Trusting God: Doctrine of Suffering – Part 2
1 Thessalonians 1:8
1 Thessalonians Lesson #014
November 13, 2014
Our study is on the faith-rest drill. This has come about because we’ve reached a passage in our overall study of 1 Thessalonians 1:8 where Paul praised the Thessalonica believers that the reputation of their faith toward God had gone out throughout all of Greece. This ought to be a pattern for every Christian and for every church. We should have a reputation for being people of God who trust in God and are not shattered by these circumstances of life and the negative experiences of life.
This is the context in which we usually utilize the faith-rest drill. We’re going through some sort of trauma in life or some sort of adversity, whether it is a momentary affliction or whether it is something that has long-term consequences for us. It is when we are going through those difficult times of adversity and suffering and hardship that we are driven to God to depend upon Him and to claim these promises.
One of the promises that we’re focusing on at the beginning of this study as we learn how to mix our faith with is Isaiah 40:31 which says, “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.” This is an excellent passage to help us understand how to mix faith with the promises of God. As we’re working through this process it’s important to think through the promise as we memorize it. We should think it through and think what the rationale embedded within this particular promise is. We need to ask why we are claiming this particular promise.
As we go through this today I want to go back and finish something we started in the previous lesson, which is, understanding why there is suffering in our life. We’re looking at ten different reasons for suffering. That will help us to understand the context of our own life and how we need to claim these particular promises. When we finish looking at that in this lesson then we’ll go back to the context of Isaiah 40:31 to help us learn how to think through and work through a promise.
A great background for being able to do this more effectively in our lives is if you’ve gone through the series that I’ve done on Bible study methods. It’s a foundation for any believer so they can get more out of their own Bible reading and their own personal Bible study. Just learning how to make observations of the text and moving on to interpretation and then application. This is, in some ways, just sort of a natural application of personal Bible study methods to our own Christian life.
But let’s go back and just review the first five reasons that we suffer. The first is because of Adamic responsibility. It’s the result of sin. We live in a fallen world where corruption has entered in and it is not the world it should be. All human suffering: war, famine, economic collapse, drought, weather disasters, problems in personal relationships, and every problem we experience in life is a result of living in a fallen world.
This is not a utopian world. Utopia was lost when Adam sinned and there will not be perfection on this earth again until the Lord Jesus Christ returns and establishes His kingdom. Even then it’s not a perfect world because those who are born during the future millennial kingdom will still have sin natures. It will not be until we are in the new heavens and the new earth that we have true perfection again. Until then we have to recognize that we live in a fallen world and because of that, there will always be difficulties, challenges, adversities, disappointments and heartache. This is part of the human experience because of sin, not because of “human nature” but because of this corrupt thing that entered into human nature called the sin nature.
The second reason we saw that we suffer is because of individual volitional responsibility. We make bad decisions and we suffer the consequences. Galatians 6:7, “Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” In addition to reaping the consequences of our sinful and foolish decisions, we also may encounter divine discipline. God may intensify the suffering that is in our lives as a result of our bad decisions in order to teach us a lesson and to get our attention so we will focus on Him.
Hebrews 12:6-8 says, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines.” While it is true that in trusting Christ for salvation, sin is not the issue. Technically, in a sort of perverted sense, we can continue to sin as much as we want and all we want after salvation because all sin was paid for by Christ on the cross. The reality is that we enter into the family of God through adoption at the instant of salvation and while we may think we can just sin with impunity, we cannot because God is now our father and He will chasten us to get our attention and to train us to be obedient children.
As it says in Hebrews 12, “For whom the Lord loves, He disciplines and He scourges [whips] every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline in the sense of training that we endure in obedience through the adversity that comes in our life through this discipline. “God deals with you as sons for what father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” So the normal reality for believers is that we will experience divine discipline.
The thing we need to recognize is that when we encounter adversity in our life we should think through these categories and decide where the difficulty comes from. If it is divine discipline we will know it by examining our life. We should be able to see a connection. We saw that last time when we saw the example from David.
