledge of God, His omniscience.
Isaiah 40:13 (slide 11) “Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or as His counselor has taught Him?” That God is not under anyone higher. There’s no one who knows more, no one that can inform God. In His omniscience He knows all of the knowable and He never learns anything. God always knows everything, both the possible and the actual.
Isaiah 40:14 (slide 12) goes on to express that same thing, “With whom did He take counsel.” There is no one to whom God goes to for counsel or for advice, no one who teaches Him. So the first question there is “with whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him…”; the answer, no one. “And (who) taught Him in the path of justice?” No one; He is inherently knowledgeable. He intuitively knows everything and He is in the core of His being righteous and just. He doesn’t need to learn anything at all.
So Isaiah 40:14 emphasizes His omniscience and His justice. Notice, you don’t separate the capability of God from His righteousness. They are connected together within His character and they are connected together in the way in which He acts to take care of us. He always acts in conformity to His righteousness, and His righteousness is always working consistently with His omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.
Then in Isaiah 40:15 (slide 13) we read, “Behold the nations are like a drop from a bucket.” Now this is particularly important when you think of the context, when they have seen the Northern Kingdom over run by Assyria, and they have been threatened by Assyria under Hezekiah. This was at the time of Isaiah’s life and writing, so he has witnessed the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. Much of his writing is to the Southern Kingdom under the threat of Assyria. He knows that there will be future times of threat to Israel from other nations. He says “these nations” are like a drop form a bucket. They are insignificant compared to God’s ability, God’s power, and God’s greatness. They are like a speck of dust on the scales. Again, we go back to that analogy of something very, very small. They are so small they are relatively insignificant when compared to God.
It says, “He lifts up the isles as a very little thing.” The phrase “the islands of the earth,” there were many islands around Greece. Greece was sort of not the further most land that they knew about, but as you went to the west you had the islands of Greece: You have Malta; you have Sicily; you go further out into the Atlantic. There were other islands and I am convinced that at least under Solomon that the navy of Israel went out into the Atlantic, circumnavigated the African coast, so they were aware. The islands would be the further most extent of the earth going beyond the Middle East, going beyond Europe. So he says that God lifts up the isles as a small thing. That it is relatively insignificant. Just as the wind blows the dust into the air, so God can blow the islands away, the powers of these distant nations.
Then we have another phrase, another verse (Isaiah 40:16) that seems difficult to understand initially. He says even Lebanon is not enough to burn. Now that is a verse that seems a little bit awkward to understand, but he is using a figure of speech, where Lebanon is put for something that is common to Lebanon and something that is produced by Lebanon. We’ve all heard the phrase, “the cedars of Lebanon.” Lebanon was known to be intensely forested, and it is a source of great lumber. So Lebanon is put for what it produces here, and it is basically saying that if you were to take all of the forests of Lebanon that it would not be enough to sacrifice to God. In effect he is saying that the largest altar imaginable with the largest conceivable amount of firewood and the finest animals available are not sufficient to sacrifice to fully honor God because He is incomprehensible. He is so immense that He goes beyond anything that we can conceive.
So Isaiah 40:16 isn’t a departure from the context. It’s flowing. They’re just giving another example related to the omnipotence and the omnipresence and omniscience of God. In Isaiah 40:17, “All the nations before Him are as nothing,” this sort of presents us with a conclusion, “and they are counted by Him as less than nothing and worthless.” So you can paraphrase that in application to your experience or my experience; that no matter what the problem might be, it is nothing to God. That it may seem large, like an impossible obstacle to us, but it is nothing for the LORD to handle.
This takes us to the three, what I call the “Omni” brothers (slide 14), the characteristics of God, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. When you think through that in terms of any problem, you take your problem, and you say, does/did God always know about this? Was there a time when God was unaware that I would make this decision, face this consequence? Last time we talked about the ten different reasons for suffering. Was there ever a time when God knew that I wouldn’t encounter this suffering? Whether it is from my own bad decisions or whether it is living in the world system, or being somehow connected to a government or business that is making bad decisions? Was God ever unaware of the extent of the problem I am facing?
The answer of course is “No.” God is omnipresent, which means that God is not subjected to the space/time limitations of the creation. He is beyond the creation. He, as the Creator, is not subjected to the limitations of the creation. So omnipresence means that God, in His being, is fully and totally present to every Adam in His creation at every moment of time; so He is fully present with us here today as He is to the troops in Afghanistan. He is as fully present there as He is in Israel. He’s as fully present there as He is in Europe or in Australia. He is fully present to every believer as He is to any other believer. So when you think about these first two you realize that God is more than capable and that is the third attribute emphasizing His omnipotence. He is able to do whatever He desires to do. He can fulfill that, so He has the ability and He has given us of His Holy Spirit and of His Word, so that through them we have access to Him and to His ability to resolve those problems.
