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Isaiah 41-48: No Other God Print E-mail
Sunday, 28 December 2008

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How would you respond to the following question: what is one of the most comforting doctrines in the Bible? Recently we did a study through the characteristics of God, which of those characteristics would make the top of your list as most comforting? This morning, as maybe we are thinking about the coming year and the growing economic crisis, I want us to consider what I believe to be one of the most comforting doctrines. So, what is it you say? The doctrine of Godís sovereignty.

Now I know what you may be thinking: ĎGodís sovereignty is a comforting doctrine? Seems like all it does is cause controversy and division.í Unfortunately that is often true. Yet, is this how the doctrine was intended in the Scriptures? No. Over and over again in the pages of the Bible we see people being greatly comforted by Godís sovereign rule over all things. In fact, this is exactly what we see in Isaiah 41-48. We said a few weeks ago that Isaiah is writing here to comfort the people (see Isaiah 40:1). So then, how does he comfort them in these chapters? He reminds them that the God of Israel is the sovereign King of the universe. Again, he is writing to people in exile, who have been captured by their enemies (the Babylonians), and whose homes have been destroyed. So what does he say to these broken down, discouraged people in exile? Take courage for the Lord is sovereign.

In order for us to see this in the text, I want to look at four particulars that help us see the extent of Godís sovereign reign.

First, God is sovereign over Israel.

As I was studying this passage this week, I was struck by how many times the Lord calls Israel Ďmy chosení or the equivalent. Look at 41:8-9, 43:10, 20-21, 44:1-2, 45:4. In each of these passages we see that it was the Lord who chose Israel. I know that this language can make us uncomfortable, but we need to consider it as we look at these chapters. Why would this language be used over and over again? To remind exiled Israel that they still belong to the Lord. He has not given up on them because they are His. He formed them, called them, created them. They are His chosen nation. This should be a source of great comfort for the exiles.

Not only did the Lord chose Israel to be His own, but all that has happened to them has happened by His decree. All the good that has happened to Israel has come from the hand of God. He has rescued them out of Egypt. He gave them the land of Canaan. He raised up faithful David. At the same time, all the bad is under His control as well. Look at 42:24-25. The Lord gave up Israel to their enemies because of their sin. Their exile was not a random act of the Babylonians. No, it was the Lordís punishment for their rebellion. We see this again in 47:6. Look at that verse with me. The Babylonians were arrogant in their conquests. They mistreated the Israelites and will be held accountable for their sin. Yet, it was the Lordís will that Israel be captured by them. The Lord gave them into your hand. All that has happened to Israel has come from the Lord. He is sovereign over Israel.

In the New Testament, it is the Church who is identified as the Lordís chosen people (see Ephesians 1:1-14, Colossians 3:12, 1 Peter 2:9-10). I mention that not to bring up controversy (be it over election or Israelís place or whatever), but simply to comfort you with the great truth that God has a plan for His people. It does not mean that life will be easy, in fact it is just the opposite, but it does mean that we can be assured that His plans and purposes for us will stand. Be comforted this morning by the doctrine of Godís sovereign reign over His people.

Second, God is sovereign over idols.

Such a statement might sound a bit odd to us, but Isaiah repeatedly tells Israel that there is no other God but Yahweh. Israel was consistently tempted to worship the idols of the nations throughout the united and divided monarchies. One of the reasons that they were exiled was because of their worship of idols. And now that they were in Babylon, they might be tempted to conclude that they should be worshipping the Babylonian gods, since they were the ruling nation. Isaiah confronts all of this with the fact that the God of Israel, Yahweh, is the only true God. Look at 41:23-27. The idols cannot predict the future, only Yahweh can do that. He alone can declare in advance what will take place.

Isaiah gets very pointed in his critique of the idols in 44:9-20. Look at verses 12-17. Isaiah describes a man planting a tree, cutting it down, and using it for various purposes. He uses it to cook his food over. He uses it to warm himself. Then, he takes part of it, fashions it into an idol, falls down before it in worship and prays to it to deliver him. Do you see the futility in this? Isaiah is mocking any who would fall down and worship an idol. Why would anyone worship something that is man-made?

Of course, the same question could be asked of us. We may not worship wooden idols, but we still put our trust in man-made securities. We look to our wealth and think: ĎDeliver me from poverty, or obscurity, or boredom, or work, or whatever.í Of course, maybe our struggle in the Church is religion and ritual. We treat God like a wooden statue with our half-hearted worship and our disobedient lives. But religion is man-made as well. May we see the futility of this and turn and worship the true God as He has revealed Himself in the pages of Scripture and ultimately in His Son.