When David was guilty of adultery with Bathsheba and then conspired to have her husband, Uriah, killed the four-fold punishment were four intensifications of David’s consequences that were all related to sexual sin and murder. The violence that he brought into the family of Bathsheba and Uriah was then visited in kind upon his family. The infant died that was the product of the adulterous union. Then later David’s son, Amnon, lusted for his half sister, Tamar, and basically raped her, again a sexual sin that was related to the sin of David. I’m not saying that David raped Bathsheba but it is a sexual sin in kind. Third, Absalom, in revenge for what Amnon did, killed Amnon in 2 Samuel 13 so this is similar to David’s act of murder. Murder is now part of David’s family. Fourth, Absalom revolted against David. This eventually led to Absalom’s death in that revolt and so you see the complete breakdown within David’s own family which is a result of his attack and assault on the divine institution of marriage and the divine institution of family within the marriage of Uriah and Bathsheba. We can usually identify divine discipline because it’s related to the sin we have committed.
The fourth reason I said we suffer is because we’re connected to someone involved in either reason number two or number three. You’re married to someone. You have children and your wife or your husband or your mother or your father makes a sinful decision. Because of our connection to them we reap the negative consequences of their bad decision. Maybe we work for a company that is poorly managed like in the infamous case of Enron in Houston. People who worked for that company may have carried out their jobs with integrity but the management of the company lacked integrity. Because of that situation, they suffered the consequence of losing their retirement accounts, their jobs, and their income all because of sinful decisions made by the management of that company.
It can happen in a nation. There were many Christians, Jewish believers in the 1st century who lived in Judea, who because the leadership of Israel had rejected the Messiah, suffered. The leadership was motivated by an intellectual, self-righteous idolatry. They had created an idol out of the Mosaic Law and because of that, it led to a complete breakdown of the nation. God brought the final judgment of the 5th cycle of judgment upon Judea and Jerusalem and the temple were eventually destroyed. Many of the people were scattered back into the Diaspora. Though there were many Jews that were obedient to God, nevertheless, they suffered tremendously because the nation was in rebellion against God.
This is a condition we see ourselves in in this nation now. I predict that unless there is a major shift back to God what we’re going to see is a continual fragmentation of the social structures in this nation. We’re going to see an increasing burden of taxation and debt upon people in this nation. We’re going to see a breakdown of social services because when we move more and more toward socialism where the government controls medicine and all of these other facets including the regulations related to business it ends up creating a weight upon business and the medical field that cannot be overcome. You have doctors, teachers, and business leaders who have to spend more and more of their time and wealth just dealing with the regulations of government. This destroys the economy of the nation. This is the direction we’re heading in. All of this is because of negative volition.
The Bible was the center of western civilization. It was the unifying principle of western civilization from the time of the invasion of Christianity into the Roman Empire and its expansion throughout Europe in the middle ages. Even though there were a lot of abuses, nevertheless, that which unified people was a belief in the Bible. They may have had wrong theologies, such as works-oriented theologies and ritual-based theologies, but at the core the Bible was that which unified all of the institutions in western civilization.
This continued up until you have the advent of 19th century liberal protestant movement, which caused a breakdown in trust in Biblical truth. By the time you get down into the 20th century and the beginning of post-modernism you see society start to break down. Starting in the mid-60’s we really saw the consequences of that. We’re still experiencing the full fruit of that today because there is no center of culture any more. There’s nothing that unifies western civilization. Europe is fragmented. The United States is fragmented. The culture is fragmented. Everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes and as a result of that it’s just going to become more and more chaotic.
As a result, those who are believers absolutely must learn promises, memorize the Word and learn how to implement the faith-rest drill because life is not going to get easier. It’s not going to get better. Life is going to get more and more challenging and difficult. The hope that we have in Scripture is that our lives are not dependent upon our circumstances. Our joy is not dependent upon our circumstances. It’s dependent upon the God who never changes, the God who is immutable. That’s the context that Israel was in as well in Isaiah 40. So reason number four why we suffer is that we often experience suffering because someone we’re associated with is under divine discipline.
Then the fifth reason that we saw that we suffer is because we live in the cosmic system. We live in a world that is dominated by fallen people and philosophies that are erroneous. We live in a world where the ways of living are fallacious and are morally antagonistic to God. The result is that there are just a lot of horrible things that occur because we live in the cosmic system. Every believer has lived in the cosmic system, has survived, and has had tremendous joy and happiness because of their relationship with God. No matter what those external circumstances may be, the promise of God is that we have joy in our soul because our stability is based on Him, not upon the circumstances around us.