Then Isaiah goes on and again he continues to focus on the character of God. Isaiah 40:18 (slide 15), he says, “To whom then will you liken God?” There is no analogy we could come up with that fully communicates the character of God. A lot of times people come up with various aspects of creation to try to understand the Trinity, but there is nothing we can compare God to. There is nothing that fully, completely, and accurately compares God. Just parts of God’s character can be understood through looking at His creation because He is so much greater than His creation. So Isaiah says, “To whom then will you liken God?” To no one, to nothing; “Or what likeness will you compare to Him?” There is nothing that truly compares to Him.
Then Isaiah talks about idolatry, which was a major problem in the ancient world, just as the problem today. The problem today is that we don’t make physical images. People are not constructing images of gold and silver and wood and stone to worship. They are constructing images in their mind. They are worshiping their selves; they are worshiping status symbols in life; they are worshiping money, which is greed. Scripture clearly teaches that greed is idolatry, Colossians 3. Even though the idolatry today is a more abstract idolatry, it is still a worship of something other than God as the source of strength or happiness or salvation from problems, deliverance from problems. So Isaiah 40:19-20 talks about “The workman molds an image,” and then, “The goldsmith spreads it over with gold. And the silversmith casts silver chains.” They decorate it. They make it valuable.
Interestingly, I was talking to someone recently and they were communicating to me a story about how some years ago they worked with an Indian couple that they got to know through work, and at dinner the Indian family, the lady, the wife, was talking about how the area where they lived in Houston, out in Sugar Land area, had a lot of Indians and they were experiencing a lot of break ins. A lot of people were breaking into the homes of the Indians because they knew that Indians usually had a lot of gold. Then, just as part of the conversation, as if it was an everyday thing, she said, you know, Indians worship idols and we have lots of idols of silver and gold in our homes and so people break in to steal those. The person who was telling me this was just so flabbergasted by this open admission to idolatry that they didn’t really know how to respond to that. But that is true; we have physical idolatry going on today in many cultures, many cultures of the world.
So Isaiah is writing with some level of sarcasm here, about those who make gods out of physical things. Here they are making this god and then trying to attribute to it the attributes of deity. He is pointing out the futility of this. Here, God, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is beyond comparison, and the futility of people who think that they can find hope and success from some idol that they have made. So this is the focus on the negative here in Isaiah 40:19-20.
Then in Isaiah 40:21-22 (slide 16), he brings our attention back to God again and back to what the Scriptures teach. He says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?” which is emphasizing that you have heard this all along. You’ve heard it in your Bible studies; you’ve heard it in Bible class; you’ve been taught about the essence of God over and over and over again, but you are not connecting that to the reality of your problems and the reality of your adversity. This is a God, in Isaiah 40:22 again emphasizing the immensity or omnipresence of God, “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth.”
Incidentally, this was one of the verses that long before Columbus emphasized that the earth was round, there were Bible scholars who recognized that the earth was round because of this particular phrase, “the circle of the earth.” The Bible never in Christianity, biblical Christianity, never understood the world to be flat, but that it was always round. Biblical science long before Columbus clearly understood that the geography of the earth meant that the earth was round based upon this passage for one, “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” Again, emphasizing the greatness of God in comparison to something that is extremely small and inconsequential. That He is the Creator-God; He “stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.” God’s power is so great that if He could create the universe then of course your problem and my problem are relatively insignificant. He is greater than all of the rulers and all of the kingdoms and He is the One who oversees history.
Isaiah 40:23 (slide 17) “He brings the princes to nothing and makes the judges of the earth useless. Sometimes we wish He would hurry up and make some judges around this country useless. That He would hurry up and do that.
Isaiah 40:24 “Scarcely shall they be planted, scarcely shall they be sown, scarcely shall their stock take root in the earth, when He will also blow on them, and they will wither, and the whirlwind will take them away like stubble.”
It may seem like they have their day and their day is too long, but in the overall panorama of God’s plan, He is working out His purposes and all things will work together for good and God will eventually recompense the righteous in bringing judgment against those who are unrighteous.
And then in Isaiah 40:25 (slide 18) we see God speaks. He says, “To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.
