Wednesday, January 17, 2024

2024.01.17 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 40:12–31

Read Isaiah 40:12–31

Questions from the Scripture text: What question does Isaiah 40:12a ask? With what implied answer? And what question does verse 12b ask? With what implied answer? And what question does verse 12c ask? With what implied answer? And what question does verse 12d ask? With what implied answer? And what question does verse 12e ask? With what implied answer? How much greater are the questions in Isaiah 40:13-14? To what do Isaiah 40:15a–b refer? How big are they? In comparison to Whom must this be speaking? About Whom does verse 15c now speak? What can He do? What can be done for Him (Isaiah 40:16)? By whom (Isaiah 40:17)? But whom does Isaiah 40:18 now address? What does this verse ask them? What happens when man tries to make a comparison to God (Isaiah 40:19-20)? How does the difference between Isaiah 40:19 and Isaiah 40:20 further mock this? What do Isaiah 40:21a–b ask? Especially with regard to what “time” (verse 21c–d)? How does Isaiah 40:22 now describe Him? In comparison to whom in Isaiah 40:23? What are these princes and judges like, not only in their stature, but in their duration (Isaiah 40:24)? What question does Isaiah 40:25 now repeat (cf. Isaiah 40:18)? What command does Isaiah 40:26 now give? What do we see about Him, when we consider the heavens (cf. Psalm 8:1, Psalm 8:3, Psalm 8:9)? Who has been speaking, in Isaiah 40:27a–b? What have they said, in response to God’s chastening providence (verse 27c–d)? How do Isaiah 40:28a–b begin again (cf. Isaiah 40:21a–b)? How do Isaiah 40:28c–d describe God? What does this mean about His endurance (verse 28e)? What does this mean about His wisdom (verse 28f)? To whom does he give this power and strength (Isaiah 40:29)? What other causes of strength fail (Isaiah 40:30)? But what happens when YHWH is the cause/source of strength (Isaiah 40:31a–b)? Just how much will their strength be renewed (verse 31c)? And for how long (verse 31d–e)?

How does God’s greatness relate to being carried by Him? Isaiah 40:12–31 prepares us for the first serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these twenty verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that whereas idolaters cut themselves off from purpose and strength, when God carries believers, they are carried by infinite strength and eternal endurance. 

God alone is great, Isaiah 40:12-17. We come, out of Isaiah 40:11, into this section of Scripture, where the Lord carries His people tenderly in His arms. Now, the rest of this chapter emphasizes just how almighty are those arms! 

Much of the book of Isaiah has been spent rebuking man for seeking his own devices and resting upon his own strength. And much of the book has been spent upon God declaring His intentions to give Himself as His people’s salvation. But how will these two come together? How will those who have repeatedly resorted to their own devices come to be “those who wait on YHWH” (Isaiah 40:31)? This passage doesn’t directly answer, but it gives a tremendous hint by spending so much holy ink upon the greatness of God and of His strength.

The questions that communicate the immeasurable vastness of God’s creation in Isaiah 40:12 give way to the infinitely greater vastness of God Himself in Isaiah 40:13-17. YHWH is working by His own Spirit (Isaiah 40:13a) to bring about His own justice (Isaiah 40:14b) according to His own wisdom (Isaiah 40:13b, Isaiah 40:14a, Isaiah 40:14c–d). All of the nations together cannot help Him in the slightest bit (Isaiah 40:15-17). It would be immense arrogance and ingratitude to complain of His plan. It would be utter folly to try to go our own way.

This is one of the reasons why it is alarming to read and hear of those in the sphere of the “Reformed” churches who are impressed with the greatness of what they might accomplish for God. We seek to serve Hm with all our might because He is great, not because we might do something great for Him. 

Truly great Christian living flows not out of being enamored with what we might do for Him, but rather by being enamored with Him Himself. Being enamored with Him upon Whom we depend. Being enamored with Him Who gathers us to Himself morning and evening, day by day. Being enamored with Him Who gathers us to Himself in a glories way, week by week, on His Sabbath (cf. Isaiah 56:1–8Isaiah 58:6–14). 

When we serve Him in this way, we gladly yield to whatever His wisdom and justice and goodness does with our service. Those Who are His will always have Him Himself. They gladly reflect His goodness in their work—in between those worship times—as they diligently seek to produce shalom (cf. Matthew 5:9) wherever they are, and whenever they are (cf. Matthew 5:14–16), even in the midst of a world that will give way to a new earth (and new heavens)!

No, man is not great. And what he does can never be great in an ultimate sense. We forget what we are before God—what all creation is, before God! But God is great in an ultimate sense. And He gives man to belong to Him, to depend upon Him, even to be strong and enduring in Him.