Now the next reason we suffer can be seen in Acts 16:27-31. This is the episode where the Apostle Paul and Silas have been thrown into jail in Philippi because of their proclamation of the gospel. They have antagonized various elements within the city of Philippi, especially among the Jews. There’s a reaction to what they have taught. In this particular instance they have cast a demon out of a slave girl, which impacted the economics of those who owned the slave girl. She had a spirit of divination and was telling fortunes. When Paul and Silas cast the demon out this had economic consequences. As a result her owners dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace.
Why are they going through this suffering? They are going through it, not because they did anything wrong, but because they did what was right. Since they’re living in the cosmic system, the devil’s world, it reacted against what they did. They were put into prison. Romans 8:28 tells us that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” It doesn’t say that all things are good but God is in charge of the circumstances. He’s working those things together for good.
They are thrown into jail in Philippi. They’re there overnight. They’re whipped and beaten which was contrary to Roman law and they’re thrown into prison. We see Paul and Silas’s reactions in Acts 16:25. “At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and the prisoners were listening to them.” Now let me challenge you with something from this. First of all, they’re singing hymns to God. The singing of hymns is a product of the filling of the Holy Spirit. If you look at Ephesians 5:18 where we’re commanded to be filled by the Spirit, there are a series of participles that follow that are all participles of result, showing the results of being filled by the Spirit. One of those is singing psalms and spiritual songs. This is something we should do.
The challenge to each of us is to ask ourselves if we know more than the first verse of a hymn like “Amazing Grace” if we were locked up in jail. We should all be able to sing from memory at least twenty or thirty hymns. If we don’t, that’s a terrible indictment of the church today. That’s one of the problems we have with a lot of contemporary Christian music is that it’s not memorable. That’s one reason we don’t sing those at West Houston Bible Church. The tunes aren’t memorable and the words are difficult. One of the reasons I like to sing a lot of the hymns over and over again is that hopefully this will embed them in people’s minds so they can remember some of these hymns.
So Paul and Silas are stuck in prison. Trust them; there was no hymn-book in the Philippians jail. They had to sing hymns that were in their souls. They knew those hymns and they knew Bible verses that they could claim promises. They’re expressing great joy and happiness even though they’re going through tremendous hostility and adversity. They’re trusting God.
The situation here is not too different from the situation with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they were going to be forced by Nebuchadnezzar to bow down and worship the idol that he had created. When they didn’t bow down, their enemies had them arrested and taken before Nebuchadnezzar. Their response was that they would not bow down to an idol and that their God could deliver them. But they had no guarantee ahead of time they would be delivered from the fiery furnace. They said that even if God didn’t deliver them they were not going to obey the king; they were going to obey God instead.
Paul and Silas had no promise from God that He would rescue them from the jail; they were simply trusting Him. This is evidenced by their prayer and singing of hymns to God. This had an impact on the other prisoners that were in the jail. They were listening to them. I’ve been to that jail in Philippi and the jailer could hear everything going on as well because it wasn’t that large. There weren’t that many people there and you didn’t have sound proofing so the jailer could hear them.
Then we’re told that suddenly there was a great earthquake so that the foundation of the prison was shaken. Immediately all the doors opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. At that point all of the prisoners could get up, run away, and escape. This is what the jailer assumed would happen. In the Romans Empire if you were a jailer or a guard in charge of a prison and any prisoner escaped, then the punishment was immediate and severe. You lost your life. It was a capital offense if you let a prisoner escape.
This scares the jailer to death, almost, when he awakens from his sleep and he sees the prison doors open. He immediately assumes the prisoners have fled. He drew his sword and was about to kill himself when Paul cried out and told him not to harm himself. Then the jailer grabbed a light and fell down before Paul, trembling. He is afraid of what will happen from his commanding officers. He cried out to them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and he would be saved, he and his household.
They’re suffering here in terms of Paul and Silas which is probably category #5, living in the cosmic system. There’s now suffering in adversity in the jailer who is an unbeliever. God has used this adversity to scare him into reality. He wants to know the gospel because he knows that his life is short. It’s a wake-up call evangelistically. God may be bringing some suffering or adversity into an unbeliever's life so that He will have their attention and it will be an opportunity for us to communicate the gospel to that person.
A seventh reason that we suffer is because it motivates us in the Christian life. Suffering motivates us to trust in God and learn the Word. We see a great example of this right now in Ukraine. Igor Smolyar who is a Ukrainian graduate of Jim Myer’s Word of God Seminary in Kiev has a tremendous ministry at a church called the Christmas Church in Zitomer, approximately 100 miles west of Kiev. He’s further away from all of this warfare and rebellion that’s going on in the southeastern area of Ukraine in terms of the Russian invasion. But this has impacted all of Ukraine, especially economically. It’s a horrible circumstance and a horrible situation. Because of this national adversity and the threat of war and greater violence, it has caused thousands of people to respond to the gospel and to be more involved in church and their prayer meetings. They’ve had just an explosive response in terms of their attendance.