Isaiah 40:26 “Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things.” Again going back to the doctrine of the Creator-creature distinction. This is one reason why the debate between Creation and evolution is so important. The Bible again and again and again builds numerous doctrines upon the creation by God going back to an understanding of a literal Genesis 1; a literal 24-hour six consecutive days creation where God made the heavens, the earth, and the seas and all that is in them. This is so important. It underlies everything. If God is not the Creator-God of Genesis 1, then how can we ever claim the promises that we find in passages like Isaiah 40? They are predicated upon the truth of Genesis 1 being literal. That’s the rational and so if God did not create these things, then we can’t come to the right conclusion in Isaiah 40:31 about God’s care for us. We’re left in a hopeless situation and a hopeless world if God isn’t the Creator-God of the Bible.
As God speaks He focuses our attention upon His greatness as the Creator (slide 18). He says, He brought out their host by number. This word “host” usually refers to the angels. It is an antiquated English word that means an army; and so it could mean that He brings out all of the inhabitants. It could be used metaphorically to refer to all of the stars in the heavens, but it likely, I believe, refers to His creation of the angelic hosts and He has named each and every one of them. Their number is beyond count according to Revelation, but “He calls them all by name by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing,” Isaiah 40:25–26. He keeps count of everything, nothing is lost.
So God is not going to overlook you. God hasn’t forgotten about you and your problem because He is more concerned about solving a problem in the Middle East or solving problems in Afghanistan or solving problems related to someone else somewhere else on the planet. God knows your problem and He’s fully present in His omnipresence, fully present in your life; He is fully aware of everything going on in your life, and He hasn’t forgotten you.
So He says to Israel (slide 19), Isaiah 40:27, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel.” Why don’t you put your name in there in place of Jacob and Israel at some point because we all do this, we think God has forgotten us. God’s off doing something else. Why do you say this He says to Jacob and Israel. “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my just claim is passed over by God. We all reach points where we cave in instead of trust; we all cave in to self-pity and we think God has overlooked us and forgotten us. This was the way Israel was operating.
In response to that that’s where we come into the immediate context of our promise of Isaiah 40:31, where we have these rhetorical questions I started off with, Isaiah 40:28, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” Here you are claiming God’s not involved? God’s overlooked your problem? Maybe your problem is something simple with the normal problems everybody faces in life. Maybe it is something much larger. Maybe you’re struggling with understanding the problem of evil in the world. Maybe you’re struggling with something like how can God let something like the holocaust take place? How can God allow these tremendous injustices take place in human history where you have tens of thousands of people or hundreds of thousands who are slaughtered by unjust governments?
For example, what happened during World War II under the Nazis, or even worse, under Stalin in Russia? How can God allow these things to happen? And so we think that somehow God is ignoring these things; that He is not capable. But that is because we have such a tiny, tiny view of God; and such a tiny, tiny view of history and His purposes. What these verses do is they expand our horizons to understand them more fully. We want God to hurry up and solve it now; whereas, God is working through decades or centuries to bring about the solution.
So in Isaiah 40:28 (slide 20) we have these rhetorical questions to focus our attention upon God’s attributes, His eternality, His faithfulness, that He is the Creator, Sovereign God of the universe, that He is omnipotent. He “neither faints nor is weary.” He is omniscient, “His understanding is unsearchable.” Then it goes on, Isaiah 40:29, “He gives power to the weak.” We are the weak. He transfers His power to us. “And to those who have no might He increases strength.” This is God’s modus operandi. He is a gracious God who desires to come to our aide and to supply our need.
Then we have the lead in to Isaiah 40:31, “Even the youths shall faint and be weary.” Every human being reaches the end of his human resources, the end of our capabilities, the end of our power. Even the ones, the youth, who have the most power, the most strength, and the most endurance, even they will eventually reach the end of their resources and collapse. But then those who wait on the LORD will have their own source of strength, where God’s strength is exchanged for our strength. “They shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, and walk and not faint.”
When we look at the structure here the one thing that really stands out to me more than anything is this Creator-creature distinction; God is beyond our understanding. There is nothing about Him that we can fully comprehend, although we can understand true things about God to a certain point. We cannot understand Him comprehensively. So we have a limited, finite understanding of reality, and we have to trust in Him on the basis of what we learn from this limited reality. As we think through the rationale here we come to certain conclusions. The conclusion that we come to is that God is capable to handle the problems, whether they’re the massive problems that a believer in Israel would have faced at that time, being overrun by the Assyrians or later the Babylonians, that God still has His integrity. He is not being unjust; He is not being unfair; He’s not being unrighteous. That was the whole issue with Job. Job is really being tested to ask the question: how can a righteous God let all these things happen to me (Job) when again and again Job had been declared to be blameless and upright before the LORD. How can these terrible things happen to me?
