Wednesday, January 31, 2024

2024.01.31 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 41:8–20

Read Isaiah 41:8–20

Questions from the Scripture text: Whom does the YHWH now address in Isaiah 41:8? What does He call Israel (verse 8a)? Jacob (verse 8b)? Abraham (verse 8c)? From where does He describe Himself as having taken them (Isaiah 41:9a–b)? What did He say to them (verse 9c–d)? How did Israel become the Lord’s servant (verse 9e)? Of what does He assure them (cf. Romans 11:1–6)? What does He tell them not to do (Isaiah 41:10a–b)? Why not? What will God do (verse 10c–e)? With what will He uphold them? What will ultimately come of the efforts of those who strive against them (even though they are used by God, for a time, to chasten them, Isaiah 41:11)? What won’t Israel be able to do, then (Isaiah 41:12a–b)? Why (verse 12c–e)? What does the Lord call Himself in Isaiah 41:13? What will He do (verse 13a, cf. Isaiah 41:10e)? What will He say (Isaiah 41:13b, cf. Isaiah 41:10a)? What does Isaiah 41:14a command? But what does it call them? And what does verse 14b call them? How will these worms and mortals be able to “fear not”—Who will be their help (verse 14c–d)? Into what does Isaiah 41:15a say the Lord will make them? How sharp and effective will it be (Isaiah 41:15-16b)? With what blessed result (Isaiah 41:16d)? About whom does v17Isaiah 41:17a speak? What are they seeking? With what success? And what result (verse 17b)? But Who will heart them (verse 17c)? What won’t He do (verse 17d)? How will He respond (Isaiah 41:18)? Even in what sorts of circumstances? Where will He make what sort of life to thrive (Isaiah 41:19)? In order for what to happen (Isaiah 41:20a–b)? Of what does YHWH thus convince them (verse 20c–d) His making His strength perfect in weakness?

Why does the Lord bring even His elect through suffering and weakness? Isaiah 41:8–20 prepares us for the first serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these thirteen verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that God gives His people weakness to make them rejoice in His strength, as those who know that it was God’s own hand that saved them and made them thrive. 

The Lord’s pleasure as the cause, Isaiah 41:8-10Isaiah 41:10a concludes the opening section with one of the chief applications of election: “Fear not […] be not dismayed.” Having come to chapter 41 through the rest of the book of Isaiah, we know that Israel are just as guilty of the sin in Isaiah 41:5-7 as the nations are. 

What, then, has made the difference? It’s a “what” question with a “Who” answer: the Lord! This section is full of wonderful personal possessives: “My servant” (Isaiah 41:8a), “My friend” (verse 8c), “My servant” (Isaiah 41:9d), “your God” (Isaiah 41:10b, cf. Isaiah 41:13a). It also begins with a crescendo of intimacy with the Lord, from “servant” to “chosen” to “friend”(!). 

Simply because it has pleased Him to do so (“chosen,” Isaiah 41:8b; “taken,” Isaiah 41:9a; “called,” verse 9b; “said to you,” verse 9c; “chosen,” verse 9e), the Lord has taken those who were every bit as much enemies to Him as the nations and lifted them all the way up to being called His friend (cf. John 15:15–16)! As we learn from other Scripture (cf. Romans 8:29, Romans 9:6, Romans 11:1–5), this choosing was not an election of a generalized nation in a nebulous sort of way, but very particular of particular Israelites. It is to these, whom He would eventually bring to faith, that this is especially written. And, if you are a believer, it is by the same election that has grafted you right into receiving this passage very personally, particularly, specifically from the Lord (cf. Romans 11:17, Romans 11:24)!

I have sometimes pointed out how blessed our lives would be, if we could obey this one, simple, generous command: “fear not” (Isaiah 41:10a). Behold that the reason for doing so is not in our circumstances, but in our Savior. He is with is! He has taken us to be His own and given to us to call Him our own (verse 10b)! And His strength (verse 10c) and help (verse 10d) come in that intimacy pictured in verse 10e, with His own right hand holding us up.

