Who Is the Lord Almighty?
To all the ancient world, the victories of Assyria and Babylon made it seem as though their gods were stronger than all other gods—even stronger than the one true and living God Almighty. Conquered, taken captive, now living in exile, the people of God were looking at their Lord through the wrong end of their telescope. They were using their own experiences to interpret Who God is, and to explain what God was doing.
Their experiences, particularly when interpreted through the cultural lens of their day, made God seem small and ineffectual to them.
In order to true up their understanding of spiritual reality (which is not defined by physical appearances), Isaiah began to describe God from the proper perspective.
Greater Than All Physical Power
People living in antiquity along the Mediterranean had a sober respect for the power of the sea, and for the lava-and-ash spewing mountains, several of which are still volcanoes today. Yet, according to Isaiah, God holds all this in the hollow of God’s hand.
The sky is no bigger than God’s palm.
Mountains are like little weights on a scale.
Who has measured the waters of the sea in the hollow of his handIsaiah 40:12 (NRSV)
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
It was all familiar language to Isaiah’s audience. For millennia, the power of the gods had been compared to the raw power of earth itself—to wind, fire, storms, and the raging sea. This was God’s answer to Job’s questions about justice. Omnipotent, omniscient God holds all and knows all.
But what about the great intellects of the world? The people might have retorted.
Greater Than All Intelligent Potential
Certainly God has mighty power, but …
- what about those who have proven with seemingly unassailable logic that God does not even exist? Or, who allow that even if something like God might exist, that Personage seems to be not very good at being a wise, loving, all-powerful God.
- what about the marvels of technology and science that make God and God’s story seem a little primitive now?
- what about the intellectual superiority of other philosophies?
In the Babylonian religion the creator god Marduk had to consult with “Ea the all-wise” before proceeding with what he wanted to do. Currently living under Babylonian rule, the cult of Marduk would now be familiar material, so Isaiah showed God’s superiority to the supposedly all-victorious Marduk.
Who has directed the spirit of the LordIsaiah 40:13-14 (NRSV)
or as his counselor has instructed him?
Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
and who taught him the path of justice?
[[Who taught him knowledge
and showed him the way of understanding?
Each was clearly a rhetorical question.
When God created everything, God needed nothing.
All the ideas, all the genius, is God’s alone. Before creation there was only God, the only uncreated Being. From God has come all intelligence, all knowledge. Whatever human minds can conceive does not even begin to compare with the mind of the Lord. Human minds are, after all, merely derivative of God, the source of humankind.
Greater Than All Principalities
Perhaps Isaiah’s discouraged listeners would have accepted these truths after thinking them over for a while. But what about the power of nations such as Babylon?
This was their reality. Their nation no longer even existed. Israel was also no more. They had been absorbed into the mighty empires that now seemed to own the whole world.
Babylon’s empire, to point, was vast. But, Isaiah said, nations are even less than volcanoes. Mountains might be measured on God’s cosmic scale, but empires are mere dust on that same scale. They do not even register.
Even the nations are like a drop from a bucketIsaiah 40:15-27 (NRSV, emphases mine)
and are accounted as dust on the scales;
see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
Lebanon would not provide fuel enough,
nor are its animals enough for a burnt offering.]]
All the nations are as nothing before him;
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.
Isaiah’s emphatic description reminds me of those occasions when my problem seemed enormous, and God seemed very small in comparison. Perhaps that happens when we are so close to that person, or that situation, that they fill our field of vision. They loom large because we have not pulled back to get the right perspective.
Greater Than All Spiritual Potentates
Isaiah then moved to the gods of the nations. Now here was power, right? Maybe earth and its inhabitants could not compare with God. But what about the power of the idols that seemed to make Assyria, then Babylon unstoppable?
Idols are nothing more than gold, silver, and wood, was Isaiah’s rejoinder. Certainly beautifully and carefully made. But still human creations.
To whom, then, will you liken God,Isaiah 40:18-20 (NRSV)
or what likeness compare with him?
An idol? A workman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
As a gift one chooses mulberry wood
—wood that will not rot—
then seeks out a skilled artisan
to set up an image that will not topple.
There has only ever been one -real- God since the earth was founded.
God is not a god Who can be controlled by people, as the idols can be.
Greater Than All Tinpot Tyrants
Well, if the idols have no power, what about rulers? What about the Babylonian king who was emperor over not only the captive Jews, but just about everyone in the known world?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,Isaiah 40:22 (NRSV, emphasis mine)
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
and spreads them like a tent to live in,
who brings princes to naught
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
God is the one Who raises up leaders and brings them down again, according to the Lord’s wise purpose.
Power brokers who seem formidable to you and me are like little seedlings to God..
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,Isaiah 40:24 (NRSV)
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
That makes God the only world leader to really fear, does it not? Our politics and our diplomacy do best when the fear of the Lord alone is reflected.
Greater Than All Psychic Phenomena
Finally, Isaiah pointed to the stars. The Babylonians were astrologers. But the heavenly bodies they worshiped are really the display of God’s glory. The Babylonians thought the stars controlled human destiny, but it is God Who controls the stars.
To whom, then, will you compare me,Isaiah 40:25-26 (NRSV)
or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power,
not one is missing.
No created thing is worthy of worship
If we worship something in the created order, we will try to control it in some way. Then we feel robbed when our idol does not produce what we want it to.
Even Christians can slip into idolatry, and sometimes it is very subtle. You and I can make an idol out of doctrine, or a particular theology, thinking we have all the answers. Trying to do that is trying to control God, to make God conform to a certain set of human logic.
An idol can be made of worship, so that the way God is worshiped is itself worshiped. Ministry, spiritual disciplines, the exercise of spiritual gifts—anything that makes us think we have leverage in being blessed can become an idol.
God alone is supreme, God alone is worthy.