We have this assumption that if I am a good person then good things will happen to me. But many times we do the right thing the right way and we are the right kind of person and horrible things happen because we are living in the devil’s world or for many other reasons as I discussed the last time, depending upon what God is doing in our life. Just last night I am recording this in July and probably won’t be viewed until November and I will probably know the solution to this, but yesterday we learned of a situation of this young doctor who is 33 years old. He is married; he has two children, and he has now contracted Ebola. He is very likely, unless God intervenes, very likely going to die because the fatality rate for those who contract Ebola is so high. We wonder how can God let that happen? Here is this wonderful individual who is giving of himself to help and aide others, and yet he is very likely going to lose his life because he’s trying to do the right thing for the right reasons.
We have to come back to some fundamentals about God and one of these is clearly stated as part of Genesis 18:25 (slide 21) where Abraham states that “The Judge of all the earth will do right.” We may not understand it at this time. We may not know all the details and all the facts, but we know that if God is righteous then He’s always going to do the right thing. We have to trust Him and rely upon Him because He is a good God. He is working out certain things in human history.
Now before I wrap-up this lesson I want to look at one more passage that is in the same context. It flows from Isaiah 40 into Isaiah 41. It is the same situation that God is comforting Israel. I want to take our attention to Isaiah 41:10 (slide 22) where God says, “Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed, For I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
We see this clear statement in Isaiah 41:10, and I want to read for you, as we lead up to that, the context. This is what we need to do in that first stage of claiming a promise, just thinking through the context, mixing our faith with the promise. Actually, this is stage two, thinking through the doctrinal rationales imbedded in the prophecy: (slide 23)
Step one: We claim a promise and think it through. We have to look at the context. So forget the fact that there is a chapter division there, because those were just inserted much later on. Forget any other comments that are made. There is just a flow from Isaiah 40:31 into verse one of the next chapter. There is this strong statement of giving hope to Israel at the end of Isaiah 40, and then God continuous to speak in Isaiah 41:1. He says, “Keep silent before Me, oh coastlands and let the people renew their strength.” So the coastlands would be a reference to the Gentile nations, and God is calling upon them to keep silent. And He says, “I let the people renew their strength.” How do they renew their strength? They renew their strength by waiting upon the LORD, Isaiah 40:31.
Isaiah 40:31, “Those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength.” Let the people renew their strength by focusing upon the LORD. Let them come near, that is in fellowship with God and dependence upon Him. Let them speak; let us come near together for judgment. Then he goes on to say, “Who raised up one from the East, who in righteousness called him to His feet?” So the “who” refers to God; that God is going to raise up someone from the East and that He does this in His righteousness. God will provide a solution and deliverance for Israel. This is a reference to Cyrus the Great, who eventually, as identified in Isaiah 44:28 as the one who will allow Israel to return to the land, but this is focusing their attention on the fact that God has a plan and will provide a human person who will help deliver them, bring them back to the land.
He goes on to say, “who?” Again referring to God, who gave the nations before Him; that is a reference to this deliverer, Cyrus. God brought him to a position of power and authority over Persia, who made him rule over kings. God is the one who will raise up a human leader to give him power and give him victory over these other nations who will enable him to deliver Israel. Isaiah 41:3–4 “He pursued them, passing on in safety, by a way he had not been with his feet. Who has performed and done it, calling the generations from the beginning.” The emphasis here is on who is the who? God is the One who is doing all these things in history. He says, “I am the LORD; I am the first, and with the last. I am He.”
This reminds us very much of some statements we might find in the book of Revelation. In Revelation 1:17 and Revelation 22:13 the LORD is the first and the last. So again this points out that you can’t understand those passages in Revelation without going back to Isaiah 41:4. God is the first and the last. He, therefore, is able to oversee and control His creation.
Then Isaiah 41:5-7 we go on to read, “The coastlands saw it and feared, the ends of the earth were afraid; … they drew near and came. Everyone helped his neighbor and said to his brother, “Be of good courage!” So the craftsman encouraged the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer. I inspired him who strikes the anvil, saying it’s ready for the soldering. Then he fastened it with pegs that it might not totter.” This is talking about the coastlands, which again is referring to the Gentile nations and their fear of God as they witness His power and they are trying to give one another confidence, give each other a pep talk against God.
