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Monday, November 11, 2013

Great and Good is Our God

Isaiah 40
As we begin this study of Isaiah 40, we must note a few things. First, we know that Isaiah was a prophet for the Israelites. Most theologians consider Isaiah prophesied 60 years, but according to Jewish tradition, as reported by chabad.org, he prophesied for God for 90 years. In Isaiah 1:1, we find that Isaiah was the son of Amoz, who was also a Hebrew prophet. Jewish tradition says that Amoz was the brother of King Amaziah, who was a king of Judah, the southern kingdom. We must also remember that God used prophets repeatedly to call His people back to Him from worshipping the idols and gods of other nations. By the time Isaiah began prophesying, the northern kingdom's (Israel) punishment from God via conquering by the Assyrians and their subsequent dispersion was almost upon them. Assyria captured Israel in 712 BC. The Assyrian king, Sargon II, chose to disperse the Hebrews of the northern kingdom among people of other nations. These became the “lost ten tribes” of Israel. It began the times of the Diaspora.
Another fact we need to note and is commonly taught is that Isaiah 40 is the beginning of Isaiah’s heralding of their eschatological hope, their hope for the Messiah and life after His arrival. Isaiah 40 through Isaiah 66 not only speaks of the gross idolatry of the current time, but refers back to the past times of all the prophets of God, and goes forward speaking of the future of the Israelites with Yahweh in His kingdom. It is believed that the first thirty-nine chapters are historical, Isaiah’s pleading with/prophesying for God to the Israelites to turn from their wicked ways back to the one true God, Yahweh. The second section of Isaiah, from chapter 40, is filled with hope for the future of Israel, that God would redeem them and would provide for them a home in His promised land, His kingdom.
Upon my reading of Isaiah 40 this time (and, yes, I did sing some of it since it is a very famous song of hope for Christians and Jews), I was struck for the first time on the obvious statements about God. I know the first part well because of the song made from this chapter. I know the last two verses, “Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (40:30-31 [NASB]). Many of us have harkened back to these two verses when we were going through hard and trying times. This time, upon reading the chapter anew, God’s attributes jumped out at me. All of His attributes appear in this one chapter. I do not know how often that occurs in the Bible, but in Isaiah 40, every one of God’s attributes show.
Maybe this whole concept of God’s attributes is new to some of you. Let me tell or remind you what we know and see are God’s attributes/characteristics. They have been categorized under different titles by different theologians, but the two titles I want to use because I have found these easiest to understand is God’s greatness and God’s goodness. His attributes of greatness are seen in who He is. His attributes of goodness are His greatness reflected through His actions in relationship with His creation. If you are like me, this makes more sense in a list.


Attributes/Characteristics of Greatness
Attributes/Characteristics of Goodness
Spirituality – He is spirit and not composed of matter and does not possess a physical nature.
Moral Qualities:
Holiness – He is unique, totally         separated from creation, and absolutely pure.
Righteousness – Because God is holy, His laws are right and just; thus, they are the standard for moral living.
Justice – God acting in accordance with His laws and administering His laws
Personality – God is personal. He is an individual being with the self-consciousness and will, capable of feeling, choosing, having a reciprocal relationship with other personal and social beings.
Integrity:
Genuineness – He is real, not made up, and true.
Veracity – God represents things as they really are. What He says is accurate and true.
Faithfulness – God’s faithfulness means He proves true; He keeps His promises.
Life – His name, I AM, indicates that He is a living God. He is existence.
Love:
Benevolence – God’s concern for the welfare of those He loves. His concern is unselfish.
Grace – God gives based on what people need, not what they want, not because of what they have done or will do.
Mercy – This is God’s tenderhearted compassion. It is pitying concern.
Persistence – God’s endurance and faithfulness. He endures and withholds judgment while continuing to offer salvation and grace.
Infinity – God is unlimited and He is illimitable. He is all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and always and everywhere present at the same time (omnipresent).
Constancy – He is unchanging. There is not quantitative or qualitative change in God. He cannot increase because He is perfect and His nature does not undergo modification.


            With these characteristics in our tool belt, let us look now at Isaiah 40 and see it through a different window.

