25 May 2021
“To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” (Isa. 40:18)
In response to this question, Isaiah highlights several issues. The prophet underlines a primary truth about God’s power and compassion:
“Behold the Sovereign Lord comes with might, and his arm rules for him….He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isa. 40:10-11).
This is indeed a remarkable statement. There is the confident assertion that God rules. His power over this world is total. And there is an extraordinarily, unheard of declaration of God’s compassion and care like the shepherd’s gentle care for the lambs of his flock (recall John 10: ‘I am the good shepherd’). Realise this: God is like that. We do not normally connect absolute power with compassionate care but the extraordinary truth is that our God is like that. He is powerful and yet He cares. The pictures of the supreme ruler and the good gentle shepherd are brought together. Lest we feel that God does not seem to care and understand our plight, dismiss this thought from our minds. He is supremely powerful but if He does not intervene at a certain point in our life, it is certainly not because He does not care.
Consciously or unconsciously, like the Israelites, we often will attempt to scale God down, and have a much smaller impression of the truth about Him than the facts demand. Hence, from verse 19 onwards, Isaiah speaks about idols. The prophet is saying that the moment you scale God down and fail to acknowledge the full reality of these truths about Him, your God becomes almost as useless to you as a lifeless, dumb idol. Isaiah is actually asking, ‘What is your vision of God?’ The God who reigns is a God who is complete in His power and strength. He is the God who is able to and who longs to respond to the needs of Israel and our needs today with compassion and love. The danger was, and is, of having a reduced vision sp that our God is a scaled-down version and a little on the small side to be any use at all.
What is truly our vision of God? Isaiah moves on to make a far-reaching declaration. He asks: ‘Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?’ (Isa. 40:21)
There follows a picture of God as the powerful transcendent Creator who rules the world He has made and to whom earthly rivals are inconsequential. After that bold picture of contrasts, Isaiah asks another question: ‘To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One’ (Isa. 40:25).
God is incomparable. But how is He beyond comparison? – He is the Creator and He is the Lord of history. Hence He is in control of all that there is. Human beings do exercise their God-given freedom, but ultimately the final decisions rest with God. All history in its direction and outcome is subject to God: ‘It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers: who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in: who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing’ (Isa. 40:22-23).
The system of evil rampant in this world today will never gain the upper hand. The rule of terror will come to a decisive end. It would not be so if there were not a God who reigns. So take heart; do not despair – God sees all things and He will judge all things and all individuals. God is sovereign; He is the ultimate authority, the highest court of appeal over all real-life political situations, and the negotiator upon whom the ultimate peace of the world depends. Equally, His sovereignty extends to all the personal situations of turmoil and threat we face in our own lives. It would be folly not to trust your life to such a God as this.
God’s message is for those who are weak, those who are tempted to give up when the going gets tough: He is the God who is in control, the One who does not grow weary or faint. He offers a power to overcome; it is a power to transcend the hurdles and obstacles which are an all too regular part of our everyday lives. We are not offered an easy ride,but we will be given strength to overcome in every situation. Our God is the God who reigns, and therefore He is able to strengthen those who want to find his way out of painful or difficult situations. He may not necessarily take the obstacles away but He does give strength to cope in the midst of the obstacles. Those who wait for the Lord, who put their trust and hope and resolve in the living God will find in the midst of their uphill struggles, a renewed strength. In the end they will transcend their problems, as though mounting up with the wings of an eagle (Isa. 40:28-31).