We serve a great God, don’t we?! As children of God we can enjoy all the benefits of our Creator. He has a challenging, yet encouraging message for us in the Scripture. God reminded His people, Israel, through the prophet Isaiah that He has faithfully crafted the whole universe down to naming every single star. If the Lord has taken such care to detail the backdrop to the grand storyline of redemption, how much more does he care for his chosen people!
If you are among God’s chosen people—His children—He has set His love on you. In this relationship, the Father has certain expectations. Throughout the whole canon of Scripture we can see two broad principles at work (among many): rewards for obedience and consequences for disobedience. In our culture, we are encouraged to have a self-starting, self-sufficient, even self-exalting outlook on life—and this sometimes surfaces in church contexts. At least two of these cultural phenomena seem positive on the surface, but there is a problem. All three are self-centered outlooks. Are you a self-centered person? (FCF) Scripture is challenging us to consider whether we are self-centered or God-centered. Those really are the only two options. The Scripture testifies to God’s greatness, and it describes the blessedness of those who simply praise and honor His greatness, regardless of what may come in their lives. GOD IS GREAT. WE MUST WAIT. (MIM)
As we look at Isaiah 40:27-31, let us consider some key terms. We are also going to consider the text in the greater context of Isaiah’s ministry, ultimately culminating in his prophecy of the Messiah. These prophecies were indeed fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Isaiah 40:27-31 says:
“Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the LORD,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not became weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.”
A Walk Through of the Text
Let us make some important observations. God is addressing His people, “O Jacob,” then “O Israel.” Many of you are probably familiar with the account of Jacob being renamed Israel. This was a sign of God’s covenant, continued from Abraham and Isaac, to continue further to Israel’s offspring—the nation called by that name. God is reminding His people of His covenant faithfulness. This great God is loving, patient and faithful to His promises. The preceding discourse in chapters 39 and 40 illustrates God's faithfulness despite His peoples’ rebellion. Zooming out slightly to chapter 40 as a whole, by way of summary, we can observe God declaring comfort for His people. This comfort is not a fleeting, worldly comfort but an experience of the discipline of the LORD who will reveal His glory. There will be recompense for the rebellious, yet tenderness toward the repentant. The nations, their rulers, manmade items, and creation itself all pale in comparison to the LORD’s might and eternal perspective. Zooming out a little more in examining chapter 39 gives us a character study in King Hezekiah. He hosted messengers from Babylon to brag on the riches of his house. Isaiah brings the word of the LORD to Hezekiah stating that all his riches and even his sons will eventually be carried off to Babylon. Hezekiah’s response? “‘The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.’ For he thought, ‘For there will be peace and truth in my days.’ “ What a self-centered response from a faithless ruler! Yet God’s word which follows begins, “Comfort, O comfort My people…" What a selfless, faithful God! Clearly, His people are in need of Him. Though Hezekiah was far from perfect, his utter need of the LORD his God is one thing he did get right. As 2 Chronicles 31:21 reads, “every work which he began…seeking his God, he did with all his heart and prospered.” The disobedience of his fathers resulted in judgment, but his obedience, though not perfect, resulted in the reward of prosperity.
A further look at the genre and structure of Isaiah 40:27-31 illuminates more of God’s greatness. This discourse given by Isaiah is poetic. You may notice some of your Bible translations have indents, extra spaces, or incomplete lines. With that, his flow of thought is not necessarily linear. We do see a linear flow of thought from God’s attributes and actions in verses 27-30 to Israel’s proper response in verse 31. In light of God’s greatness, the proper response is to wait on Him. In verses 27-30, we can observe a chiastic pattern. That is, the first statement relates to the last statement, the second statement relates to the second-to-last statement, and so on.
Selfish Ways Cause Us to Stumble
The first statement, “My way is hidden from the LORD,” relates to the last statement in verse 30, “and vigorous young men stumble badly.” The “way” and the “stumbling” in this poetic form should be understood in more than just physical terms. One’s “way” can refer to not only actions taken in their body but also ways of thinking, ways of feeling about things, ways of reasoning, ways of relating to others, and more. Ultimately, it speaks to one’s functional center of operation. If one's way is hidden from the LORD (or so they think), then their functional center of operation is SELF. Functioning this way, according to this Scripture, will cause even the strongest and most capable to “stumble badly.” The context of these verses makes it clear that nothing is hidden from God, who created and sustains everything. The invitation is to surrender to the Sustainer which requires letting go of one’s ways. We can “vigorously” try to sustain ourselves and make a good life on earth or we can wait on the Creator of life to reveal Himself in us.
Illustration / Argumentation
I had to walk with crutches this week. We had a church work day in which some of us were blowing insulation into the attic of the church building. It's pretty dark up there! I decided I would try my hand at spreading the insulation by working the hose rather than functioning as one of our deacons asked me by being the liaison between the machine operators on the floor and the spreaders in the attic. It was pretty disorienting with my headlight and mask on in the dark corners of the attic with insulation floating around. At one point, I lost my balance because, with my hands full, I could not hold onto the beams above me to stabilize myself like I had been doing before. Upon losing my balance, I stumbled badly over some rafters, putting my leg through the ceiling of one of our Sunday School classrooms. My other leg caught me, but some bones were put out of joint. This experience served to remind me that if I fail to follow the Lord's direction, I will indeed suffer harm. Consequences for disobedience. God is not demanding we follow Him because He is some oppressive dictator. He loves us and knows what is best for us.
