Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 43-45; 1 Peter, chapter 4
Scripture: Isaiah 45:15-19 (NRSV) – Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. All of them are put to shame and confounded, the makers of idols go in confusion together. But Israel is saved by the Lord with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity. For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the Lord, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me through chaos.’ I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right.
Observations: Three things stood out to me in these verses. The two parenthetical comments – “(he is God!)”and “(he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!)” – are interesting to me because they are obviously inserted to further explain who God is and how he works. In the midst of a passage that condemns idol worship (see Isaiah 44:9-20) and promises to deliver Israel, these comments are interesting because Isaiah obviously thinks they will help people to understand what God is doing. In 43:18-19, Isaiah reports that God says that they should forget the former things, because he is doing a new thing. In the immediate context, that “new thing” appears to be the use of Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, to rescue God’s people in exile in Babylon. In the longer-range context, though, we need to remember that although God is always at work to bring his plans to fulfillment, we do not always know how God will do that. The danger is that if we focus too much on the “how,” we will miss the fact that God is at work.
The first parenthetical comment confirms that the God who created the heavens is the God of Israel. Our response to that might be, “Thanks, Captain Obvious!” But in Isaiah’s day, with all of the idol worship and the tendency to try to blend the worship of many different gods to “cover all your bases,” this declaration is a strong reminder to the Israelites that they dare not fall into that trap. The God of Israel is the true God; all others are pretenders. We, too, need to remember that – not only because of the proliferation of “gods” and beliefs in our world, but also because of the tendency of many to try to blend the worship of God with allegiance to “the gods of this age” – which includes belief systems and practices which are contrary to God’s revealed truth, famous or powerful people, material wealth, popularity, or anything other than God and his ways.
I found the second parenthetical interesting because it addresses another belief system that is still around: “(he established it [the earth]; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited).” There are those today who say that the earth, and life itself, is just a cosmic accident, the result of an incredibly improbable series of factors which all came together in spite of the admittedly almost impossible odds that it could happen. They claim that belief in a Creator God “doesn’t make sense” and “isn’t logical.” How much more logical is it to believe that this all just “happened”? Isaiah reminds us that God created the earth out of chaos (see Genesis 1:2); he didn’t create it to be chaos. Now, this is not a scientific argument about how God created, or when God created; it is simply a faith statement that God created. God’s people need to remember that today just as much as the people of Isaiah’s day did.
The third thing that caught my attention is the fact that in verse 15, Isaiah says, “Truly you are a God who hides himself…” while in verse 19, Isaiah quotes God as saying, “I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in chaos.’ I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right.” So how do we reconcile “God hiding himself” with “I did not speak in secret”?
I’m not sure. (One of the things about my reflections is that I don’t turn them into study sessions by going to commentaries or Greek and Hebrew texts; I simply listen to what God says to me.) I can see two possibilities; there may be more than I’m missing. The first is that Isaiah is quoting people who say that God hides himself. Maybe that’s the Israelites, claiming that God has hidden himself from them as they go into exile. There are certain Psalms which talk about seeking God and not finding him. Perhaps Isaiah is reflecting on what others are saying about God, before giving God’s response in verses 18-19. The other possibility in my mind is that Isaiah is saying that God hides himself from those who chase after other gods. The next verse (verse 16-17) says, “All of them are put to shame and confounded, the makers of idols go in confusion together. But Israel is saved by the Lord with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity.” As I ponder this, I think it’s probably a combination of the two – that there are those (both Israelites and Gentiles) who say that God has hidden himself, and Isaiah’s (and God’s) response is that God hides himself from those who don’t want to find him. He doesn’t force himself on us; he offers himself to us. Those who seek him will find him; those who close their eyes and their ears to him and refuse to acknowledge him won’t. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13, NIV)
Applications: Sometimes we just need to be reminded that “there is nothing new under the sun” (see Ecclesiastes). All of the fallacies about God’s existence (or non-existence), the creation of the world, and God’s purposes (among many others) have been around as long as people have been around; we just find new vocabulary and new examples to try to dress up the same old falsehoods. Satan has nothing new to offer; he just keeps trying to peddle the same old garbage. If he can convince us to disconnect from the wisdom and experience of the past – Scripture, church teaching, the “cloud of witnesses” that has gone before us (see Hebrews 12:1) – he can rob us of the benefits that they offer. That’s the whole point of the book Divine Mentor, which started me on this part of my journey a little over a year ago: God offers us the wisdom of his Word, and the examples of those who have gone before us, if only we will take the time to read, and listen to what God has to say. I’m grateful today for the reminder of how important this has been for me, and how valuable it can be for others!
Prayer: Father, I thank you for your faithfulness in meeting with me each day and leading me through the truth of your Word. I thank you for the ways that I have seen how you’ve prepared me for the events of my day, time and time again, through what I’ve read that morning. Help me, today and each day, to hear your voice, to know your will, and to walk in your way. Lead me not into temptation; deliver me from the evil one; lead me in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Amen.