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One thing that fascinates me about this passage is how Israel's complaint is tucked right in the middle of the declaration of Yahweh's creative and sustaining power. Her complaint is this: "My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God" (v.27). Isaiah has had her complaint in mind all along, but he positions it late in this passage where, juxtaposed next to God's vastness, the complaint loses its power.
It's not that her complaint is invalid. While in exile Israel's circumstances sure cried out that she had been forgotten and abandoned. She seems despondent. Perhaps the complaint was uttered in a spirit of self-righteousness (I have not changed; he has!) or bewilderment (How can my God do this to me?)*, but Isaiah is certain that Israel has neither been forgotten nor disregarded, even in her devastation.
We can't measure the effect of Isaiah's words on the exiles, but what about their effect on us? Which one of us hasn't thrown similar protests toward God in the midst of our pain? Yet it's to faltering hearts just like ours that Isaiah's words are directed. The incomparable God is able, and what a God he is! Isaiah is a master artist here as he employs his literary brush to convince us of this. Take a walk with me through this passage for a look at how he does it.
Isaiah begins with God's vastness (v.12). He sets out the magnitude of the LORD's creative canvas, pointing out that he has made everything in heaven and earth. There's an exactness in his workmanship and a sense of easy competence. Yahweh's creative endeavours declare his awesome power and ability.
Isaiah then turns to Yahweh's wisdom (v.13-14). Human leaders are in need of counselors, but God needs no one to enlighten him, to teach him or to direct him in his work. And since he embodies all wisdom, humankind cannot hope to understand his mind. Awe is the appropriate response when we consider him.
Next Isaiah addresses the Lord's incomparability (v.18-26): "To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One. To compare God with idols, made by human hands, is preposterous. To rely upon the powers of the world, which are minute in comparison and as fragile as the grass of the field, is absurd.
His role as Creator gives him power and authority over all he has made, and one need but look to the heavens to know that there is none like him. He is truly the Incomparable God.
The heavens tell us that Yahweh is not only vast, he is personal. Every star has been meticulously set in place and given a name. Each one is the work of his hands, the product of his loving intention.
It's at this point that Isaiah acknowledges Israel's complaint. But if God values the stars enough to name each one, how much more does he value his people? If his power is so great, does it not go without saying that he is sufficient to help? Isaiah goes on to assure his people that the LORD is willing to impart his limitless strength and wisdom to his people (v.28-31). Their God is too great to fail, but he is also not too great to care.*
And so the LORD offers strength to those who are tired (lacking inner resources) and weary (being overcome by the hardness of life)*, and who will but wait on the Lord. The Hebrew word used in the promise of verse 31, translated into English sometimes as 'hope' and other times as 'wait', carries both meanings. 'Waiting hope' and 'hopeful waiting' are rewarded with ever-renewing strength from God's hand.
A biblical view of the Incomparable God makes it possible to remain steadfast in hope when circumstances require a wait, however long the wait might be. When we adopt this view of God by faith, it places difficult circumstances into the bigger perspective of who God is. And that makes all the difference.
Barry Webb captures well the purpose behind Isaiah's presentation:
"The danger, of course, was not that God would prove inadequate to their need, but that they would forget what he was like. That the God of Israel was the creator and Lord of the whole earth was not a novel idea; it was one of the fundamental elements of their religious heritage.
"But such truth is not so easy to believe when our world is in ruins. In the midst of suffering we can become almost too numb to grasp it. Isaiah therefore clothes the age-old truth in vivid language so that it will penetrate the dullness of those who are almost past hope, take fresh hold of them, and lift them up."**
Creator and Sustainer of the universe, take hold of us and lift us up! When the rigours of life blur our vision, help us to fix our focus on the changeless reality that is you. Thank you, Incomparable God, that our complaints, when immersed in your vast reality, are swallowed up and transformed into a holy awe of you. Not because our complaints are not valid, but because they simply can't compare.
* from Alec J Motyer. The Prophecy of Isaiah. p. 307-308
** Barry G. Webb. The Message of Isaiah, p.165
Work of His Hands
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