The Lord’s prevailing for the oppressed, Isaiah 41:11-13. This section begins with a command (“Behold,” Isaiah 41:11a) that cannot be obeyed (“You shall seek them and not find them,” Isaiah 41:12a). Praise God! There were those who harbored hostile affections against the Lord’s people (verse 12b) that overflowed into hostile actions against the Lord’s people (verse 12c). But when this prophecy is fulfilled, the hostiles will be nowhere to be found (verse 12d–e)! The Lord’s right hand from Isaiah 41:10e is now laying hold of His people’s right hand (Isaiah 41:13a), and the command to “fear not” appears a second time (verse 13b)! The Lord’s people are unable to resist, but because the Lord is their help, their enemies will vanish. This is true on a cosmic and eternal scale (cf. Revelation 20:10–15; Revelation 21:4, Romans 21:8, Romans 21:27)!

The Lord’s power for the weak, Isaiah 41:14-16. The fierceness of their enemies isn’t the only trouble for the Lord’s people. It is accompanied by their own weakness. Now, in Isaiah 41:14-16, YHWH’s help is to endue them with such power that carries them into praise. Though in themselves they are but worms (Isaiah 41:14a) and mortals (verse 14b), the Lord actually gives them ability to slice through anything (Isaiah 41:15-16b)! Knowing what they were, apart from Him, makes their great success a cause not for pride but for praise. When we find ourselves weak, let the certainty of final victory be a means that takes our eyes off of ourselves (whether for pride, or also for anxiety/dismay) and sets them upon our glorious God in Whom we rejoice and glory!   

The Lord’s provision for the needy, Isaiah 41:17-19Isaiah 41:17 now identifies the Lord’s people not with reference to others’ hostility, or their weakness against that hostility, but with their neediness in themselves. They are “poor and needy” (verse 17a), who are parched with thirst (verse 17b). Just as with their oppression and weakness, their neediness becomes a context in which the Lord shows the infinite greatness of His mercy and His power. The places where He makes the water flow (Isaiah 41:18) or the great and precious trees to thrive (Isaiah 41:19) are the most difficult. In this way, He shows both the greatest power and the greatest generosity. 

So it is with our lives. When believers find ourselves needy, let us remember that our neediness comes in the providence of our gracious, merciful almighty Redeemer! He has not exposed our neediness to humiliate or destroy us, but so that we might find greater life in Him in the midst of it than we had known in easier or better circumstances.

The Lord’s praise as the outcome, Isaiah 41:20. Again, what we have seen in Isaiah 41:16c–d is presented as the great reason for everything in this section. The hand of YHWH from Isaiah 41:10e is brought up again at the end of the passage (Isaiah 41:20c)—a literary device pulling the whole thing together. The one, true, living God has created men to know Him. As we see throughout the back and forth in the first third of Exodus, He makes Himself known both to His enemies whom He is humiliating and defeating, and to His people whom He is exalting and redeeming. This is what His people are not only being redeemed, but gathered (verse 20a–b!) to do: to know YHWH. To know His power (verse 20c) and His covenant love as our Holy One, Who has “created out of nothing” all of this to bring us into this knowledge of Him!

From whom are you experiencing hostility? How are you experiencing weakness, and lack of ability, in the face of the obstacles in your life? How are you experiencing the parching thirst of your own neediness and lack of resources? Who has brought you into all this? How will you come through it? What is His purpose for the outcome? How does this help you relate to Him rightly now?  How is His Word, and this specific considering His Word with Him and before Him, the tool by which you can do this?

Sample prayer:  Lord, forgive us for missing and forgetting how much You have loved us in order to choose us and make us Your very own. Forgive us for losing sight of what a privilege we have to be Your friends. Forgive us for disobeying Your merciful command not to fear and not to be dismayed. Grant unto us to know You as holding our right hand by Your right hand, and enabling us to thrive in the most difficult of places. Forgive us for how many opportunities we have missed to rejoice in You and glory in You because our eyes were set upon ourselves in pride, or upon ourselves in anxiety. Turn our eyes to You, to know that You have done all of this, so that our hearts and minds will be full of praise for You, rather than pity for ourselves, we ask through Christ, AMEN!

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

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