Encouragements from Isaiah 41
November 5, 2020 We can all be tempted to disbelieve that God alone is God, that he is who he says he is. In God's kindness, he spoke to our doubts before they were thoughts in our minds or questions on our lips. God IS. He acts. He creates. He wills and knows what will be. And no one else is or does like him. And because of Jesus, this God is our God—all of who he gloriously is for our good. #Isaiah #growgroups #theology #worship #glory #idols
God knows that, when his people confront daunting challenges, they will be tempted to doubt that God really is who he says he is. We need to know that God really is the only true God and that we have no reason to start shopping elsewhere for a Savior to satisfy us. God anticipated that ancient Israel would be in this situation over a century before they went into exile. And so he gave words to Isaiah to preach and preserve in writing that would answer the deep questions they would face: Has God failed? Does he still care about us? Did he ever? Should we look for another god to trust and serve? Isaiah 41 faces these questions head-on. He tells us definitively that God and God alone is God, and that any other options people peddle are merely pretenders. Throughout this passage, God proposes a series of distinctive qualities that are true only of God, that mark out his unique worth. First, God simply is—he exists and exists without being dependent on anything outside himself to be and to be who he is. In fact, God’s covenant name in Hebrew, Yahweh, simply means I Am Who I Am. And so God declares his sole sufficiency in v. 4: “I, the LORD, the first, and with the last, I am he.” Second, God acts. Before God states his absolute existence, he introduces his declaration with a rhetorical question: “Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning?” (v. 4). God alone is able to act without needing permission or power from something outside himself. His every intention moves unimpeded into perfect action. And nothing else can do anything or perform any action without channeling the power and energy that God alone possesses. Third, God creates. How does God intend for us to know him and to know him as God? He creates us to be able to know him, and then he acts and creates other realities in this world to reveal and distinguish himself as God. In v. 20, God summarizes the purpose of his actions this way: “that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.” God alone is able to create something from nothing; everyone else is just recycling from his raw materials. Fourth, God sovereignly wills what he desires to occur—and because he knows what he wills and knows it will come about, God knows the future even before it happens. God is able to make kingdoms and nations rise and fall so that those on the bottom end up on the top (v. 2). God throws down the gauntlet to challenge any to match him in knowledge rooted in perfect authority and control: “Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and beforehand, that we might say, “He is right”? There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed, none who heard your words. I was the first to say to Zion, “Behold, here they are!” and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news” (Isa 41:26–27). God is. God acts. God creates. God sovereignly wills and therefore knows the end from the beginning. Who else could plausibly claim to rival God in any, much less all, of these ways? No one! And yet God knows our weak hearts, and he knows how prone we are to search out substitutes to him. And so he goes on the offensive, actively mocking, ridiculing, scorning the “counterfeit gods” (Keller) that we turn to instead of him. It starts in verse 6, describing two foolish idol-worshippers having to psych each other up like they are fans of a terrible team whose only hope of ever coming out on top is “next season.” And later, in v. 21, God taunts these idols directly:
“Set forth your case, says the Lord; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. Let them bring them”— the idols can’t even bring themselves because they can’t move or will anything on their own —“and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you.” (Isaiah 41:21–24)
God is—but the idols are nothing. God acts—but the idols can’t do anything, much less something big enough to make a difference, and so their work is less than nothing. God creates—but idols have to be created by those that will enslave themselves to them. God sovereignly wills and therefore knows the end from the beginning—but idols can’t say what’s coming because they don’t even know where their worshippers will carry them, much less what the future will bring. Whatever you might want to trust in today, whatever you are willing to serve in hopes that it will satisfy you in return, hear God’s declaration of who he uniquely is. Listen to the warning not to foolishly chase after empty husks that are nothing and offer you nothing in return. But most of all, hear today in Isaiah 41:8–10 God’s invitation for you to know him as your God—the God who is, who acts, who creates, who wills and knows—to be all of who he gloriously is for your good:
But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; You whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:8–10)
Don’t be afraid, don’t be discouraged. Let go of the gods you have to carry and let God uphold you. He's all there is and he's more than enough, and because of Christ he'll be your God forever. In our Grow Groups this Sunday, we’ll continue to consider the foolishness of idols and the wisdom and power of God by looking at a parallel passage in Isaiah 46. On Zoom or in the room, we’ll see you there.