It is possible, for those of us who grew up attending church, for our knowledge of God to stay at the Sunday school level even as our understanding of the world broadens.
If you and I let that happen, then we find ourselves having to choose between the facts – as we see them – or loyalty to this Sunday school God. Then we become secretly fearful that some new scientific discovery, or archeological find, or some philosophical argument, some piece of flawless logic, might overturn our beliefs.
And God certainly does not have the freedom either, to actually be God – not if our understanding of the Lord is still felt-board stories and Sunday school coloring sheets. Then we get embarrassed and worried for God.
How can we defend the Lord with all the bad things that are happening in the world?
How do we defend God when God is looking so bad?
How can I defend God when other people can see I am struggling in my life with awful problems?
How can I say “God is good, all the time,” when I am out of a job, I am about to lose my house, and the creditors keep calling? Or when I have prayed for healing, but no healing comes? When my marriage is falling apart, when my child gets in trouble, or when any of the other calamities happen, that do happen, in Christians’ lives?
The Bible does not offer superficial answers to these questions. The Bible does not offer catchy slogans or rhyming word art. The Bible instead pushes us to a mature view of Who God really is, so that we can put our trust in the God of reality, the God Who actually exists. That God we can trust. Because it is the one true and Living God Who is wisely managing reality towards a goal that is worth supporting.
I the Lord Have Created It
This section begins and ends with the same basic statement (though this passage will be covered in two posts):
|Isaiah 44:24 (NRSV)||Isaiah 45:8 (NRSV)|
|Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,|
who formed you in the womb:
I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who by myself spread out the earth
|Shower, O heavens, from above,|
and let the skies rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation may spring up,
and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also;
I the Lord have created it.
Evidently, in Hebrew the wording is the same in both lines. God is claiming final responsibility in history.
God forms each person in the womb. God alone stretched out the heavens and spread out the earth. Before God there was nothing except God, so all that is – all that is – comes from God.
As the Creator, God is free to command all that happens, to guide the course of history, to guide the mundane events that happen from day to day, to cause cataclysmic events, and to provide guidance for the smallest decision.
… who frustrates the omens of soothsayersIsaiah 44:25 (NRSV)
and makes fools of diviners;
who turns back the wise
and makes their knowledge foolish;
The rest of us really only have the past to key off of in order to try and predict the future. Or, we might try to consult some created thing—the stars, our palms, a deck of cards, tea leaves, knuckle bones tossed on the ground, spirits. All of that is limited.
who confirms the word of his servantIsaiah 44:26 (NRSV)
and fulfills the prediction of his messengers;
who says of Jerusalem, “It shall be inhabited,”
and of the cities of Judah, “They shall be rebuilt,
and I will raise up their ruins”
Only God has unlimited access to the past, present, and the future. We try to extrapolate from the facts in an attempt to get an answer. God decides what the answer is going to be, then God arranges all things to make the answer become reality.
Cyrus, God’s Anointed
God warned the people of God that without repentance they would invite God’s discipline. That discipline would involve being taken from their promised land, and the removal of the temple.
But, through God’s prophet Jeremiah, the Lord made sure they would understand this exile would only last seventy years. A savior would come who would lead them out of captivity and back into their promised land. This savior would provide all that was needed to rebuild their cities, restore their homes, and rebuild the temple.
Just as God brought them out of Egypt with an amazing miracle, so God was going to once again miraculously lead them out of Babylon. God laid the whole plan out long before it would happen.
who says to the deep, “Be dry—
I will dry up your rivers”;
who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd,
and he shall carry out all my purpose”;
and who says of Jerusalem, “It shall be rebuilt,”
and of the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.”
Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,Isaiah 44:28-45:1 (NRSV, modifications added)
whose right hand I have grasped
to subdue nations before him
and to strip kings of their robes,
to open doors before him—
and the gates shall not be closed:
This prophecy had to have rattled the people who first heard it. All along the way Isaiah had been saying that idols and idol worshipers are nothing and less than nothing. They cannot possibly expect God’s blessing. They will always be on the losing team.
But Cyrus would be godless, an idolater!
How could God then call Cyrus the Lord’s shepherd? How could God possibly call Cyrus the Lord’s anointed?
In fact, it gets worse.
The Hebrew word, here, for “anointed” is מָשִׁיחַ | mashiach the word that “Messiah” comes from. Usually this was a word reserved for prophets, priests, and kings. Moreso, “shepherd,” and “anointed” had so far been used only in connection with David’s royal line.
This anointing was the Lord’s choosing of someone for a special and holy purpose, and this is the only time in the whole Bible that such a word was used for a non-Jewish person. Yet there you have it. The Lord was going to anoint a Persian, non-Jewish king to fulfill God’s purpose – just as God had appointed Assyria and Babylon for God’s purposes – because God is God. God alone is the Lord of God’s people but also the whole world. The whole world and all that is in it, including people, are the Lord’s.
God gave three compelling reasons for choosing this ruler.
Revelation of God’s Power
I will give you the treasures of darknessIsaiah 45:3 (NRSV, modifications added)
and riches hidden in secret places,
so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
God did not choose Cyrus for any attributes that he had. All his successes were accomplished through God’s divine power and ability. God wanted Cyrus and the whole world to know where Cyrus’s great wealth and victories came from.
Through Cyrus God was revealing God’s power and God’s presence.
Revelation of God’s People
For the sake of my servant JacobGod speaking to Cyrus, Isaiah 45:4 (NRSV)
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name;
I give you a title, though you do not know me.
God was acting on behalf of God’s Own people.
Even though Cyrus did not know God or have a relationship with God, his world-wide renown would shed renown on God’s people when they received Cyrus’s favor. God was shaping history, including what you and I might call secular events, to advance God’s purpose of salvation.
Revelation of God’s Particularity
I am the Lord, and there is no other;Isaiah 45:5-6 (NRSV, modifications added)
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
God wanted all people everywhere to know Who the one true God really is.