Is. 40:1-2 [NASB]–
1 "Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God. 2 "Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins."
            What we most obviously understand in these two verses is God’s justice. He sees that the punishment of His people (Jerusalem in particular, but metaphorically, all His children over all time) is sufficient. His children have been disciplined enough according to His just, perfect, and righteous laws. He speaks through His prophet Isaiah as the voice of all the prophets to all God’s children that His people not only should take comfort now because their dispersion and captivity are over, but because, eschatologically (regarding the end times) speaking, He is drawing them to Himself for all time as His children. Their disciplining is over because He has provided the adequate redemption for their and our sin. This speaks from the prophets of all times, past and present, and it speaks to the future for all God’s children, “You are to be comforted because I have removed your sins once and for all. You have paid for your sins doubly and I have provided the adequate sacrifice once and for all.”
            The attributes of God we see in these verses are God’s personality; He is capable of having feelings for His people and for choosing to stay in a relationship with us. He is life; He was, is, and will always eternally exist. We know this and that is why we can derive such hope from His statements regarding our future with Him. If He were not eternal, we would get no hope from this statement. God is also constant; He cannot and will not change. These are His characteristics of greatness shown in these two verses. His characteristics of goodness are: holiness, righteousness, and justice; faithfulness; benevolence, mercy, grace, and persistence. He is holy and requires holiness in His presence. To that end, He has provided a way for His loving relationship with us to continue. His righteousness follows on His holiness and His righteousness requires justice. He shows His faithfulness by neither giving up on Israel then, nor His children over the ages. He keeps holding out hope for us to turn from our ways and receive the salvation He has provided through His Son, Jesus Christ. His love is shown to us in all the categories of His attributes.
Is. 40:3-5 –
3 A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; 5 then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
            This voice calling are the voices of all prophets past and present. It is also a foretelling of the one calling out to the people before Christ’s ministry began, John the Baptist. Many times before a prince or king arrived in a province, city, or town, criers/messengers went before him proclaiming his arrival so that the way would be prepared for him – palm branches lay on the ground as a carpet or “pot holes” filled in so his horse would not stumble. It was also for the people to prepare themselves – removing from the mind any thoughts that were in the way of worshipping/revering a king - anger, annoyance, anxiety, and trials. This is the same way the prophets were telling the people to be prepared for the coming Messiah.
            In these three verses, we see the God who is seen by the prophets. He is seen as holy. As holy, He is to be revered and all things must be made ready for His arrival so that nothing, internal or external to ourselves, keeps us from worshipping Him.
Is. 40:6-8-
6 A voice says, "Call out." Then he answered, "What shall I call out?" All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.
            The voice calls out again, the voice of the prophets, messengers. In case you do not know or have forgotten, says the voice of the prophets, here is who God is. He is the One who does not die or fade away. Here is the One who holds life and death within His breath. He brings beauty and life to plant and people. Though these fade and die, God and His Word will never fade away; they stand forever. Isaiah says this twice for emphasis so the people will know without doubt that God is the everlasting God.
            God’s attributes in these verses are His attributes of greatness. His might and power are seen by His ability to give and take life. His greatness is seen in His infinity and constancy. He does not die because He does not have a perishable body. He is I AM. He is existence. It is from Him that anything else receives the blessing of existing, in all its loveliness.
Is. 40:9 –
9 Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!”
            This is an anxious, anticipation-creating verse. After reading this, I cannot wait to hear what is coming next. The messengers, the prophets, are calling from a hilltop to Jerusalem, be prepared and do not fear. The messengers tell them to go tell the other cities of Judah, God is here. After they failed God and He sent them into exile, to have their hope restored that God had not forgotten or left them, the prophets brought this word of the Lord to them. In Isaiah, this prophecy of God’s presence took on a long-term role of heralding the coming awaited Messiah. John the Baptist was His herald. He tells them not to keep it to themselves, but to tell all the children of God to renew their hope, for God is here. For the times after Christ’s ascension, this passage also gives us hope that God is still with us and He is still in control and awaits our arrival in His promised kingdom.
            God’s attributes here are His life, infinity, and constancy. Without this understanding of God, His promises would hold no effect. Because we know that He is, has been, and always will be, we know we can hold onto this promise of being with Him in His kingdom. He has not left us or forsaken us.
Is. 40:10-17 –
10 Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him. (Spiritual Power) 

11 Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes. (Personality/Personification – Fatherly love) 

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance And the hills in a pair of scales? (Infinity - Omniscience and Creation) 

13 Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD or as His counselor has informed Him? 14 With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge and informed Him of the way of understanding? (Infinity – knowledge and wisdom) 