Suffering motivates us to get right with the Lord and to focus on that which has eternal value which is the Word of God. Psalm 119:71 says: “It’s good for me that I was afflicted that I may learn Thy statutes.” Christianity is not just some form of anesthesia to drug us through some sort of mindless repetition of something so that we basically become numb in our thinking against the pain of life. This is the way of the world, the way of religions where you just have a mantra that you say over and over again until it blocks out anything in your mind so you become intellectually anesthetized to the problem and difficulty of life. This is the way people use drugs, alcohol, sex, pleasure, and entertainment in order to distract them from the misery, heartache, and difficulties in life rather than using the Word of God. We are to learn the Word of God so that we can have joy in the midst of suffering without denying the reality of the adversity that we are facing.
An eighth reason that we suffer is so that we can be a testimony to others. We can be a witness not only to human beings but also to angels who are watching us. There are things they long to look into in terms of how Christians respond to the adversities of life because they learn about God’s love and God’s grace from us in ways that angels were never able to learn. Paul refers to this in 1 Timothy 1:16 where he wrote, “And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”
As a Christian, our lives are to be different. How we react to adversity should make a difference. When we receive a medical diagnosis that means we are facing some serious disease our response to that should be one of joy and one of happiness. We know that God is in control and that even though this adversity may surprise us, it hasn’t surprised God. He has made the provision for us from eternity past and it gives us an opportunity to trust in Him.
We need to learn to look at life’s adversities from a divine viewpoint that God is using these situations to give us the opportunity to reveal in our lives His grace and His comfort. There are people in each of our lives who watch us because we are believers. They see how we respond to things. They want to know if this is something that is real in our life or something that is just phony.
Sadly, in the lives of too many Christians, their Christianity, their relationship with God is so superficial that when something terrible happens, their reaction is no different from anyone else in the world. I’ve gone through times of difficulty and I’ve heard unbelievers say, “You’re human. You need to respond like one.” What I’m hearing is that I’m a sinner so I need to respond on the basis of my sin nature. That’s basically what they’re saying. You’ve gone through something horrible, something difficult, and something challenging and they think that you shouldn’t suppress our emotions. That’s just another way of saying you should panic and become impatient or overly depressed because otherwise you’re suppressing your emotions. That’s how the world looks at it.
When we look at these circumstances we age to trust God. We know that even though this isn’t pleasant and it’s hard we can have joy in the midst of the difficulty because God has a plan and we can trust in Him. We can be a witness to the humans around us, and a testimony of God’s grace in the midst of adversity.
A ninth reason is similar to that but instead of being a witness to other human beings, we are a witness in the angelic conflict. We are a testimony to the angels of God’s grace and mercy and love. In Ephesians 3:10 Paul writes, “In order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places,” The phrase “rulers and authorities in heavenly places” is a term related to the hierarchy of the angels. There are various authorities within the angels. Sometimes they’re referred to as principalities and powers. Other times they’re referred to as rulers and authorities. This relates to the hierarchy and the chain of command of the angels.
Not just the elect angels. Not just the elect or holy angels who are the angels who maintained their loyalty to God and their faithfulness to God. But this also refers to the fallen angels, those who chose to follow Satan in his rebellion from eternity past. They also learn, although negatively. They learn from our testimony about the grace of God. It’s just another plank in the indictment against them as they see us respond positively to the grace of God.
Then the tenth reason I have listed for suffering is that we go through these adverse situations so we can comfort others as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:4, “With the comfort with which we have bee comforted.” As we go through difficult times and challenges, then we apply the Word of God. God the Holy Spirit comforts and strengthens us with the Word of God. Then we, in turn, can encourage others who are going through similar circumstances.
This is part of the ministry of the local church. This is why it’s important to develop those intimate relationships with others within the body of Christ so that as we go through difficult times, we can communicate with them. There’re some people in some churches who act like we should be sharing this indiscriminately with everyone else just because they’re believers. That’s not realistic or very wise. We need to develop a close circle of friends, those who we trust and know are positive to the Word and are spiritually mature, and then we can talk openly and honestly with them as we face the challenges in life. Because they have gone through similar things as well, we can mutually encourage each other as we reflect upon God’s Word and we reflect upon our own experience of applying God’s Word in our life.