God Sustains Our Lives
The second statement, “the justice due me escapes the notice of my God” relates to the second to last statement, “though youths grow weary and tired.” This speaks to the one enduring the trials of this life on self-strength. Even those who have the most energy and ambition will wear out if they rely solely on their own resources. The implied meaning to this statement, having been preceded with the rhetorical question, “Why do you say…” is that nothing actually escapes God’s notice. We also may have the wrong perspective about what we actually deserve! Do you ever try to take things into your own hands? Sustaining your own life is wearying, if ultimately futile BECAUSE WE ARE ALL DYING. We indeed have suffering on Earth, and Jesus promised His disciples that this often would be proof that they are following Him as they should. We have to rest, knowing He will make all things right. Things just may not go as I expect, especially if I am operating from a place of selfishness.
Illustration / Argumentation
Let’s say two kids were recruited by their elderly neighbor to help shovel snow off his driveway. In exchange for their work, the man offered to make them hot fudge sundaes and to enjoy a warm afternoon sitting by the fire in his house while he told them stories all about his life. The kids jumped at the opportunity, as they loved ice cream, and the old man was delighted to see their zeal. He brought out shovels for them, and they got to work right away. As they began their work, they looked at each other sheepishly, wondering what they had gotten themselves into. It seemed like the snow was a foot deep and the driveway a mile long! Thinking they would run out of time, they sprinted, shoveling left and right. Soon, as they began to wear out, the handles of their shovels broke. Ashamed, they looked up at their neighbor’s house to see if he noticed. They had indeed gotten a lot done, but they decided to retreat to their own home, leaving the job unfinished. A while later, they heard their doorbell ring. Opening the door, they saw the smiling face of their elderly neighbor. “Come, children, the ice cream is ready!” the old man said. They followed him to his house, wonderingly. As they crossed the fully-shoveled driveway in astonishment, the man beckoned them to enter his house. They sat by the fireplace as the old man brought out three of the biggest bowls of ice cream they had ever seen. “Kids,” he began gently, “why didn’t you wait for me? I was preparing to come out and help you. I knew you wouldn’t be able to finish the job alone, and I had hoped that we could enjoy the afternoon together. Anyway, have I ever told you the story about how my family began?” The kids began to understand their wise, gracious neighbor even better, and, while the ice cream was indeed very good, they enjoyed the man’s stories even more. This serves to illustrate the fact that we do not really deserve anything from God except death. Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God has placed the desire for eternal life in every single person, and we have to realize attaining to it is only possible by accepting God's gracious gift. He is interested in a relationship with us as we recognize in the present time that, “having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).
Only God Has the Power to Change Us
The third statement—God’s very name, “The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth” relates to the statement “to him who lacks might He increases power.” In comparison to the LORD, we all “lack might.” Isaiah is speaking to the choice to recognize our need. Any power that we might have to accomplish or understand anything of eternal value will only come from our Creator.
Illustration / Argumentation
God does indeed give common grace, which allows humankind to come to true conclusions about the world around them. Sir Isaac Newton’s First Law of Thermodynamics essentially states that “an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.” In order for anything to change, an outside force has to act. That is an indisputable scientific fact. Scripture is telling us this truth applies to not only the physical realm but also to the psychological and spiritual realms. Romans 12:1-2 tells us that as we simply “present [ourselves] to God,” refusing to live according to the ways of the world, we will be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind[s], so that [we] may prove what the will of God is…” Do you fear God enough to recognize His ultimate authority and power? Do you love Him enough to entrust yourself to Him? As you are willing, He will change you to love and fear Him more.
Walk With the Lord, Our Strength
“Does not become weary or tired” relates to “He gives strength to the weary.” God is faithful to finish the work He begins in those who entrust themselves to Him. The weariness in this verse, like the rest of the verses, is not just speaking to a physical weariness. We are all burdened in many ways. Ultimately, we are burdened with understanding our purpose in light of God’s greatness. Jesus told people plainly that He fulfilled the Law and Prophets, to include Isaiah. When John the Baptist’s disciples began inquiring who Jesus is, as the crowds were also wondering, Jesus answered, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus’ offer was and still is to simply walk with Him and experience eternal life—true rest. Only those characterized as “infants,” as indicated in Matthew 11:25, who are humble enough to put their full hope and trust in Jesus, will experience what God has intended for humanity. We must, as Jesus says in the first part of Matthew 11:25, throw off any delusions of being “wise and intelligent.”
Complete Dependence is Required
Now we have arrived at the central statement in the chiasm, the crux of the discourse, and ironically the key to unlocking the meaning: “His understanding is inscrutable.” Some versions say “unfathomable” rather than “inscrutable.” In other words, we will never fully have God’s perspective on things.
Illustration / Argumentation
There is no better illustration than the words of Jesus in Matthew 11. An infant is completely dependent on its mother and father. In the present time, we have come to a fuller revelation than Old Testament Israel, as the Son of God has come in the flesh for our redemption. Further, He has promised to come again to establish His everlasting kingdom. Of the coming of His kingdom, Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36). As we wait for His coming again, we also have to be patient for the revealing of His will in our individual lives. He is looking to support a dependent people.
So what is expected of us? The expectation is the same as the encouragement to Israel in Isaiah 40:31. WAIT. “Waiting” does not just entail sitting around twiddling our thumbs. It is an active way of life driven by certain convictions. Selfish ways cause us to stumble. God sustains or lives. Only He has the power to change us. He gives us strength as we walk with Him. He is looking to support a dependent people. He is calling us to rest in his power to prepare us for His coming again. We walk in obedience by the power of the Holy Spirit as He reveals His will. This is not something we can choose how to do on our own strength, our own understanding, our own resources, or our own time. Those self-sufficient and self-exalting attitudes will lead to disobedience and dire consequences. He is promising to do it for us, and His promises are sure. God is Great. We Must Wait.
This is the blog of Tyler Shepard, the Associate Pastor for Centre Union Church in Yeagertown, PA.
I hope you are encouraged and challenged to walk more closely with Jesus Christ!