Repost – Not Comforted By God’s Greatness?

I have been studying the book of Isaiah for the past 3 1/2 months now.  Currently, I have made it to Chapter 11, verse 5.  My study companions have been my ESV Bible, E. J. Young’s 3 Volume commentary on Isaiah, Microsoft Word, much prayer and meditation, and a .5 mm mechanical pencil.  My wife looked at my Bible a week ago and asked me how I could even read the notes in the margins that I have made since they are even smaller than the actual printing in my Bible.  Well, I am of the age where reading glasses do come in handy!

One of the things that has really stuck me in my study so far is the greatness of God.  Isaiah saw Him as absolutely sovereign in the affairs of Israel.  Take for example Isaiah chapter 11.  30 times in the ESV Bible, the word “shall” is found.  The word “will” is found 7 times.  So, in a chapter of 16 verses, it is emphatically stated that God “shall” or “will” do something 37 times.  That gives me great comfort just thinking about the greatness of God and His ability to do what He says.  But, just like doubting Thomas, sometimes it is easy to loose comfort when I take my eyes of of His greatness.  Which brings me to a blog post I read this morning by Peter Mead.  The original can be found here, but I have posted it below.  It is a good reminder.

God is strong enough to handle whatever challenge you or I might be facing.  I think most of us readily believe that.  And yet His great strength sometimes is not the comfort we think it should be.  Why?

Seven centuries before Christ, Judah was facing disaster.  King Hezekiah had welcomed envoys from a little city-state to his little nation and had tried to make his little nation look big to them.  But he left God out of the treasury tour.  So Isaiah informed him that that little city-state would become a major force in global affairs and little Judah would be carried away into exile by them.

Hezekiah didn’t seem to care, because it would happen after his own lifetime.  But those with a heart would have cared deeply.  This was disastrous news: away from the land of blessing, away from the place of promise, away from the temple, etc.  Devastating news.

Immediately God followed up with the wonderful comfort of chapter 40.  Like a good parent administering major discipline, God immediately leaned in and offered loving comfort.  Their sins were paid for, the return from exile was already being predicted, every eye would see the glory of God’s loving delivery of His people, indeed, His Word could be trusted above everything else in creation.

Then comes verse 9.  The capital of the nation, Jerusalem, that should be reeling in shock at the coming disaster, will one day puff out its chest, stand tall and declare to all the cities around, “Behold your God!”  The exilic return will ultimately result in God Himself reigning as shepherd-king from that very city.  This was a powerful image of hope, and also a powerful instruction literarily as the message of comfort develops.

In this time of challenge and change, God’s people should fix their eyes on God Himself.

What follows for the rest of the chapter is largely focused on the greatness of God.  Twice, the text asks whom or what can God be compared with?  The incomparably great God of Isaiah 40 is the creator who rules, He is awesome in scope and in power.

First, He is greater than the nations (vv12-17).  God created the globe that the nations sit on, for even the great oceans are held in the palm of His hand and the great mountains are like dust on a scale.  Consequently the great nations are like a drop from a bucket.

Second, He is greater than the gods of the nations (vv18-20).  God can’t be compared to an idol, that is ridiculous.  A human makes the idol and then has to make sure it doesn’t fall over.  No comparison.

Third, God is greater than the most powerful people of the nations (vv21-26).  This is where the text feels most relevant to me.  I don’t lie awake pondering geo-politics and the strength of man-made gods.  If I do lie awake, then powerful people in my sphere are often key figures . . . an influential person in the family, or at work, or in the church.  But from God’s perspective, even the most powerful prince on the planet is nothing more than a little grasshopper, or even a blade of grass that sprouts and then is blown away.  Thus, from our perspective down here, how great is the God out there beyond the thousands of stars we can see who put them all there and calls them each by name?

The greatness of God is awe-inspiring!  Ponder the great oceans, the great mountains, the great starry hosts of the cosmos, and our God is greater, He is stronger, He is higher than any other.  No question.  But also, I think, no comfort.

In fact, it is not just me.  The prophet spotted the problem for the original hearers.  In verse 27 it is clear that Isaiah is not just portraying the greatness of God as a comfort to the people.  He makes a key link.  Their circumstances, like ours, caused them to doubt God’s care and attention.  After all, if the princes are like grasshoppers, what about little me?  God has a cosmos to look after, why would I matter to Him?

Why?  Because this is the LORD.  Yahweh, the God who makes promises and keeps them, the God who puts Himself into covenant with people and declares “I will be their God and they will be my people!”

This God created everything and yet is not tired.  He is strong and His strength is given to those who have no more strength.  It isn’t the super-human abilities of the elite soldier or hand-picked athlete that measure ultimate strength, it is the self-giving of the strong God who gives Himself to those that wait on Him.

In times of challenge and change, we should fix their eyes on what?  God’s greatness?  No, better than that, we should fix our eyes on the graciousness of God’s greatness!

This is so important that Isaiah doesn’t just end the passage by focusing our thoughts there.  He begins the passage that way, too.  Back in verses 10 and 11, before launching into the stunning portrait of God’s supreme power, we are given a heart-stirring glimpse of God’s heart.  The most powerful, bulging muscle, ruling arm is described in verse 10. Yet this arm has the fruit of His labour with him, the people He cares for as a shepherd are right there. Isaiah gets explicit: He gathers His people like lambs, He carries them close to His beating heart, He gently leads those frail ones who have just birthed their young.  What a picture of God’s tender strength!

There is no comfort in a weak shepherd.  Neither is their comfort in a powerful despotic shepherd.  The comfort comes from the graciousness of God’s greatness.

Let me encourage you, as I encourage myself: in challenging times of change, let’s fix our eyes on the graciousness of God’s greatness.

