Isaiah 40:27-31; 41:8-10
Today is Reformation Sunday and if you were around last year for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation you may recall the series we did on the five Solas. These are 5 points or convictions of the reformation that are important to our Christian faith. Do you remember them? Sola Gratia – grace alone (we are saved by grace alone), Sola Fide – by faith alone (through the faith of Jesus Christ), Solus Christus – Christ alone is our savior, Sola Scriptura – scripture alone (recognizing the authority of Scripture), and Soli deo Gloria – the glory of God alone (at the center of reformed doctrine is the sovereignty of God). The character of God is viewed as defining everything else – our understanding of Christ, our understanding of ourselves, our understanding of salvation. All is meant to bring glory to God alone. Our passage today upholds this understanding of God as sovereign over all. The Lord does not live in the heavens, like a star, but creates them. God does not take counsel and instruction but gives it. God does not grow weary or need to be strengthened, but gives strength and gives power. God is sovereign. The amazing thing about this sovereign is his faithfulness and desire to renew and restore us.
As we continue our series on Questions God Asks, we see today’s question coming about as a result of Israel’s inability to accept God’s divine authority. Israel questions God and God, in return questions Israel – Why do you complain?
Do you have a favorite TV lawyer? Maybe Perry Mason (remember him?), or Matlock, Arnie Becker from LA Law, or maybe it’s Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad. Don’t you just love an exciting trial? The thrilling arguments, the last minute surprise witness, the suspense, the drama! Well, believe it or not, Isaiah 40:12 through chapter 41 has all of this to offer. The setting is a trial in the heavenly court. Israel and the nations are the litigants and they have brought a complaint against God, the counsel is the heavenly attendants, and the judge is the Holy One of Israel. Verses 12-31 are the opening arguments on behalf of God. The complaint of the Israelites has been heard. God’s public record is read into the court record. We are pointed to the works of God as they are brought into evidence: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand?” “With whom will you compare God?” Item by item, we are reminded of the divine and supreme nature of God. The trial continues in Chapter 41 as a courtroom scene in which the Lord cross-examines witnesses. and in the end the verdict is given and the sovereignty of God is upheld.
Let’s go back for a moment to Israel’s complaint and the question God asks of Israel: “Why do you complain, Jacob?” Here’s how the Message translates verse 27: “Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, ‘God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me’?” Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.” (28a)
Basically, the nation of Israel is accusing God of not responding. Perhaps you have made this same complaint against God. “God, you are not listening to me! I needed that A on that test” “God, how could you let my relationship fall apart?” “God, why did you take my loved one from me?” “God, how could you let this happen?” “God, where were you when I was lonely, broke, sad, in trouble, angry, fill in the blank?”
One of the most aggravating things is when someone doesn’t respond when you want them to, am I right? In this day of instant messaging – if I send you a text message, I want to hear from you promptly, or if I send you an email, I want to hear something back, quickly. This expectation can cause people a lot of anxiety. If for some reason I don’t receive a reply within a very short amount of time I may begin to feel rejected, my imagination may run wild. For many people, it produces anxiety as they wait to hear back on even the most inconsequential things. This is a real thing. If it is disappointing and anxiety producing to have a friend or business associate ignore our messages, it is devastating to feel that God ignores us (our prayers). This is where the nation of Israel is coming from – they feel they have been ignored or perhaps even abandoned by God, and therefore they bring forward their complaint.
Now, one might argue that they have got kind of a case. It is thought that these words found in Isaiah 40 and 41 were written near the end of the Babylonian exile – a period of 50 years or more (if you can imagine it) in which the nation of Israel was either in exile or living in poverty. It was not a good time. Yet, the nation of Israel had been in active rebellion against God. They turned their backs on God to pursue their own ambitions and then accused God when things did not go the way they had hoped. They found themselves in this predicament after King Hezekiah of Judah welcomed emissaries from the kingdom of Babylon. Isaiah warned that Babylon would invade and conquer Judah. After a long series of sieges against Jerusalem this is exactly what happened. The city wall was broken down, the temple was destroyed, the temple furnishings were looted and thousands of Jews were deported into exile in Babylon. The few who remained were the very poorest, left behind to live in the rubble. This was indeed a dark time in the history of the nation of Judah, If you read the book of Lamentations, you get the idea of the desolation.
The passage we read today from Isaiah 40 marks the beginning of what many scholars call “Second Isaiah.” The exile is nearly over and Israel is on the cusp of a new beginning, there is a sense in which they are looking forward to a return to the homeland. They are trying to grasp what has happened, so that they can move forward. There is a definite spirit of hope and renewal.
Yet after fifty or more years in exile, most of those returning would hardly be able to recognize Jerusalem. It was in a shambles, and would require much work to bring it back. The hard work of rebuilding was not anyone’s first choice of a job, and it required a great effort to turn the people around and to build their enthusiasm. They were a nation in need of the strength that God offered, yet they could not yet see it. You know, weariness and exhaustion can inhibit our ability to hear God. It can cause us to misunderstand how God is actively at work. When we are weary, the thought of all that is needed to turn our situation around can be enough to prevent us from moving forward. This happened to the Israelites and it can happen to us. Jacob’s complaint that God doesn’t see their need stems from the sense that God has abandoned Israel. I think their response, their questions, their doubts reflect how most of us may have felt. Maybe you can even think of a time in your own life when you felt as though you were in exile. Perhaps, it seemed to you as though you had a right to complain about God. Many people find themselves here, but not as many willingly claim what God is offering here.
Israel thinks they have a good case against God. So they complain and they are swiftly presented with the evidence of God’s sovereignty. Yet this is not evidence given to merely establish God’s superiority and divinity (though it clearly does) – no here, it is intended for more – it is intended to uplift and to heal. God says clearly – look at the one who does not tire or grow weary, look and receive the strength and power that can be yours when you place your hope in me.
And so now we come to the real crux of this passage, the real purpose for the Israelites and for us. That we are invited (in our weakness) to participate in God’s inexhaustible power. “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (v 31) The Hebrew word used here for wait is qavah^ meaning – to bind to, to wait on, to long for. Those who bind themselves to the Lord, who wait and long for God will find renewed strength, renewed hope. The purpose is to lift up, to increase strength, to rejuvenate!
Has there ever been a time when you complained that God did not seem to be paying attention to your troubles. A time perhaps when you put God on trial? A time when you could not or would not believe in God’s sovereignty, in God’s strength, and God’s goodness? Perhaps you would like to earmark these verses we read today as a reminder of God’s desire to strengthen you, to renew you, to give you hope, as a reminder to bind yourself to God, to trust, and to wait upon God’s faithful action. Write them on an index card and put them somewhere visible so that you can frequently be reminded of them. Perhaps you can claim them, as the nation of Israel was able to claim them and to find renewed strength and hope. Isaiah 41:9 and 10 says, “I have chosen you and not cast you off.” That alone should give you goosebumps (to know that the sovereign God has chosen you) and there’s more, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
The nation of Israel was able to move from exile to victory, and I pray that you will be able to, also. Perhaps you have come here this morning weary and exhausted. Maybe you have come yet you are in rebellion towards God. Maybe you, too, feel you have a right to complain to God.
I pray that today will be the day you set that aside. That you will see the mighty power of God to renew and restore. I pray today that you will claim God’s awesome power for yourself, and allow God to uphold you, that you will allow God to renew your strength and to raise you up with wings like eagles.