From God to Those of Faith
Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,Isaiah 51:1 (NRSV)
you who seek the Lord.
God gave three admonitions, each that started with God saying, “Listen, pay attention to this”
1. Have the Faith of Abraham and Sarah
Look to Abraham your fatherIsaiah 51:2-3 (NRSV)
and to Sarah, who bore you,
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
For the Lord will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
God’s covenant with Abraham was the proof of the unconditional nature of God’s covenant with the people. God’s promises to them through Abraham did not ride on their own faithfulness. They were guaranteed by God’s unchanging trustworthiness.
The Nature of Covenants
In Biblical language, a covenant is a promise of God made to a person or group of people, which God often accompanied with a sign.
Covenants are different from contracts.
A contract is an agreement made between relatively equal parties, and either party is free to choose whether to sign the contract. A covenant is also an agreement, but it follows the pattern of Ancient Near East treaties made between a conquering king and the conquered people.
Conditional: When God gave Moses the law, God promised to bless the people if they would obey God’s commands. Disobedience would bring terrible consequences. Big strings attached!
Unconditional: God’s covenant with Abraham is an example, saying God would make Abraham into a great nation and bless all people through his offspring, the Messiah. There were no strings attached.
Even conditional covenants are based on God’s grace, though. There is nothing to obligate God to enter into a pact with humankind. We do not usually think about it in this way, but the truth is, as Creator of all that is, God is also creation’s supreme sovereign. All that exists, including every person owes God their very existence. By logical extension, whether people believe in God, or have put their faith in God, we are all a priori subject to God.
The Comfort of Covenants
Yet God chooses out of love and goodness to covenant with people. These covenants are solely for the benefit of humankind and continue to be active until they have been fulfilled, until God’s purpose for them has been accomplished.
From the faith of Abraham and Sarah had come the entire nation of Israel. Now from the faith of a returning remnant exiled in Babylon and the broken-down city of Jerusalem would come a renewed mighty nation. Be comforted, God was saying, the best is yet to come.
2. Know That Divine Redemption Will Come
Listen to me, my people,Isaiah 51:4 (NRSV)
and give heed to me, my nation,
for a teaching will go out from me
and my justice for a light to the peoples.
I will bring near my deliverance swiftly;
my salvation has gone out,
and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
and for my arm they hope.
Salvation to all the nations will last for all eternity.
Lift up your eyes to the heavensIsaiah 51:6 (NRSV)
and look at the earth beneath,
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats,
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.
Justice would come to the world, and all wrongs would be made right. Notice how God put an emphasis on the word “My:”
- My justice,
- My righteousness,
- My arms,
- My salvation.
God would do all this by God’s grace, not because these people deserved it, but because they were God’s beloved people.
3. There Is No Need To Fear With God As Ally
Listen to me, you who know righteousness,Isaiah 51:7-8 (NRSV)
you people who have my teaching in your hearts;
do not fear the reproach of others,
and do not be dismayed when they revile you.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
and the worm will eat them like wool,
but my deliverance will be forever
and my salvation to all generations.
It is not that there will be no opposition, and no trouble. But with God on our side, the Lord will outlast, outpower, and outmaneuver those who are against God.
As Jesus said, “Take heart, I have overcome the world,”
And Paul said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Encouraged, Isaiah began to pray a bold prayer.
Awake, awake, put on strength,Isaiah 51:9 (NRSV)
O arm of the Lord!
Awake, as in days of old,
the generations of long ago!
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces,
who pierced the dragon?
“Rahab” is a reference to Egypt. Isaiah was again speaking of the Exodus, when God not only won the contest with Pharaoh, but also showed God’s sovereignty over the power of darkness Egypt’s gods represented. God opened the sea for God’s Own people, then drowned the entire Egyptian army behind them. Do that again, God, Isaiah cried.
Isaiah 51:12, God is the One Who comforts.
Isaiah 51:13, God is our Maker, and the Creator of all that is.
Isaiah 51:15, God has power over all the elements, even the sea.
Isaiah 51:16, God has established the entire workings of the universe.
Our hope is as secure as God and lasts forever.
The oppressed shall speedily be released;Isaiah 51:14 (NRSV)
they shall not die and go down to the Pit,
nor shall they lack bread.
God’s Word and Bond
God has entrusted us with God’s word and an unbreakable bond as God’s people.
I have put my words in your mouthIsaiah 51:16 (NRSV, italics mine)
and hidden you in the shadow of my hand,
stretching out the heavens
and laying the foundations of the earth
and saying to Zion, “You are my people.”
Those who know and believe God’s promises find comfort and hope
God kept saying “Listen,” “Look,” “Pay attention!” The time of suffering would come to an end, and the oppressors would find themselves facing the God of the people they hurt.
Therefore hear this, you who are wounded,Isaiah 51:21-23 (NRSV, emphasis mine)
who are drunk but not with wine:
Thus says your Sovereign, the Lord,
your God who pleads the cause of his people:
See, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
you shall drink no more
from the cup of my wrath.
And I will put it into the hand of your tormentors,
who have said to you,
“Bow down, that we may walk on you,”
and you have made your back like the ground
and like the street for them to walk on.
When darkness comes into our lives when fears start to pile up, that is the time to start filling our minds with thoughts of Who God is and the truth of what God says. It is time to proactively put our trust in the Lord.
Fear of people and our current circumstances, fear of what the future might hold, fear borne out of past pain can grow so large it pushes aside our fear of the Lord. That is part of what was happening with Isaiah’s audience. The Babylonians, the devastation of war, the exile, their terribly ruined holy city of Jerusalem, the destroyed temple, all their things stolen, their livelihoods wiped out, so many people had died. All of that was making God seem awfully small.
But God is infinitely bigger and infinitely more powerful than anything you and I are ever going to face, no matter what. God has promised ultimately to deliver us. God has delivered us many times in the past, in all kinds of ways. God is good for this problem today, too.