[Feb 03]--The First And The Last

Isaiah 41:1-16

            As you read the last one third of Isaiah’s book, you might notice a pattern. Over and over and over again he warns his people against falling into idolatry. They were surrounded by nations much more powerful than they were, and this would be a strong temptation: If nation X is worshipping a certain god and they’re doing well, why not join in? What could it hurt? Why not “hedge your bets”?

            Please notice what’s going on in today’s reading, and think about it for a moment. The pressure was on. Babylon was coming or was already here. Death or exile seemed to be the fate of everyone. So what do they do? Turn to their idols. Not turn to the one true living God, the One who destroyed the nation of Egypt just a few hundred years ago. Not to the One who created and sustains the stars themselves. No, we’re going to turn to our block of stone or wood to save us!

            Now, we need to be careful in our thinking here. If you asked an idol worshipper if he was really worshipping a god of stone or wood, he'd say “Of course I’m not doing that. The god really doesn’t live in that block.” But it doesn’t really matter what someone thinks about their god; it only matters what’s really the truth. And the truth was that there was no such god as Molech or Baal, so they were just bowing down to a stone or wooden image. But once again, if your god requires you to nail it down so that it won’t topple, should you be “leaning on it” yourself in the first place?

            But this is a really important point to consider: Pressure doesn’t always make someone better or turn them to the Lord. Someone once pointed out to me that pressure—like squeezing a a bottle of mustard—only forces out what’s in there already.

            But in the midst of all this trouble, the Lord calls out to his people to trust in him and in him alone when they’re getting squeezed. Here are some things we need to remember about him:

·         He is sovereign over everything, and that includes the leaders of nations. The “one from the East” to whom he’s referring in vss. 2-3 is (or will be) Cyrus of Persia. They were judged by the Lord through his manipulation of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the 900-pound gorilla of the Middle East, and at the right time, the Lord would raise up another leader to replace Nebuchadnezzar and accomplish his (the Lord’s) further purposes. All this will happen--just as Isaiah predicted—in the days of Daniel.

·         All this is happening according to God’s plan. Verse 4 is pretty clear: He’s planned this all out from before the beginning of time. There's no “Plan B.” There doesn’t need to be. We serve the One who was there at the very beginning of creation, and he will still be sovereign God when the last star dies out.

·         He's not forgotten his people. I do believe that calling Israel a “worm” and “little” is sarcastic in a way. To the nations of the world, Israel was a little worm, of small account, just a “speed bump” on the way to more important conquests. And they were a “worm” to God in the sense that he didn’t need them. But in a much more important sense, they were incredibly important. He'd chosen them for a special part in his plan. They were beneath notice as far as the nations were concerned, but this “worm” was going to become a “threshing sledge.” This worm would grow some teeth, and everyone would see it someday.

·         All this was because of God’s special care and provision. They felt lost and alone, but he would take them by the hand, lift them out of the pit, and change them into something no one had ever dreamed they could be.

Sound a bit like our story, doesn’t it? You might feel beneath the notice of the world. If anyone does notice you, it’s only to beat you down. But take comfort. There is One who notices, and he cares. If you belong to him, then he'll take you by the hand and pull you out of this. He'll vindicate your trust in him. Count on it.

Father God, I don’t deserve your love or mercy or redemption. But you freely give it. Please pull out of my heart any rivals for you, no matter how painful it is.

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