Where to Turn?
The world today may be likened to a rudderless ship, without a sail, hopelessly attempting to navigate through a great storm. More than ever, we need to remind our hearts of the greatness of our God and heed the call of the Lord to “have faith in God” (Mark 11:22, KJV). We often measure God’s greatness by His actions, yet our understanding of God should be more than that. We need to comprehend God’s character, because this is the “why” of his actions.
When we think of God acting, we may be assured that He will always show up at the right time, on the biggest stage, ever involved in the events of earth. What was required to ensure that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, as prophesied? It required the most powerful man on earth to pass a decree “that all should be taxed” (Luke 2:1, KJV). God moved, and Caesar Augustus announced the decree. By contrast, Luke 3 opens with the political and religious elite in place, yet God bypasses them all and sends the “forerunner,” John the Baptist, clothed in camel’s hair, living in the desert (Luke 1:80), and with the poorest of diets, to preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Luke 3:3).
The Spirit of God moved Luke to record both events for us, and behind it all is God’s heart of love which compelled Him to send a Savior for ruined man. God’s character always manifests itself in action, and His actions exhibit His greatness.
His people today can rest assured that the same God Who orchestrated events on earth 2000 years ago is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8), despite the apparent chaos surrounding us. The events presented by Luke serve as a backdrop to explore God’s greatness. Bethlehem reminds us of David, who authored a majority of the Psalms. Isaiah similarly foretold of a voice crying in the wilderness (Isa 40:3). The fact that nearly half (45%) of all New Testament quotations come from Psalms and Isaiah means it behooves us to consider these two books as we look further at the subject of the greatness of God. In these writings, we quickly find relevancy to, meaning for, and application to our daily lives. David and Isaiah each had remarkable experiences with God in their lives, and from those experiences, developed a unique appreciation for the mind and ways of God which will instruct us.
Psalmist’s view of God
David, as the primary writer of the Psalms, discovered the sovereignty of God in his life and constantly wrote about it. In every situation, he viewed his life considering the providential hand of God. David uses 24 different titles for God in the Psalms, and describes God in 33 ways. Psalm 68 is probably the most remarkable of them, as he uses eight different titles, with an extraordinary set of metaphors, causing him to exclaim in closing “Blessed be God” (Psa 68:35, KJV).
The Psalms are divided into five books and the doxologies which end each of the books illustrate David’s awareness of the greatness of God. In Psalm 41:13; God’s eternal nature is acclaimed. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen.” The second book closes with praise to the God of Israel, “Who only doeth wondrous things” (72:18-20, KJV). The third and fourth books end with the same chorus as the first (Psalm 89:52 and 106:48), and the fifth and final book of the Psalter closes with a command: “Let everything that hath breath Praise the Lord” (150:6, KJV).
Isaiah’s view of God
Isaiah’s prophecy of 66 chapters has been likened to the Bible as a whole, warranting closer examination. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah are predominantly a message of judgment. Chapters 40-66, though, offer a message of comfort, pardon for sin, and salvation (40:1), and speak of the coming of the Lord (40:3) so that the “glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (40:5, KJV).
We will focus our attention on Isaiah 40, but the subsequent chapters contain one of the most thorough and extraordinary presentations of God’s greatness in all of Scripture. We live in a day where God is mocked and derided, and in an environment of political, social, and religious turmoil, thus it is imperative we know by experience the God Who Isaiah presents, a God deeply interested in the present-day lives of His people and their future.
In chapters 40-66, Isaiah presents one overarching truth, namely, that God has not surrendered His sovereignty, nor is this world, despite its current disorderly state, going to be left in total chaos (40:10, 21-24). He presents the smallness of nations against the backdrop of God’s greatness: “They are like a drop of water from a bucket,” and regarded “as speck of dust on the scales” (40:15). The hand of God has been seen in all His actions throughout history. “I act and who can reverse it”(43:12-13, NIV)? One day the proud and the mighty will be destroyed and the weak will be exalted by God (40:29; 41:2-4, 11-13, 25; 47:10-11; 61:1-7).
What our view should be
Twelve times in chapters 1-39, God is presented as the “Holy One of Israel.” By contrast, in the rest of the OT, this expression is only found six times. In the celebrity-obsessed society in which we live, where self esteem is often based on social media, a meditation on Isaiah’s reaction in chapter 6 is revealing. Isaiah described incomparable power and holiness, and while he could not fully enter into what he saw, it compelled him to look inward, and to state “Woe is me.” That God is a God of both holiness and glory should encourage us and cause us to look inward, practically measuring ourselves relative to the exhortation: “Be ye Holy for I am Holy” (1Peter 1:16, KJV). Our character – and our actions – should be marked by holiness.
