Totally mind-boggling how much expended in time, money, material to make things look like what they’re not: plastic <-> wood or stone; children <-> adults; junk <-> art; turf <-> grass; special FX <-> the real deal; tofu <-> food. List is endless, intrudes in every area of public/private life; people keep doing it because it works. It works/succeeds because enough people content with appearances. Don’t work at digging below surface; worse, suspect what’s true substance under outward appearance but don’t want it confirmed.
Not a new problem, happened first when Eve fell for appearance of truth and good-will promoted by the Serpent. Effects of sin on minds and emotions makes it easier – have harder time discerning truth, have great desire to avoid some truth. But,… real truth not totally hidden from or completely unknown by even worst sinner – know some from birth, see more in world around. Then God does things that make truth even harder to ignore or distort. Like speak plainly through his prophet. Might as well put up flashing sign, kinda like one local PD owns. “Your speed is…; speed limit is…”; and if you’re being good, “thank you for driving safely”.
Different responses to message – challenge to disobey, heed warning, act oblivious. Same basic responses as to God’s cautions and comforts by way of Isaiah. God challenges the nations, confronts idols, but benefit of message for his people. Intends to provide comfort for Jewish people even in captivity, helping them to correct view of world and their circumstances in it. They like others needed to get past appearances, see all of life from God’s perspective. Conclusion: if you’re one of God’s children, no need to fear.
A. God challenges the nations v.1-7 “You (the nations) serve my purpose” – fear not: they can’t hurt you
As if pagan nations (perhaps some from Israel also) think they have just cause to complain about how things are going: God issues challenge (1) – get your paperwork together, ducks in a row, find best team of attorneys, come present your case. For brief moment, perhaps thought “here’s golden opportunity, make most of it”. Even though God called for silence, nations break into uproar, each claiming their injustice takes the cake, should get first billing.
Without pause, God begins to declare his case (2-3), unanswerable btw. As God often does, presents future actions as already completed, challenges nations to explain how they happened. All nations wanted to see, complain about was how their plans weren’t working out. More powerful military leader/king from another nation was having great success and they weren’t.
Since they won’t answer God’s question, he answers for them (4): “Who carries out decrees from beginning to end? Yahweh!” He is there in beginning, is there at the end. True, political/military figures throughout history accomplished much. But… in so doing were serving God’s ultimate purpose, acting in accord with his decrees. Message to God’s people: Don’t be afraid; the most mighty of nations is under sovereign direction of God Almighty. Look beyond the man, the nation, see hand of God directing affairs for your good and his glory.
Important to note response of nations: saw what happened (5), what God was doing for his people, were afraid. Instead of turning to God for refuge, band together (6) and try to achieve what they need on their own. Wasn’t they didn’t know where or how to find God, they knew; issue was they didn’t want God on God’s terms. Rather than trust in God, they worked at encouraging each other – buck up, be strong; here’s the worst, were encouraging themselves in building god of their own design (7). Idol-making not result of ignorance; it’s willful choice to serve something other than true God.
B. God comforts his people v.8-20 “You (his people) are my servant” – fear not – I am with you; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you
God now speaks directly to his own, expressed in form of contrast. Here the nations, on the other hand my servant. God in his actions comes even more to forefront:
I am – 2x I have – 5x I will – 13x total – 20x
no question who “I” is – “the Holy One of Israel” – 3x
no question about identity of God’s people (8-9): Israel, my servant, Jacob, descendants of Abraham, taken with strong grasp from all over the world, chosen, not castaways. Do you suppose God has a particular plan/purpose for particular people? Seems like he went to great lengths to raise up a people to serve him – taken, called, chosen – strong actions carried out in context of loving friendship.
God doesn’t leave it at that. Throughout, he is mover, the one making things happen. Whatever his people accomplish is result of God moving first. The covenant Lord continuously involved in lives of his people, providing for all their needs (10). He supplies strength and endurance and security out of his unlimited store. All that help would be needed, given hostility of Israel’s neighbors: are incensed, strive, contend, war – strong words for strong attitudes intended to put God’s people in danger (11-12).
In addition to helping his people, God promises a bad end for Israel’s enemies: shame, disgrace, perish. In fact, covenant people will be unable to find even a trace of their enemies – will be as if they never existed. Not going to happen because of Israel’s genius or alliances but from God’s help (13). Is God who will make a toothless worm into a new threshing instrument with sharp teeth capable of grinding down, pulverizing most difficult opposition (14-15). God would also provide wind to blow their enemies away like chaff from winnowing grain (16).
Regardless of circumstances, even when seemed like they were back in the desert again, God would provide abundantly. He would again hear pleas for help (17), supplying water from rivers, wells, pools and springs to fully satisfy their thirst (18). God’s people would experience a bit of heaven on earth – fresh water, trees for shade and sustenance, abundance and satisfaction for their needs, life in a land of death (19).
God makes it clear why he will do all this: “I will do this so people will observe and recognize, so they will pay attention and understand that the Lord’s power has accomplished this.” (20) Yes, God acts for the good of his people but ultimately it is for his own glory, that no one would have excuse to say “I would have worshiped/trusted you but I didn’t know.” Message to God’s people: I am with you, I will provide, says the Lord.
C. God confronts idolatry v.21-29 “You (idols) can serve nothing” – fear not: they can’t help you
As he confronted the nations, now God confronts their idols: Make a case for yourself; demonstrate that you are real (21). Identify prophecy made at previous time that has been fulfilled; make a prophecy now that can be tested – tell how future will turn out so can be verified. Better yet, do something, anything, show some sign of life and ability (22-23). The response – flatline. No pulse, no respiration, no movement, no speech, nothing.
God issues his right judgment – idols do nothing, therefore they are nothing (24-29). The idols cannot respond when questioned or challenged, they cannot take initiative to provide counsel for their followers. How do idol-worshipers know how to please their god? Not because the idol told them! And so we come full circle, back to the only one who has power and knowledge to declare the future.
God alone can accurately tell what future holds – he “hath Decreed in himself from all Eternity, by the most wise and holy Counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things whatsoever comes to pass.” (LBCF III.1) God’s decree included God’s intent to do all that is necessary so his decree is accomplished. No idol comes even close, so God rightly declares “Look, you are nothing, and your accomplishments are nonexistent; the one who chooses to worship you is disgusting.” (24, NET) Message to God’s people: Don’t fear idols; they serve no useful purpose and cannot help you.
For those of us who are spiritual descendents of God’s friend Abraham, called out of the world, adopted into God’s family, God’s message through prophet source of great comfort and encouragement. Author of epistle to Hebrews puts it this way: “for he [God] has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.”So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, andI will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:5-6) God’s promise to be with his people, to be their helper not limited to OT saints of Isaiah’s day. Inspired authors of NT apply promise to those today who trust in Israel’s God.
Circumstances don’t matter, health doesn’t matter, financial situation doesn’t matter, age or ability don’t matter when God is with you. Paul tells us: “God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13) God is committed to giving strength, help, security to all those in his care, right in the middle of their circumstances. We can look to him every moment of every day to supply all our needs from his rich store of grace.