Third, God is sovereign over kings and nations.

How do we know that the God of Israel is any stronger than the gods of Babylon? I mean after all, the Babylonians carried off the Israelites into captivity. So, surely their gods are mightier. Yet, things are not always what they seem. Yes, Babylon will take the Israelites into exile, but they do as part of Godís plan, which is what we saw in the passages above. In chapters 46-48, we see that the Lord is clearly reigning over Babylon. He is over their gods who must be carried around (chapter 46) and He will humble Babylon (chapter 47).

An interesting part of this whole story is Isaiahís mentioning of Cyrus. Look at 45:1-4. The Lord is going to raise up a ruler who will subdue nations. What is Isaiah talking about? Well, around 150 years after he wrote about this one named Cyrus, a King of Persia came onto the scene, defeated Babylon, and allowed the exiles to return to Jerusalem. What was his name? You guessed it: Cyrus. What an amazing thought!

Brothers and sisters, you do not have to fear your enemies. Jesus told us to pray for them. How can we pray for our enemies? When we know that no matter what they do, they cannot escape the sovereign rule of God and anything we receive from them must first pass through His sovereign hand. Glenna and I listened to John Piperís biography of John Bunyan on the way to Illinois this past week. Without going into all the details, I will just tell you that Bunyan spent twelve years of his life in prison for preaching the gospel. Yet, he had no hostility towards his captors. How is that possible? He believed in the sovereignty of God and it was his comfort. Godís sovereignty over our enemies should be a great comfort to us.

Fourth, God is sovereign over all happenings.

This fourth category is more of a catch-all, since I donít have time to elaborate on all that Isaiah says about Godís sovereign reign. So let me just point out a couple of more passages.

Look at 45:7. Here we see a clear statement that the Lord is sovereign over everything that happens. We need to be careful in how we communicate this, lest we credit God with doing evil. But we do not need to try to get around the verse either as if God has nothing to do with natural catastrophes or other calamities. No, He is sovereign over all. We need to let this statement stand: I am the Lord, who does all these things.

Look at 46:8-11. All of the plans of the Lord will come to pass, none will be thwarted. Whatever He has purposed to do, He will do and nothing can stay His hand. Some may grumble at this and shake their fist at their Maker. But Isaiah warns us against such a response.

Look at 45:9-12. All men belong to Him because He has formed them all. He is the Potter and we are the clay. We must be cautious in questioning what He has done. Rather, may we humble ourselves before the One who has so graciously given us life. Everything we have is a gift from Him. And speaking of gifts, let me mention one more.

Look at 42:1-9. At times Isaiah refers to Israel as the Lordís servant, but here he is speaking of another Servant who will bring forth justice to the nations. This Servant will be kind to the weak and broken-hearted. He will open the eyes of the blind and set the captives free. Who is this Servant? He is the One who will come and give His life to ransom a people for God, as Isaiah will tell us in 52:13-53:12. He is none other than Jesus Christ our Lord. The Sovereign Lord of the universe has chosen to give us Christ, His only Son, to redeem us by dying on the cross for our sins. Sending Christ was His plan and all those who have repented of their sins and placed their faith in Him have been included. What a gracious gift indeed!!

So the Lord is sovereign over Israel and idols and nations and kings. He is sovereign over good and evil, blessing and calamity. He is sovereign over His plans, which includes the glorious plan of redemption through sending Christ to die and be raised again. He is sovereign over all. So let me close with a question this morning: does this doctrine comfort you? The purpose of the doctrine of Godís sovereignty in Scripture was never to cause division in the Church and heated debate.

Granted, I understand the difficulties. I know the implications and why they produce such sharp disagreements. I am not trying to solve all of that this morning or brush it under the carpet. No, all I am saying is that Isaiah wrote of Godís sovereignty to comfort the exiles in Babylon. He wrote of it to give them great hope in their God. And he is not alone among biblical writers. Thus, may we be a people who are greatly comforted by the doctrine of Godís sovereignty whether we agree on all the particulars or not. May we discuss and debate our differences in love. But may our belief in Godís sovereignty over all be fuel to the fire of our worship. May we say together: Yahweh is the Lord; He is God and there is no other. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

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