6/23/2016

The Incomparable God (Isaiah 40:12-26)

Isaiah 40 (Oswalt):
  1. God's promised deliverance (1-11).
  2. God's ability to deliver his people (12-26).
  3. Waiting in hope (27-31).
(Ray Ortland, Jr):
  1. God's glory, our comfort (1-11).
  2. God's uniqueness, our assurance (12-26).
  3. God's greatness, our renewal (27-31).
After expressing the tenderness of Yahweh's shepherding care (1-11) Isaiah sets the magnificence of his sovereign power and executive rule as Creator (12-26). The former expresses the attractiveness and delightfulness of his promises; the latter his irresistible power to keep what he has promised.
40:1-11, the first section, has verified God's desire and intention to deliver his people. But is God able to do this? Why should we think that He can, since it seemed as though He was unable to prevent Babylon from capturing Judah and Jerusalem in the first place? Furthermore, there is no precedent and no evidence that any people have ever gone home from captivity before. In the long history of exile up until the fall of Babylon, there is no report of that ever happening. Thus, for God to say that it is going to happen for the Israelites is to make a huge claim.

Isaiah's approach and response is to assert that God is unique and incomparable. God is able to deliver not because he is greater than Babylon, but because he is the only God!

40:12-26 can be divided into two sections that parallel each other in general ways (12-20, 21-26).
  • Each unit begins with an assertion in the form of rhetorical questions that the Lord is the sole Creator (12-14, 21).
  • This is followed by an affirmation that the Lord is the Ruler of all nations and rulers (15-17, 22-24).
  • Next is a rhetorical invitation to compare God with anything else (18a, 25).
  • Finally, there is the claim of absolute superiority over the gods, whether conceived of as idols (18b-20) or as the heavenly host (26).
God is the sole Creator (40:12-17): God is transcendent; he is other than the world. Here are a series of rhetorical questions intended to bring the reader to the point of saying that Yahweh is the sole Creator. The doctrine of creation is important and crucial to this argument. The concept is not develped in logical proofs as much as it is assumed and built upon. Isaiah develops the point by insisting that God is other than creation. He is not the mountains or oceans or heavens, but he is other than all of these. He is not them but holds them in his hand. He originated the world, but he is not the world.

40:13-14 is aimed at the polytheistic religions, where a counselor/magician among the gods assists the other gods in realizing their purposes. Isiah asserts that there are no such beings, that "understanding" (Isa 40:14) originated with the Originator of all things. To think otherwise is to give up transcendence. To give that up transcendence is to be dropped into the morass (chaos) where life is only the outworking of a deterministic cycle coming from nowhere and going nowhere.

Compared to the One who holds the oceans in his hand (Isa 40:12a), the nations of the earth are "as nothing" (Isa 40:17). Unlike the other gods, the God of Israel is not a personalization of his nation. He brought all the nations into existence, but he is not an extension of any of them. To God the most important of the nations does not weigh enough to even move a balance scale (Isa 40:12b). Babylon, Assyria, Egypt may be great in their own eyes and int he eyes of their neighbors, but in the eyes of the One who spoke light into existence (Gen 1:3), they mean little. Isa 40:16 is saying that no earthly sacrifice is sufficient to manipulate God in favor of earthly concerns. If all the forests of Lebanon were set on fire and all its animals burned on the fire, it would not affect him at all.

An idol is a no-god (40:18-20). If God is the sole Creator and the Lord of the nations, can we even say that an idol is comparable to him? The diatribe against the idols [no gods] is the first of several (Isa 41:6-7; 42:17; 44:9-20; 46:5-7; 48:5). This is the prophets insistence on the transcendence of God. If God is not the world, then any atempt to represent him in the forms of this world has deadly consequences. It immediately links him to the world and begins the process of ultimately making God identical with the world. The emphasis on the making of the idol is intentional. How can something made by humans possibly be the maker of the humans who made it?

God is other than the heavens (40:21-24); he is not just other than the world. The cycle begins again. God is other than the heavens for "He stretches out the heavens like a canopy" (Isa 40:22). He is not overawed by the "rulers" (Isa 40:23) of this earth. In fact, their destiny (like Sennacherib's) is in his hands (Dan 4:34-35). Isa 40:24 with its comparison of the kings of earth to plants seems to reflect Isa 40:6-8. Like plants, the kings grow up quickly and wither away. The tender plants of humanity are no match for the eternal judgments of God. God's word can just blow them away (Isa 40:7).

No one is God's equal (40:25-26). God asks the readers himself--if we know of anything that can compare to him. If it is not the gorgeous idols of the craftsman, perhaps it is the stars of heaven, the "starry host" that pagans believed were representations of the gods (2 Ki 17:16; 21:3). Isaiah retorts that God "created" them and brings them out night after night "by name," like a shepherd calling his flock. Is the product on the same plane as the maker, or the sheep on the same plane as the shepherd? No, the stars only exist because of the "great power and mighty strength" of Judah's God (Isa 40:26).

Oswalt, John N. Isaiah, NIV Application Commentary. 2003.
None Like Him (There is no one like our God): Paul Nyquist, Moody Founder's Week, 2016. There is no one like our God.
  • Omnipotent Creator (12). Isaiah gives us/uses language of a craftsman.
  • Omniscient Lord (13-14). Language of wisdom.
  • Transcendent King (15-17). Language of insignificance. Nations like a drop in a bucket (15,17). No amount of burnt offering is adequate or sufficient (16). 196 nations in the world today. Add up GNP, power, prestige amounts to nothing.
3 facts about God.
  1. Our God sovereignly rules over his creation (21-22). Language of comparison.
  2. Our God sovereignly rules over all earthly powers, the rulers of the world (23-24). God is not amused by Nebuchadnezzer's declaration of his own greatness. Word for meaningless (tohuw) is Gen 1:2 formless.
  3. Our God sovereignly rules over the heavenly bodies (25-26). 10 billion galaxies in our observable universe. 100 billion stars per galaxies. God names each one.
Does God know? Does God care? (27)
If God is not acting, it's not because he's tired or weary (28). We can get tired, but not God. God knows (Rom 11:33). God can act and God does know far far more than our peanut brain.
We reach our physical peak at age 30.
40:31 is a promise. God supernaturally strengthens those who wait on God. 2 ideas. Needs/requires patience. Trust and dependence. We need God. We're frail, fallible and fallen.

2 idols in our world (Orland): secularism (big) and superstition, neo-paganism (smaller) -- alternate spiritualism. Church has been called by a theologian as "the place where God is weightless" (opposite of glory), no impact in the lives of Christians. Why does our weighty God sit so lightly on our church? Problem is our preaches who are not exposing God for who He is. Preachers have changed the glory of God in sermons to tips, anecdotes, feel good emotions and how to quick fixes. Are we witnessing the disappearing God of the church? Einstein's view of Christian preaching is that the preacher's view of God is so small compared to what he has witnessed regarding the greatness of the universe. See and sense that God is weighty, that the coming of God is more glorious than anything else.

In Isa 40:10-11, God is a:

  1. conquering king
  2. wealthy benefactor
  3. tender shepherd

Augustine once prayed: “O God most high, most good, most powerful … most tender-hearted and most just, most remote and most present, most beautiful and most vigorous, stable and ungraspable, unchanging yet changing all things, never new yet never old, renewing all things … And what have we said, my God, my Life, my holy Delight? Or what can anyone say when he speaks of you? And alas for those who are silent about you … !”