Connections 09.18.2016: Getting Personal

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Isaiah 40:21-31

Speaking in generalities is one thing. Getting down to specifics is another.

Generally speaking, believing that God runs the universe is easy, but trusting God to take care of you is hard.

I suspect, though, that the people to whom the prophet of the Babylonian exile, whose words are recorded in Isaiah 40–55, addressed his preaching struggled with both his general and specific assertions.

When the prophet proclaimed that the Lord governs all creation (vv. 21-26), all the people may have said, “Really?” instead of “Amen!” After all, they were exiles in a country whose armies had destroyed their nation. The Babylonian forces had leveled Jerusalem, including the great temple of the Lord. Many of them concluded that the gods of Babylon must be more powerful than the God of Israel.

The prophet countered such thinking. He affirmed that the Lord created the celestial bodies that the Babylonians worshiped. His majestic language is inspiring and convincing. Perhaps, with a little prodding, the exiles came around to his way of thinking.

“Yes,” they may have decided. “The Lord is the creator and sustainer of everything that’s up there in the sky. Thanks be to God!”

But then the prophet brought his message close to home. “The God who knows every nook and cranny of the universe also knows every detail of your situation. The Lord who sustains all of creation will empower you. The God who calls out the stars will call you out of captivity. You can count on it!” (vv. 27-31).

As I said, it’s easier to believe that God is taking care of everything than that God is taking care of me. I assume that God watches over the one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe, but I don’t always assume that God watches over the one person I see in the mirror.

I suspect Jesus’ listeners had a similar reaction when he said, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Mt 6:26).

“Well, yeah, of course God takes care of the birds. But still…”

Perhaps we’re making good progress in our faith as we grow in assuming that God watches over us with even more loving concern than God has for all those new planets that scientists keep discovering!

Discussion

1. Do we think about God’s interest and involvement in our lives as much as we should? Why or why not?
2. What difference does it make how we think about the ways God relates to us?
3. Recall a time when you were at a very low point in your life. How would these words have spoken to you? What might they have caused you to question? What might they have led you to affirm?
4. The prophet said that “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength” (v. 31). What role does waiting play in faith development? How patient are you? Do you need to learn to be more patient?
5. The prophet lived over 500 years before Jesus. How does Jesus help us better understand and trust in God’s loving concern?

Reference Shelf

The announcement of God’s return is met with skepticism, not only in the heavenly council (40:6b), but also in Israel (v. 27). The speeches beginning in v. 12 take on a defensive tone, explaining how God can and will accomplish a return to Jerusalem.

God is great enough to create the worlds and the heavens. The Creator does not rely on someone else for direction and instruction in matters of justice. The LORD moves among the nations as a sovereign God, greater than all of the peoples of the earth.

The challenge continues in v. 18. The skeptics are scorned because they could find nothing or no one to compare with God. No idol is sufficient. They are asked why they do not know. The LORD controls the heavens and history; nothing and no one stands above God. Again the skeptics are challenged to look up at the stars and ask: Who created these? (v. 26).

Then Israel is addressed directly (v. 27). Who is Israel at this time? The people of the Northern Kingdom had been scattered over Assyrian territory almost two hundred years before. Judeans were in exile in Babylonia, in Egypt, and a few were still near the ruins of Jerusalem in Palestine. It is no wonder that Israel should be confused about its own identity, not to mention its relation to the LORD.

These people could legitimately wonder what their way (v. 27) under God was, or what rights they possessed. This section is addressed to confused Israel, assuring them of God’s continued interest in them. It suggests that they may discover their identity as a people in their relation to the LORD. God has not forgotten or abandoned them or the divine hope for them.

Verse 28 reminds the people that the LORD is the Creator whose goals and purposes have persisted from the beginning of time. God’s patience and strength are undiminished. The LORD’s strength is given to the faint and the powerless. Lacking these is no excuse for lack of faith. Then the persons who are eligible to be part of the new Israel are identified: those who wait for the LORD. This wording will appear several more times in the book.

Those who wait for the LORD (v. 31) can participate in the LORD’s renewed activities. This verse is one of the most encouraging confessions found in all of scripture.

John D. W. Watts, “Isaiah,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995), 598.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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