Isaiah had completed a full circle in his oracle by naming the people’s transgression against God (their hearts were far from the Lord), warning them of what the future would now hold, and reassuring them of a day when their faith would be once again be rich and vibrant.
Now Isaiah wheeled back once again, this time to the people’s false confidence in foreign alliances.
Woe to the rebellious children, says the Lord,God to the people, Isaiah 30:1-2 (NRSV)
who carry out a plan but not mine;
who make an alliance but against my will,
adding sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt
without asking for my counsel,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt.
If we were to update Isaiah’s message, then we might say it is possible to go to church on Sunday, know hymns by heart, and even quote the Bible, but on Monday revert back to worldly wisdom and worldly ways to carry on daily life.
Because it is not as though the people of Isaiah’s day had forgotten the Exodus, or God’s glorious victory over Pharaoh.
But in real life, political and international alliances are necessary, civic leaders might have explained to the people, even with purported enemies of God.
Words written centuries ago do not necessarily apply to our current circumstances, religious authorities might have reasoned. We are a nation, now, not a vagabond troupe of refugee slaves with only God between us and disaster.
Isaiah referred to the delegation King Hezekiah had sent to Egypt in the hopes they would help defend Judah against Sennacherib’s Assyrian armies. But Hezekiah acted without having asked for God’s direction.
Sennacherib’s vizier would mock all the inhabitants of God’s holy and royal city for this very alliance, even as Sennacherib’s army laid siege at Jerusalem’s gates.
The Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah: Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you base this reliance of yours?
Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war?
On whom do you now rely, that you have rebelled against me? See, you are relying now on Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him.2 Kings 18:19-21 (NRSV)
God confirmed what Sennacherib’s vizier claimed.
For Egypt’s help is worthless and empty;Isaiah 30:7 (NRSV)
therefore I have called her,
“Rahab who sits still.”
There is no record of Pharaoh’s response to King Hezekiah’s plea for military aid. When the time came, Hezekiah and the people of Judah would have nowhere to go and no one to turn to but the Lord God.
Not only were God’s people living a decadent lifestyle, not interested in God’s word, only going through the motions of a religious life, but
they are a rebellious people,Isaiah 30:9-11 (NRSV)
children who will not hear
the instruction of the Lord;
who say to the seers, “Do not see,”
and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things;
leave the way; turn aside from the path;
let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
The people themselves only wanted to hear sermons that made them feel good about themselves. They knew, at a certain level, that what they wanted was not what was right. They understood they were asking their spiritual leaders to tell them smooth things and to prophesy illusions. They actually knew they were shutting their eyes to the truth and were no longer interested in hearing about the Holy One of Israel.
But, God’s prophet cautioned in the Lord’s voice, this is going to end colossally badly if you keep going in this direction.
therefore this iniquity shall become for youGod to the people, Isaiah 30:13-14 (NRSV)
like a break in a high wall, bulging out and about to collapse,
whose crash comes suddenly, in an instant;
its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel
that is smashed so ruthlessly
that among its fragments not a sherd is found.
Not a sherd!
And Isaiah pleaded with the people.
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:Isaiah 30:15 (NRSV)
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
Yet, the people refused. No, they collectively replied. No, we will ride upon swift steeds.
And Isaiah retorted, then you will flee at every hint of threat until none of you are left.
So, Isaiah said, completely unexpectedly, the Lord will wait for you until you are ready to receive God’s help.
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;Isaiah 30:18 (NRSV)
therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
This is where the life of faith becomes real.
In order to understand what faith is, you and I have to actually use it. A person does not really have faith until that person lives it out, boots on the ground, real life, real dilemmas, real crises. You and I cannot wait until we think we have faith. We will have faith – enough faith – once we put our foot out and take a step.
This is the final action, the most crucial act of putting faith in anything, let alone in Christ.
Saving faith is not only belief in God, but acting on that belief.
You and I have to stress the last part of that definition, because the kind of faith the Bible is most concerned about is saving faith, and “faith” will not be salvific if it is only an intellectual assent to truth. Belief must be followed by action.
Isaiah reassured the people who had only just said they did not want to hear about it,
O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. [God] will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any longer, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.Isaiah 30:19-20 (NRSV)
Their menu of the bread of adversity and water of affliction would cause them to turn to God for teaching, for guidance, and there the Lord would be. As they took more steps of faith, they would see how worthless their idols and false alliances were, and then the rich, abundant spiritual life would unfold, with a growing enjoyment of God.
And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”Isaiah 30:21 (NRSV)
Isaiah explained that as the Spirit shed more and more light in their understanding God would restore them.
They had no need to fear the Assyrians, if they would just trust God, for God was already preparing the funeral pyre for the king of Assyria.
Isaiah had gotten to the root of the people’s pact with Egypt: they just did not believe that God was that strong, that effective in the real world. Is that not also at least sometimes true for you and me today? When we say we believe something, that does not mean we are necessarily certain that it is true. It simply means that we are at least more than fifty percent convinced the belief is true.
So a belief’s strength is the degree to which you and I are convinced that the belief is true. As we gain evidence and support for a belief, its strength grows for us. It may start off as plausible
and later become fairly likely,
then quite likely,
then beyond reasonable doubt,
and finally, completely certain.
The more certain you and I are of a belief, the more it becomes a part of our inner being and the more we rely on it as a basis for action.*
* This truth about belief is taken from J. P. Moreland’s “Love God With All Your Mind”