Background, Basis, and Relevancy
Chapter 40 has, as its background, Israel in captivity in Babylon, and is an introduction to a whole succession of prophecies and truths. After 70 years of Gentile domination as a result of their disobedience regarding the Sabbath, God’s character as a Shepherd was displayed in His act of pardon to His people (v11).
Whether we are young in the faith or have believed for many years, we can rest assured that, although God, at times, will chasten us (Heb 12:5-11), for those He loves, such chastening is always for their ultimate benefit. Israel had been disobedient, but it was not a permanent captivity, and you and I should never be concerned that, because of our waywardness, we will be neglected by God.
Verses 12-26 show the basis of God’s actions as He first brought His people into captivity and later brought them out. This is a theological presentation and a revelation of our God’s greatness. The last section (vv27-31) has practical application for us, but it is the middle section that we wish to primarily draw attention to, so as to draw out our worship and wonder at the majesty of our God.
Several essentials, “musts,” and grammarian’s imperatives found in this chapter – comfort (v1), speak (v2), cry unto her (Israel), prepare and make straight (v3), cry (v8) – lead directly to verse 9, “Behold Your God.” The people of Israel needed to clearly understand Who was working on their behalf (v12 onward).
Theme Number 1: The Word of Our God Shall Stand Forever”
If ever there was a message that is relevant to us today, it is this. Verses 7-9 teach us human nature is temporary and fleeting in the light of His Word. Our loved ones readily accept a gift of flowers, but inevitably, within a few days, the beauty of the flower is gone. God’s eternal Word is the total opposite. Men cannot be trusted, but God’s Word is wholly reliable.
Atheism is not new, by any stretch of the imagination. Those who propagate it now have the entire internet as their platform, so a wider audience is reached more quickly. We may be certain, however, that the authority and reliability of the inspired Word of God, in contrast to the frailty of human thought, is unassailable: the Word of our God shall stand forever. It is no wonder that the writer says in verses 9-11, “Behold your God,” and reveals God as a Shepherd Who shall gather His lambs in v. 1, thereby providing comfort to the sheep.
Theme Number 2: He Is the Sovereign Lord of Creation (vv12-14)
Isaiah looks all the way back to Genesis 1 and presents this coming God of deliverance as the great Creator. He asks a succession of questions to illustrate God’s greatness. If a threefold cord is not easily broken (Ecc 4:12), then God’s greatness is seen in the three facts. First, there are things only God could do (v12). Second, who can counsel or teach God (v13), and finally, no one gave God any assistance or counsel (vv14).
The greatness of God in creation is found in the simple truth that, as a workman with His hands, God can do things no one else in the universe can. Our vast earth is covered approximately 70% by water, yet our God has measured it in the hollow of His hand. Man has built the Hubble Space Telescope, and only now are they beginning to see millions of galaxies, each galaxy containing billions of stars. Yet, our God “marked … off the heavens by the span.” The dust of the earth has been counted and measured, and mountains and hills have been weighed in a balance and on a scale. Such a display of untrammeled precision and power we cannot grasp, yet it reveals the overwhelming majesty of our Creator God.
Theme Number 3: He Is Sovereign over Laws and Nations (13-17)
Presidents and prime ministers have, over the centuries, attempted to tip the balance of power in their favor. Governments, both good and evil, channel the keenest minds to pass laws for every nation. These verses present our God as One who needs no counsel or advice. There is no need for a supreme court in heaven. The nations themselves are inconsequential, compared to a drop of water from a bucket or fine dust on a scale. Their influence compared to God’s is minimal, unless God chooses to use them (as we have already seen Him do with Caesar Augustus) to fulfill His own sovereign will. In the immediate context, Babylon would not have been able to take Israel captive had God not allowed it.
There are other themes which could be spoken about in verse 18-26. As the Creator of all things, including man, He is incomparable (18). Men choose to replace God with their own idols, yet even the material used to make those idols comes from God. National leaders might think they’re all powerful, and while we know from the NT that “the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom 13:1, KJV), in verses 23-24, Isaiah teaches us that God plants them, raises them up, and quickly blows them away, like chaff. In contrast, God is the eternal ruler.
A final practical exhortation
The closing verses of this chapter have often been used to exhort saints to rise above their circumstances. Much has been written on that topic, so there is no need to go into further detail for the purposes of this article. I would, however, exhort, all who seek to share these verses to lift the saints to get to know the context, and to be able to articulate the themes found here. When the weak need strengthening, it is the knowledge and understanding of the greatness of God which will give strength for the road ahead.