These, then, are the basic reasons that we go through suffering in life. When we encounter any kind of adversity the first thing we need to do is make sure we’re in fellowship. We do that by confessing sin. It’s very simple. When I talk about the spiritual skills we develop in terms of handling adversity, the first one is confession of sin. So automatically when we encounter difficult circumstances, we should make sure we are in fellowship by confessing our sins.
If we’re walking according to the sin nature, then our instant reaction is probably going to be one of anger, depression, resentment, or a number of mixed emotions that may come in. That ought to clue us instantly that, “Wait a minute. I’m out of fellowship. I’ve got to handle this on the Divine resources, not human resources so I need to be in fellowship first.” Unfortunately, for many of us, myself included, our initial reaction usually comes from the sin nature and not from the Holy Spirit. So we need to make sure we are walking by the Spirit and then we can move forward in the correct way.
It doesn’t matter what the reason for our suffering is, whether it’s Divine discipline from our own sinfulness or it’s just living in the devil’s world, we need to respond by trust in God. That involves waiting on the Lord as we’ve seen in Isaiah 40:31. You might want to turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 40:31 so we can look at this chapter again and sort of think our way through how we claim a promise.
We talked about this a little bit already. We talked about the key word here, which is “waiting”, waiting on the Lord. As we think about this I encourage you to memorize promises like this that you can recall during times of difficulty. Then you can pray a promise back to God, telling Him you are waiting on the Lord. Now waiting does not simply have the connotation of just sitting and letting time go by. It has the tones of confident expectation. We’re waiting for something positive to happen. We’re looking for a future positive resolution.
That doesn’t mean that in the intervening time, things may even get worse as we suffer difficulty and hardship. We may be living in a society in a time of war where we’re going to lose everything we have, including our life, and we may that in a very painful way. One of the news items that are very prevalent right now is the actions being taken against Christians by radical Moslems in the Middle East. You have the reaction in recent years in Egypt against the Coptic Christians. Under jihad, when there was the revolt recently where radical Islamist, the Muslim Brotherhood was put in charge of Egypt, there was tremendous persecution against the Christians there.
Now we have this horrible, brutal force called ISIS that is moving south in Iraq and they have taken over Mosul. They confiscated all the title deeds of Christians that have any property. They’ve left them with absolutely nothing except the clothes on their back. They’re given just a couple of days to leave the country and leave everything behind. This is a horrible situation and in some cases the Christians may even be brutalized, physically beaten, and even killed.
What gives us confidence is that we know this life is transient. It’s preparation for the future and so we have to have a long-term perspective of what it means to wait on the Lord. We’ll see that within the context of this particular passage. We’re looking at this promise that those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. We looked at that word earlier and saw that it means to exchange one thing for something else. This is the idea of exchanging our limited strength, power, and ability for God’s strength. It’s not just something that enhances our strength. It is an exchange of one thing for another.
The first part of mixing faith with the promise is to think our way through the promise. Then there’s a result. The result of waiting upon the Lord is that we will mount up on wings like eagles. We will soar above our problems rather than letting it get us down. Often when we go through difficult times we have a tendency to focus on the negative circumstances and we become depressed. Part of what happens when you’re down or depressed is that you become weary. People who are depressed want to sleep because that divorces them reality. Plus there’s a physical impact of adversity on our lives where we just feel so overcome we feel it in our bones and our muscles. We’re just tired. There’s a loss of energy and strength.
There’s a physical impact to the spiritual reality because we become vitalized in our strength and energy so we have the strength and energy to face the challenges of life. We start with mixing our faith with the promises of God, which means just thinking through the promise. As I said earlier one of the things you can do to memorize a passage is simply write it down over and over and over again. Write it down. Say it out loud. Repeat it back. Then as you’re saying it, think through what is being said.
Why is Isaiah saying this? How does he structure this? One of the things I point out in Bible study methods is to look at these connective words. These are words like “but” or “and” or “therefore.” What is it saying? Is there cause and effect that’s stated within a passage? This is what we see here. There’s a cause, which is to wait on the Lord, and then there’s an effect. They renew their strength and they mount up with wings as eagles, run and not grow weary, and walk and not faint.
