Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Isaiah 41: A firm foundation

This chapter serves as a reminder and a gentle rebuke to Israel.    In verses 1-9, we have what appears to be a spiritual “time-out” called by the Lord:        

1 Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.

The Lord is saying, in effect, “OK everyone, gather around, get some rest, and let’s reason together about this situation.”  He then reminds them of Father Abraham and how he was upheld by the Lord and was made great, even a ruler over kings. “Who did this?”  The Lord implores.  He answers: “I did it!  I’m the one!”  The Lord then continues this thought by explaining the foolish reactions of men to the actions of God- specifically the creation and worship of idols:

  6 They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.

  7 So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, It is ready for the sodering: and he fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved.

The world’s tendency is toward superstition and mysticism, and a heavy reliance on ourselves and the things we make.  It is human nature to encourage ourselves in this weakness.  But the Lord does not want it so, and he points out that Israel stands out:

8-9 But thou, Israel, … Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.

After reasoning with Israel about their special place distinct from the world, The Lord gives firm assurance that they can rely on Him.  All of you will likely recognize the following verse as principle lyrics in the Hymn “How Firm a Foundation”:

10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

After this verse, the Lord explains further that the people who hate Israel will perish or waste to nothing, and the Lord himself will hold our right hand and will help us.    He repeats this idea over and over again- Israel’s enemies will be like chaff in the wind, the Lord’s help will be like a river to the thirsty, etc.    Clearly, there is a point to be made:  we can trust Him!

To contrast, the Lord then issues a challenge to the idolaters:  Go ahead and come up with the best reason you can for not trusting in Me.    Use any example from history, make any prediction about the future.  Prophesy if you have to.  You won’t be able to do it, because you and your gods are nothing.  And anyone who chooses to follow you has been seriously misled.   

In the last few verses, It’s not clear to me who is speaking, but they say:  I’ve looked around for a true prophet among the idolaters- someone who is righteous and can bring good tidings to a people, but there aren’t any.   Idolatry is all about seeking after worthless, impotent things.    Idolatry has no substance and the icons and messages are “wind and confusion”. 

These ideas cause me to think about the culture of materialism that is so prominent in the world today.   The happiness promised by this culture is “happiness through distraction”, as I term it.    Like Isaiah, we can look around us and examine the messages of the materialists.  Where are the righteous among them?  There aren’t any!  Where are their prophets who bring good tidings?   There aren’t any of those either!  In fact, there cannot be good tidings, because the ultimate message of materialism is: “you don’t have enough”.    Contrast that with God’s message:  You have more than enough, plenty to spare, and if you run out, I’ll be there with more.    The materialist says, “If you are troubled, don’t think about it.   Take this pill, watch this show, posess this toy- anything to get your mind off your problems.”   God says, “Confront your problems with me.  Discuss them deeply and counsel with me and I will show you a way through them.”

… and  that is our firm foundation.






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