Last week’s focus: making sense of adversity and responding properly. This week focus is on other people who are watching how God’s people handle adversity and what God’s place is in all of it. We’ve all seen it happen: siblings in a family, older and more adventurous pushes mom or dad past the limit. Wrath of dad descends on erring child, other looks absolutely innocent and angelic. But, boy, the wheels are turning furiously – hmm, he did that, dad did that, guess I won’t try it; I’ll just be good.
Similar situation in the text, on larger scale. Assyrian army is on the move, seems to be headed for Egypt and Ethiopia. Shuttle diplomacy nothing new, practiced in Isaiah’s day as nations sought alliances for protection against aggressor. Traveling in papyrus boats, birch-bark canoes in this part of the world, feverishly made preparations to secure defenses before coming conflict. While making their plans, watching coming Assyrians, Someone intrudes on the panorama and captures attention of Ethiopians. In a surprising turn of events God changes the hearts of fearsome people to ones that fear him.
A. some people are scary v.2
Cain killed his brother (Gen. 4:8); Cain’s descendant Lamech wrote a rap song about being 10 times badder than Cain (Gen. 4:23-24); Stormtroopers; Gestapo; Josef Stalin; Idi Amin; Colonel Khadafi – names that inspired great fear past or present. Local headlines – convicted felon fails to show up for sentencing, is captured 10 years later; convicted felon charged with attempted kidnapping of 5-year old; woman with 7-year old daughter leaves drug-filled purse behind. Local figures or internationally known scoundrels, scary people are all around. We’ve never encountered these particular people but hearing of them makes us lock cars, doors at night.
Isaiah speaks of “a nation of tall, smooth-skinned people, to a people that are feared far and wide, to a nation strong and victorious, whose land the rivers divide”. People with a reputation and not one that is good. Kind of people who trust in own strength and ability, have little time for God. Simply bull ahead, shoving aside or trampling over whatever is in their path. Had never needed help in the past, see little need now; long track record of success, that’s why the reputation.
A lot like playground bully, making life miserable for all the little kids. Makes you wish for a really big brother, one that would thrash him and take bullying out of him for good. Likewise for other scary people in our world and community. Want to see them put in their place, locked up, something done so they can no longer cause fear. Yet often that only serves to make them more fearsome, violent, unpredictable. Sometimes creative redirection works much better; God is the master of that.
B. God’s mercy is wide v.3
Someone suddenly appears, one who can be seen by everyone on earth. Not Assyria. Not Israel. Not Egypt. A signal flag goes up on the mountains; a trumpet is blown. Everyone sees, everyone hears, including those fearsome people. Suddenly their confidence is shaken, they hadn’t planned on this. That’s exactly the effect God planned – usually people only turn to God when other options run out, when they have confidence in no other.
It is indeed God who raises flag, blows trumpet. Only he has ability to do it so the whole world sees and hears. Remarkable evidence of how wide God’s mercy is – not just Jewish people who hear message of deliverance. Not just people within sound of Isaiah’s voice, within boundaries of Promised Land. Message for whole world, heard by whole world. Comprehended by people in all the world – given ability by God to recognize him as one sending message.
Sunday School song is right: “Wide, wide as the ocean; high as the heavens above; deep, deep as the deepest sea is my Savior’s love; I though so unworthy, still am a child of his care; for his word teaches me that his love reaches me everywhere.” Not a new thing, true from the beginning because it’s his nature: God is love. He is also “Holy One of Israel”. God loves sinners because he is love; he punishes the stubbornly rebellious because he is holy and just.
C. God’s patience is long v.4
God is also not like us in another respect. How many times have you heard: “He or she doesn’t have any patience for that sort of thing”. Yet here’s how God revealed himself and his glory to Moses:
Exodus 34:6-7 “Then the LORD passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh–Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.” HCSB
The Lord told Isaiah – in contrast to those fearsome people He would not be anxious; he would wait quietly, rest and look from heaven on turmoil below. Two important points: apparent lack of action on God’s part does not equal lack of interest. God’s purpose and plan for his creation comprehensively includes every last nanosecond of time; no atom of his creation or moment of time escapes his notice or sovereign governing.
God’s patience is good for us – imagine if he issued just consequences every time we got out of line. Not talking ultimate consequences of the “wages of sin is death” kind; just the heavy weight of his fatherly discipline. It’s not that he lets us get away with things; he simply uses other ways of teaching, bringing us around. God could have brought judgment on Jewish people whenever they sinned; could have done the same for fearsome people of our text, could do likewise for scary people who make the news now and then. Instead,…
D. God acts in his own time v.5-6
God patiently waits until time of his choosing that fits his purpose to act. In this case, when fearsome people are ready to carry out plans for defense, find out God has already acted. God will have done so in such a way that it’s obviously God who acted. God acting at “last minute” builds faith in those who trust God, vindicates their trust in him. Shows their enemies that trusting God isn’t foolish after all.
God waiting patiently and acting in his own time gives men opportunity to repent. Cannot rightly accuse God of judging them too quickly, not giving them a chance to change. God’s way is to allow time after time after opportunity for people to turn to him in faith. Remember Jesus’ parable of the vineyard (Luke 20:9-16): sent servant after servant after servant to collect rent, finally sent his son; four opportunities over extended period of time to do right thing. Does the same in real life, not just stories.
God acts when it not only fits his purpose but when it will accomplish his purpose, long after when we would have given up. God knows people must experience certain things, come to particular place in their thinking, by his governance of course. Then they are prepared to respond properly, ready to recognize truth, eager to trust God or depend on him more.
E. scary people are changed v.7
Scene changes quickly after God acts on behalf of his people. Remember those scary people? They’re coming; in fact, they’re coming to church – “To the place of the name of the Lord of hosts, To Mount Zion”. Only now they aren’t scary; they are coming with gifts for the Lord of Hosts, showing their enrollment in his service. It’s a genuine case of fearsome people being delivered from the power of darkness and conveyed into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col. 1:13).
They have been drawn to the place where God’s name lives: in Isaiah’s day, temple on Mount Zion; today, believers who are citizens of Zion. God still actively involved in his world today, working on behalf of the church, body of Christ. Those believers are to be lights in the world, salt of the earth. Means we’re supposed to make a difference in people around us. Happens when people see how we act in situations, respond to circumstances, relate to one another.
atheist, attended church several weeks in CA, saw/heard how they loved God and one another, changed mind: “must be a God because I have met his people”.
What to think about fearsome people in community, etc.? Pray that God would change them from being his enemies to being his friends. That’s not too hard to do. This is a little harder – pray God would give us opportunities to show them what it means, what it looks like to be a friend of God. Now, the toughest – pray that when God does change them he will help us welcome them into the family.
You see, if God truly does change them so they are his friends, he at the same time adopts them into his family. If they are family and we are family then that makes us brothers and sisters. Treating them as family isn’t optional; Jesus said “if you love me, keep my commandments;this is my commandment, that you love one another.” (John 13:34, 15:12) May God give us grace to obey his commands and to be used by him to show fearsome people what it means to fear God.