Curl up with Isaiah 40 and pray that you might feel the beating heart of God as He carries you, and perhaps even the nail-pierced hands of the shepherd who became a lamb led to the slaughter to pay for our sins and make us His.  If you start in Isaiah 40, read it closely, and then keep going, I suspect you will find comfort in God’s greatness, after all.  The graciousness of God’s greatness.

Spurgeon Thursday

 FILLING UP THE MEASURE OF INIQUITY

NO. 3043

 A SERMON

PUBLISHED ON THURSDAY, JUNE 6, 1907.

DELIVERED BY C. H. SPURGEON,

AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON,

ON LORD’S-DAY EVENING, OCTOBER 8, 1871.

The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” Genesis 15:16.

spurgeon5 THE Amorites had indulged in the most degrading sin. God had observed this, but He did not at once execute vengeance upon them. He had determined that, as a nation, they should be destroyed and rooted out from under Heaven and that their land should be given to the seed of Abraham.  But He tells Abraham  that his seed must wait for it, for as yet the Amorites had not filled up the measure of their iniquity. It would take more than 400 years, during which time God’s patience would wait while the Amorites continued to heap sin upon sin, iniquity upon iniquity, until they reached a certain point—and  then God would bear with them no longer. When the Lord uttered  the words of our text, the Amorites had not come up to that fatal point and, therefore, He did not at once mete out their punishment to them, for the measure of iniquity was not yet full.

It is a well-known Truth of God that God has great long-suffering, but that there is a point beyond which even His long-suffering will not go. It has been so in the great judgments of God in the world. Before the days of Noah, men had revolted from God, but Noah was sent to them as a preacher of righteousness. And he did preach and the Spirit of God was with him. Yet, for all that, the antediluvian world turned not from its sin and when the 120 years had expired—but not till then—God  opened the windows of Heaven and down came the deluge which destroyed the whole race with the exception of the eight souls who were preserved in the ark. Those old-world sinners had had 120 years for repentance, and 120 years of earnest, faithful warning from holy Noah—and not till all those year’s had expired did God’s patience come to an end and His judgments begin.

Remember also the case of the children  of Israel in the wilderness.  They were a rebellious people—constantly revolting, often murmuring—at  one time setting up a golden calf in the place of the one living and true God—yet the Lord had long patience with them. His anger did sometimes wax hot against them, but Moses came in between them as a mediator and God postponed the punishment of His wayward people. But at last it seemed as though He could bear with them no longer, so He swore in His wrath,  “They shall not enter into My rest”—and their carcasses fell in the wilderness till the track of Israel through  the desert could be marked by the graves of the unbelieving nation—and  there were funerals every day. It was this sad fact that caused Moses so mournfully to sing, in the 90th Psalm, “You carry them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which grows up. In the morning it flourishes, and grows up; in the evening it is cut down, and withers. For we are consumed by Your anger, and by Your wrath are we troubled. You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your Countenance. For all our days are passed away in Your wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they are fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knows the power of Your anger? Even according to Your fear, so is Your wrath. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Return,  O Lord, how long? And let it repent You concerning Your servants. O satisfy us early with Your mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days wherein You have afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.” Not a man of all that generation, save only Joshua, the son of Nun, and Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, was permitted to enter the promised land!

You will also at once call to mind the history of the two nations of Israel and Judah in later years. They exceedingly provoked the Lord and their land was, therefore, invaded by their enemies—and many of the people and their rulers were carried into captivity. But God did not cast off His people, nor expatriate them from their highly-favored land till, by degrees, they had reached the climax of rebellion and idolatry. Then He delivered the chosen nations into the hands of their cruel adversaries. Israel was swept clean as a man’s threshing floor when he has purged it. And as for the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, they ceased to dwell by the vine-covered hills of their own dear land, for they were carried away into captivity by the rivers of Babylon where they wept when they remembered Zion. Continue reading

Every Dog Has Her Day – A Sermon

This morning on my commute into work, I was extremely blessed by a sermon on the following text:

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.  (Matthew 15:21-28 ESV)

I’ve included the text of the message, but you can listen to it here.

She was desperate. She had no one to turn to. Her daughter was deeply oppressed by some sort of demon. No description of the symptoms, but the woman is at the end of her hope. Jesus is all she has left. She heard He was coming into her region, the district of Tyre and Sidon, the far north coast county named after the great grandson of Noah. Canaanite territory. The Canaanites were the inhabitants of the land before the Israelites came. They were the people the Israelites were to supposed to have driven from the land but didn’t. Needless to say, Israelites didn’t have much to do with Canaanites. The rabbis even called them “dogs,” which was about as low as it got. Filthy, garbage picking scavengers. A respectable Israelite wouldn’t even talk to a Canaanite if one came up to them on the street.

This Canaanite woman comes up to Jesus. Strike one. Canaanites don’t come up to Israelites unless a fight is about to break out. She’s a woman. Strike two. Women don’t approach men much less rabbis. She cries out to Him. Strike three. Women are not to address men in public. But Jesus is her last resort. She knows who she is; she knows who Jesus is. She’s a Canaanite; He’s an Israelite. So she does her best Israelite imitation: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”

“Son of David” is Israelite talk; messiah talk. “Son of David” is what the Israelites were looking for in a messiah. Perhaps Jesus wouldn’t notice who she was. Perhaps He wouldn’t care. Perhaps He’d be sympathetic and compassionate. “My daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”

What would you have expected Jesus to do? Most of us would have expected Jesus to heal that woman’s daughter. He’d done that for others, including non-Israelites. But Jesus didn’t say a word to her. Didn’t even acknowledge her presence. Turned a hard, stony gaze away from her. And so she turned to his band of disciples. Maybe they had some influence. You know, if you can’t get to Jesus Continue reading