This is indicated by the contrast in Isaiah 41:8. In contrast to the coastlands and their reaction to God negatively because they are trying to band together against God, much like Psalm 2 talks about the kings of the earth organizing against the Messiah. In Isaiah 41:8 we read, “But you, Israel, are my servant.” That is the contrast. The people of the coastlands are described in Isaiah 41:5–7 in contrast to Israel “My servant. You are Israel, My Servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham, My friend.” That takes us back to the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant. The descendants of Abraham, My friend, you whom I have taken from the ends of the earth and called from its further most regions, and said to you, you are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away,” Isaiah 41:9.
God is stating that He hasn’t finally and completely rejected Israel. It pictures a time when He is going to bring Israel from the ends of the earth. The promise in Deuteronomy 29 was that God would eventually bring judgment upon Israel and scatter them to the ends of the earth. And in Deuteronomy 30, when they turn back to God, God would restore them from the ends of the earth. This is clearly talking about the event that ultimately takes place at the end of the Tribulation time when Jesus returns. If we establish that as the timeframe in Isaiah 41:8-9, then that tells us again that is what is being pictured in Isaiah 41:5–7 is this revolt of the Gentiles against God that is depicted in Psalm 2 when the kings of the earth gather together against the LORD and His Messiah.
Isaiah 41:9, again, God is emphasizing He has a plan for Israel, that eventually He will restore them from this worldwide dispersion, and He will bring them back to the land. I believe that the initial part of this is what we’ve been witnessing over the last hundred years or more. Going back really to the first aliyah, which began in the 1880s; and that God is bringing Israel back. Now it is mostly in unbelief, but the final restoration, the one talked about here is the one that occurs at the end of the Tribulation, which is in belief. So in verse 9 he (Isaiah) says, “You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth and called from its farthest regions and said to you, ‘You are My servant; I have chosen you and have not cast you away;' fear not.” So the command to “fear not” is addressed to the present time, 6th century B.C., “fear not” even though you are being overrun by Gentiles, even though your nation is being destroyed, even though you’re seeing all of this calamity and your friends and neighbors are being murdered and violently destroyed in this discipline; don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid when everything around you is coming apart, “for I am with you” present tense. I’m still with you. The endgame is, and it may not be for 2,500 or 3,000 years, “and I will restore you to the land, but in the meantime “I am still with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God.”
Now these two words (in Isaiah 41:10) are important (slide 24). The first word, “fear,” although it can mean “respect or awe” has this idea of “don’t panic”, “don’t cave into fear”, “don’t let anxiety overrule you.” The second word that is used is the word translated “dismayed.” This is the Hebrew word shta, which means “don’t look anxiously about”, “don’t be overwhelmed by anxiety or worry”; “don’t let the circumstances control your life.” No matter how dark things may appear, no matter how difficult things may be, don’t let this overwhelm you. Remember, I am still in charge and I am with you. So the command is not to be afraid, not to be dismayed because God is present. Then He goes on to say, “I will strengthen you, yes I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Again, God’s actions are emphasized as being in concord with His righteousness. There is a consistency. Even though Israel will go through all of these horrible things, God is still righteous.
Now the application for us is in the same way God has a plan for us and God will sustain us. We have similar promises like Philippians 4:6 in the NT to tell us to be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let our requests be made known unto God. We are not to cave into panic, fear, worry, anxiety; we are not to let our circumstances get the best of us because we have the same God, a God who has a plan and a purpose. He is the God who strengthens us and He is a God who will always act in our lives in a righteous way. So we need to learn to rest and relax in Him no matter what we face. We hopefully will never face the kind of calamity Israel faced at that time.
We don’t face invasion from foreign powers. We’re not overrun. We’re not being dragged off as captives to a foreign land. Hopefully, we will never, never face that in our lives. But we will face other tragedies of a much less lower order and significance, but nevertheless we are often tempted to just cave in, to be depressed, to be anxious, and even to forget about God and turn our back on God thinking that He has turned His back on us. But this promise tells us never to fear, never to give in to apprehension, never to panic, never to dismay, never to quit because God is always for us and He is the One who will sustain us in the most difficult of all circumstances. Next time we’ll come back and we will continue to look at this promise a little bit and some of the other promises that God gives us as we think through how we can use them in our everyday life.
Father, thank you for this opportunity to study these things today and to be able to put these principles into effect, to think through Your character that lies behind Your promises and thinking through the fact that You are always righteous in Your dealings with us, and therefore, even though all things are not good, all things will work together for good. You will work all these things together for good because of Your love for us. So we can completely and totally trust ourselves to You, knowing that no matter what happens, no matter how dark things may appear, You will take care of us and sustain us. We pray this in Christ’s Name, amen.