As we think through a passage we look at the context. In Isaiah 40:31 we see that this is the end of a section. I want to walk us back a little bit so we understand the context. If you go back to Isaiah 40:28 we can begin to understand the rationale that is embedded in verse 31. It is really more of a conclusion about those who wait upon the Lord in contrast to those who don’t. So in verse 28 we get an idea of what undergirds the promise of verse 31. “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” These are two rhetorical questions that parallel each other.
Much of prophecy in the new translations will break out the poetry sections of the Scripture and write it as poetry and not just as prose. You’ll notice that much of prophecy is written in poetry format. This verse is what is known as synonymous parallelism. The writer is repeating the same thought in two different ways. He asking don’t you know? How do we learn things? Usually by hearing them and being taught them. Have you not heard? What he’s asking here is, haven’t you learned this? The assumption is that you should have but let me remind you.
These are two rhetorical questions here that are designed on focusing someone on a piece of important information. The important information is God. Isaiah is taking us back to the fundamental problem-solver, which is God. In reality we’ll look at the essence of God here. It’s the essence of God that undergirds almost every promise we come to in dealing with adversity. Isaiah is focusing on these characteristics of God.
First of all he says, “The everlasting God…” And then he defines that by pointing out it’s not just any God but the upper case Lord which indicates he’s talking about Yahweh, the faithful covenant God of Israel. He further defines him in the next stanza as the “Creator of the ends of the earth” and then it says about Him, “He neither faints nor is weary.” Lastly Isaiah states that God’s “Understanding is unsearchable.”
It begins with two related questions about knowledge, something that we should know and apply. The reason this is asked is because Isaiah’s reader isn’t applying this so he’s focusing on the foundation for the promise. He emphasizes these attributes of God. We look at the essence of God. We see that God’s essence is composed of ten things. He’s sovereign, righteous, just, love, eternal life, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, veracity and immutable.
First of all he says God is everlasting; He is the eternal One. There’s no beginning; there’s no end to God. The implication is that because God is eternal and our problems are limited in time, God is able to solve the problems because He is everlasting. His time span is greater than the time span of the problem. Even though the problem may last beyond our temporal life span; God is not limited by that, so He will eventually bring about the conclusion to that.
We also see here that Isaiah adds that God is faithful. He is immutable. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He describes Him as Yahweh, the covenant, faithful God. He emphasizes God’s sovereignty. When we talk about God as the Creator of the ends of the earth, He is the One who is the sovereign God over all He has created. He is in control over all that He has created.
This also brings into focus His omnipotence. As the Creator he is all-powerful. This is expanded more in the next stanza where it says, “He neither faints nor is weary.” Your problem is not so great that it’s going to wear God out. He’s going to throw up in hands in despair. He’s not going to become weary by trying to solve the problem. He is greater than the problem in terms of His power. So we see in just these few lines, “The everlasting God, Yahweh, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary,” that Isaiah is focusing on four attributes of God: His sovereignty, His eternality, His omnipotence, and His immutability.
Then the last line another aspect is added and that is the omniscience of God, that God knows all things. There’s nothing about your problem or my problem that God is unaware of. He’s known about that problem from eternity past. He has given us everything we need to face that problem and so we can rely upon the fact that God knows everything that we are going through. We could add to this that He’s a loving God so He wants to help me in order to handle the problems that I am facing. He has the power to solve the problem that I am facing. He’s eternal so He’s not limited in time.
We could also say that because He’s eternal He has seen tens of thousands of others facing the same problem. Because He is immutable He is going to be faithful to His promise. As we continue to look at this, one of the things we need to do is go further into exploring the context of the promise. We’ve seen that part of the rationale here is to look at the nature of God and see that He is able to handle the problem. The writer goes on in Isaiah 40:29 saying, “He gives power to the weak and to those who have no might He increases strength.” Again that’s a reference to God’s omnipotence.
When we take this promise and this chapter and look at it in terms of the flow of Isaiah, something very significant comes out. The book of Isaiah is divided into two major sections: the first 39 chapters and the last 27 chapters. In Isaiah 1–39 the focus is on the warning to Israel of God’s ultimate and inevitable judgment on the nation for their disobedience and their idolatry. They have violated the Mosaic Law. They have disobeyed the instruction that God gave in the torah. Because of that, God is going to remove them from the land. There’s a very negative, harsh disciplinary tone to the first 39 chapters warning of incredible adversity that is coming.