15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust. 16 Even Lebanon is not enough to burn, nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.” (Greatness – comparison between God’s greatness and creation)
            The voice speaking for the Lord, Isaiah, other prophets, and John the Baptist, spoke of the greatness of God. God puts these words in their mouths and quills to remind all people and us just how magnificent He really is. In these eight verses, His attributes become obvious. God shows His spiritual power in verse 10. He shows His personality and love in His personification as the shepherd caring for the sheep in verse 11. He shows His knowledge and wisdom, omniscience (attribute of infinity), in creation in verse 12. To make matters more clear through verse 13, He rhetorically asks from whom did He consult or ask advice. Who taught Him justice and gave Him understanding when He is the Holy One. His righteousness is the standard for laws. Finally, just to make sure we understand, verses 15-17 remind us who created whom and tells us there are not enough trees to build an altar of worship for Him nor enough cattle to offer as a sufficient sacrifice to Him for His greatness. These final three verses return us to rhetorical question of verse 10: who is greater than God, the One who created all things by His knowledge and in His strength because of His love.
Is. 40:18-20 -
18 To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him? 19 As for the idol, a craftsman casts it, a goldsmith plates it with gold, and a silversmith fashions chains of silver. 20 He who is too impoverished for such an offering selects a tree that does not rot; he seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman to prepare an idol that will not totter.”
            Should we try to capture the image of God, what in all of the earth that God created is glorious and magnificent enough to represent Him? What image would capture His essence? None God says, and, God told us in Exodus, we are not to worship an image, an idol. Nothing is great enough to represent God, not even the things we consider in our greatest thoughts can capture the image of God. God is superlative to all we can think of or imagine. In case we do not understand, God has these next things to say in verses 21-25.
Is. 40:21-25 –
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. 23 He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. 24 Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble. 25 ‘To whom then will you liken Me That I would be his equal?’ says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.”
            Here God, through His prophets Isaiah and all His prophets in time, asks another rhetorical question leading to the same answer. He says think on these things and tell me your answer. He is the one who is great enough to sit in heaven, who is big enough that creation seems like mere grasshoppers. God is the one who created the heavens and stretched them out like a tent. He is the one who shows the strength, power, and wisdom of rulers is like foolishness and folly. They are nothing compared to His wisdom and might. These rulers think they have great plans. God is greater still and can confound their plans or completely make their plans come to a standstill by removing the rulers. His breath that created them will make them wither and blow away. These rulers to whom you look, would you like God to them? Our obvious answer is I think not. In addition, in case you cannot imagine someone that great, look up to the sky and try to count the stars. God not only created and counted them, He named them and knows them all.
            God’s attributes of greatness abound in these verses. He is creator of everything – grasshopper to king. He is not just Creator, but also ender of all things. It only takes His breath to create and to end life. God’s might and knowledge is greater than that of our highest earthly authority, kings. His might and knowledge are infinite. What can compare to Him? He is no man’s equal nor is He equal to anything man could imagine and create.
Is. 40:27-31-
27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. 29 He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. 30 Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, 31 yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not get tired; they will walk and not become weary.” 

            God gets to the end and He, in essence, says, “Since I am greater than all these things, you have no reason to think I have disregarded you. You know I am greater than all creation or what man can think or imagine. You know I love you and have not only provided what you need on earth, but have promised to prepare a way for you to me with me in My kingdom forever. You know I am faithful and will fulfill My promises. What would make you think I would not care about you when you are living - your strength, power, and energy?” God is not so great that He would overlook/miss the needs of humankind, nor of His children of the covenant. For those who wait for the Lord (those who are conscious of their responsibility to the Lord because He is God), God cares enough to carry you through life, to give strength and power. The youthful men who are chosen by kings for their vigor will be weaker than those who wait for the Lord; He will give them His strength. He will keep His children strong to run the race of life on earth. God will not fail those who wait on Him. They will sail upwards toward God, swiftly and strongly. They will press forward running without wearying toward heaven following God’s commandments. They will walk in the ways of God in the name of the Lord and not be weary because they are leaning on and trusting in Him.  

            God’s greatness in all areas fathomable is uncontestable. He is spirit, not matter, so does not and will not die. He is personal - has a name and communes with us. He is life, existence Himself and the cause of existence of creation. He is infinite – in knowledge, wisdom, power, strength, time, space, and measure. He is constant; he never changes but is always the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. 

Isaiah gives us all the attributes of God in one place. This is the answer to “why” we should clear a way for the Lord from verse 3. He spends twenty-nine verses telling us and/or reminding us who God is and what He has done, is doing, and has provided for us in the future. These encompass the attributes of His greatness and goodness. Lest we become busy battling life or seeking our own greatness and importance, Isaiah provides for us today the remedy for battle-weariness and self-importance. He provided a voice for God’s hope to the desperate Israelites during their dispersion and captivity and a reminder of God’s faithfulness to His promises of a place in His kingdom.  

For those of us who follow after these Israelites, Isaiah continues to offer these same promises to those who are children of God through His covenant. There is the catch – to God’s children through His covenant. You have to decide whom you will follow and Isaiah has laid it out nicely for each of us. None of us is greater or better than God. Each of us must decide whether we will follow God through His plan of salvation for humanity, the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. If you say, “Not now,” you are saying no and these promises are not yours to hold. If you say, “Yes” to God’s gift of salvation, these promises by the faithful one true God are yours for now and always.  

We each must come to this point of decision-making. What will you decide? Whom will you worship and praise? That is really what it is all about, a love relationship between God and humanity, individually. Who is your god, you or the only true, never-changing, infinite, life-giving, personal God? It really is your decision.