Placing anything or anyone alongside Him is ridiculous in its blasphemy and folly, Isaiah 40:18-24. This is the first “to whom will you liken God” (Isaiah 40:18) and “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” (Isaiah 40:21) section. This section exposes several image-makers. The goldsmith and silversmith imagine themselves to be working on something great (Isaiah 40:19). But the wooden creation for the poorer man in Isaiah 40:20 sufficiently approximates theirs. The most subtle and self-deluded idol in this section is the “prince” or “judge” of Isaiah 40:23. By comparison, they are so small as to be “nothing” and “useless.” 

This is not just the wicked princes and judges, but the righteous ones too. Of course, we wish to have righteous ones, for honoring God and doing good to men. And, if in God’s providence we are able to serve Him as princes or judges, we wish to be righteous ones. But let us never put our trust in princes (cf. Psalm 146:3a) or in a son of man (cf. Psalm 146:3b), who is about to be dust (cf. Psalm 146:4a) and whose best laid plans are ultimately destined to go with him (cf. Psalm 146:4b). Every beginning of those who hope in the efforts of man is a small beginning, and will soon enough have its weak and withered ending (Isaiah 40:24). 

God is announcing not merely that He is greater than others, but that He only is great (Isaiah 40:18Isaiah 40:21-22). 

But depending entirely upon Him is a gift by which He does us infinite and eternal good, Isaiah 40:25-31. Now, we come to the second “to whom will you liken Me” (Isaiah 40:25) and “Have you not known? Have you no heard?” (Isaiah 40:28) section. This time, rather than the folly of what the men in Isaiah 40:19-20 did and made, the Lord proceeds directly to the command in Isaiah 40:26

O that you would heed this command, dear reader! Lift your eyes (Isaiah 40:26a). Lift your thoughts. Behold the heavens, and behold by faith the God Who created the stars (verse 26b), and who numbers and brings each one out to its exact place (verse 26c), Who names each one (verse 26d), and upholds all of these things by His might (verse 26e) and power (verse 26f), in faultless perfection (verse 26g). 

Can it possibly be that the God Who oversees all of these would forget Jacob whom He chose (Isaiah 40:27a) and Israel whom He redeemed (verse 27b)? Is He really failing to notice what is happening to you (verse 27c) or failing to maintain your interests (verse 27d)? Of course not! Don’t you know Who He is (Isaiah 40:8a–d)? Not only His strength and endurance (verse 28e), and His wisdom (verse 28f), but the generosity in which He gives Himself to be ours (Isaiah 40:29)?

In this context, “the weak” here is all of us. Every human “has no might.” The princes and judges are nothing and useless (Isaiah 40:23). The youths and young men don’t have lasting strength (Isaiah 40:30a), and every one of them will utterly fall (verse 30b). 

None of us have any strength to rely upon. But YHWH has given Himself to be our strength. This strength doesn’t run out (Isaiah 40:31b, d–e). It is more than we can understand(verse 31c)—what man can mount up with wings as eagles? But this is only in union with Him. He does not give us an inexhaustible strength of our own, separate from Himself.  At the last, there will be a new heavens and new earth, in which we will have perfected souls and glorified bodies that fulfill this literally and physically. But, of course, even then, it will not be apart from Him. Especially then, it will be with Him forever!

So, let us heed this word and remember that God alone is great—but that as we devote ourselves to the what His Word says to do, in dependence upon Him, let us remember that He carries us tenderly in His arms as a Shepherd (Isaiah 40:11), being for us infinite and eternal strength (Isaiah 40:28-31). And let us not think that any amount of men, even righteous men, amounts to something great before God. Let us consider true might to be that which is in His Spirit and in His Word, and be willing to leave to Him what He makes to come of all of our diligent and zealous effort.

What evil men’s “greatness” are you concerned about? What righteous men’s “greatness” are you tempted to trust in? But Who alone is great? How does this help true diligence and zeal? What confidence does it give you to know that ONLY HE is great? And how does this remove the anxiety over what will come from what you do? And to where does it direct any and all praise for anything that happens?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank and praise You, Who measure the oceans in Your palm, and the heavens with Your forearm. How great are Your power and wisdom! Though we say that there is nothing and no one like You, our actions expose different when we depend on anything else. And when we are devoted to anything to whiich Your Word would not direct us. And when we delight in anything apart from delight in You. O, forgive us, Lord! Even our anxiety or despair exposes that we are not waiting upon You as our strength. Forgive us, and return our faith to its proper object, to You Yourself in Christ Jesus, through Whom we ask it, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP18A “I Love You, LORD” or TPH228 “Hast Thou Not Known, Hast Thou Not Heard”

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