In the 27 chapters following that in chapters 40–66 the focus is on grace. That is the promise of God’s restoration of the nation in grace. God may bring discipline into their life. He may bring adversity in their life. He may even bring great famine, warfare, and destruction in their life which indeed did happen, leading up to the defeat of the nation in 586 B. C. and the destruction of the first temple.
God, here, is giving a long term focal point of how He is going to eventually rescue them and establish them back in the land according to everything He promised in the covenants to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Chapters 40 through 66 focus on the promise of God’s restoration of the nation in grace and a complete fulfillment of every promise He made to Israel. So chapters 40–66 focus on this great deliverance and include the great chapter, Isaiah 53 as the focal point of how God will redeem Israel from their sins and provide justification for them.
We see this is a passage of hope and it focuses our attention back on the character of God and what He is able to provide for us in terms of sustenance in difficult times. Isaiah emphasizes the character of God through a series of rhetorical questions. He says in Isaiah 40:12, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand?” Has any idol or false god done that? Has any human been able to do that? He talks about the fact that God is the only one able to measure all of the water on the face of the earth. This is a picture of God as having all the massive amounts of water in the palm of His hand.
This emphasizes that He is the Creator. He is in control of the environment on the earth. Man, by the way, cannot destroy the environment on the earth no matter how hard he tries. He may make it miserable in some places and difficult but God is in control. God has created facets of the environment that end up scrubbing itself and cleansing itself. This whole idea of global catastrophe or weather catastrophe is just absolute and complete nonsense. It’s built on man’s idolatry of creation rather than his worship of the Creator.
Here the focus is on the immensity of God. If He’s greater than any detail in the creation, He’s greater than any problem we experience. We have the initial question about who has measured the water in His hand and the answer is that only God has. The second question asks, “Who has measured heaven with a span?” God is greater than heaven. He has measured it. He controls it. “Who has calculated the dust of the earth in a measure?” Even the most microscopic particles are counted by God; He has measured every atom in the universe. “Who has weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?”
All of this is designed to portray God as being the Creator in control of His creation and that He is greater than all of His creation. This focuses our attention again on the omnipotence of God and His sovereignty over all of creation. We just keep going back to God’s character qualities in His essence. Isaiah 40:13 asks, “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord or as His councilor has taught Him?” In other words, God is so great in His omniscience that it extends to everything. Nothing is left out. No one is greater than God. No one instructs God. God is self sufficient in His knowledge. So again, He not only has great power. He also has full and complete knowledge of all things.
Then in Isaiah 40:14 which again focuses on God with a rhetorical question, “From whom did He take council. Who instructed Him and taught Him in the paths of justice? Who taught Him knowledge and showed Him the way of understanding?” All of these questions are designed to show that God’s omniscience is self-contained. It is eternal and infallible. No one is greater than God. He knows everything.
Then we can go on to Isaiah 40:15 where we see the continuation of these anthropomorphisms which is a way of communicating God’s character to us in ways we can understand. It is a figure of speech that attributes to God physical characteristics of the human body, which He does not actually possess in order to communicate something about God’s plans and purposes. God does not have a hand. God doesn’t have an eye or a nose or an arm. These are just figures that we understand by virtue of our frame of reference and they communicate something about the nature of God. His “eye going back and forth, scanning to and fro on the earth” is a picture of knowledge. Usually his arm is a picture of God’s power or something of that nature.
We go on in verses 15-17 where we read, “Behold the nations are as a drop in the bucket and are counted as small dust on the scales. Look He lifts up the isles as a very little thing.” All of these verses emphasize the omnipotence of God and His control over the affairs of man. Isaiah 40:17, “All nations before Him are as nothing.” Israel is going to face tremendous adversity as a result of military conquest and then being scattered among all the nations of the earth. Here they are being reminded that all of these nations where they will be scattered are as nothing before the Lord. Hamas is as nothing. Hezbollah is as nothing. Lebanon is as nothing. Syria, Egypt are as nothing compared to the plan and purposes of God.
In Isaiah 40:18-20 Isaiah continues to emphasize God’s capability in that He is greater than anything. We can’t compare God to anything because God is far beyond anything in our frame of reference. Idols are just something that man creates but they are nothing that will survive destruction by man. They are simply a product or a creation of man. This leads us back to where we began in terms of some of these questions, “Have you not known or have you not heard?” I want to pick up next time in Isaiah 40:21 and we will continue to talk about the context of this promise.