Midweek Lent 2: Isaiah 44:1-8
As Isaiah proclaimed these words there were other great matters to be concerned about for the people of Israel. The Assyrians were in the midst of overtaking the northern kingdom of Israel. These were not simply take your money and possessions and leave kind of takeover people either. The Assyrians were known for their ruthlessness. They had particularly cruel tactics and lack of care of basic human decency. One of the earlier emperors of Assyria, Shalmaneser III, had boldly claimed that he was “the mighty king, king of the universe, the king without a rival, the autocrat, the powerful one of the four regions of the world, who shatters the might of the princes of the whole world, who has smashed all of his foes as pots” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p.120). Quite arrogant, for a mere man or even a might emperor. When men deny or forget God, they themselves become ‘gods’—more necessary in life and even legends in their own minds.
In many ways we find ourselves in a similar situation today. No our nation is not falling, yet, to outside threats. But the thought is present. There are those who have lack of concern for basic human life, both within our country and amongst our enemies. We are side tracked in our daily life in the news watching the constant threats and realities of war. More than that, just like the people of Israel, we live in a culture and it invades our lives that there are things above God or equal to God or even alongside God when it comes to matters of faith and life. There is this ever prevalent thought and acceptance that all religions lead to the same path. There is a temptation to say that our faith does not really matter but is merely one of many that are acceptable.
This is the heart of the confession of faith that is proclaimed throughout the Scriptures. There is this ever prevalent reality of other confessions of faith, of people and confessions who put themselves in the place of God, and act as if they are God and we are tempted to take them serious or give them some level of fear, love, and trust. Part of the problem in Isaiah’s day was that people were worshipping the true God alongside worship of false gods—mixing true and false worship. Or, they would try to worship God in ways that He had not commanded, especially by offering sacrifices at unauthorized time or places. Be it 722 BC or 2015 AD there is simply not much that changes.
The Lord through Isaiah uses words that He uses often. He reminds us who He is. He is the Lord, the very Divine name given to Moses as he spoke through the burning bush and subsequently redeems the people of Israel from slavery. He is the redeemer. He is the first and the last. What our idolatry of placing love and trust does is place God on an earthly playing field. There is none other like Him. There is nothing to compare to.
So when God declares in Isaiah that apart from Him there is no God, He follows this up with a challenge to any would-be ‘gods’ to prove themselves. How can they compare to the true God? He says, “Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come—yes let him foretell what will come.” This is nothing new. He provided the opportunity for the gods of Baal to prove themselves. The Lord here asks to show what other god is eternal, what other god redeems his people. No other is eternal and has a track record of providing and redeeming His people, and no other has perfectly foretold what was to come and provide it as said.
The Lord does these things. Christians might still today get mocked, and we may even do some of the mocking, of being intolerant. Largely for doing what the people of Israel had done, what Isaiah here does, and what Christians throughout the centuries have done – confess and proclaim who God is.
In the midst of persecution, in the midst of chaos, in the midst of personal struggles our Lord whispers, “Do not tremble, do not be afraid.” All these things—the persecution of the faith, the groaning of all creation under sin, the sin dwelling in our flesh—all of it has been proclaimed and foretold to us from long ago. Our life with its fears and dangers, and most of all with the challenges to our faith, happen just as He told us. Yet He has set forth an eternal people of His choosing—throughout time He has set apart the godly for Himself (Ps. 4:3). He protects and redeems you, His people, and sets our feet on steady ground—the Rock of His Son Jesus Christ.
Our Lord is exclusive in that the work of providing life and salvation alone comes from Him. The people of Israel continued as we do to seek to provide our own way of life and salvation. In Isaiah’s day, in the context of Babylon’s pantheon of 3000 idols, most were busy building idols to fit their needs and perceptions. It was a regular build-a-bear workshop where you can come and chose one of many models and stuff it and dress it according to your tastes. When done, get printed a certificate verifying that it is your creation – the product of whatever you desire!
In Isaiah’s day, Israel was into building idols like build-a-bears in these workshops. They wanted a Messiah who would give them temporal wealth and remove their suffering. They were willing to adapt to Babylon’s idol workshop if it made life easier in the here and now. The evil one constantly seeking to deceive and bring about the compromise of faith and addiction to the powers of this world. Beloved, our hearts are perpetual creating idols. We imagine that God should like what we like! That He should improve our standard of living and increase my feelings of happiness.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it…Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any! Unlike the Babylonian pantheon of 3000 idols, the Lord is One! Unlike the modern, American rspiritual but not religious scene with a plethora of idols (some of them including the name of Jesus) some of them nature idols, some of them eastern idols, some of them monetary idols some of them political idols some of them personal idols – the Lord is One! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any!
And the Lord calls us His witnesses! We are God’s witnesses of this salvation—seeing in Christ’s death on the cross His deliverance for us, and bearing witness of that salvation to others. Seeing Jesus as the very Rock of Refuge in which we hide securely from all evil. We have seen His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side has made Him known. The God who dwelt in heavenly splendor came down and met us here on earth, for the purpose of redeeming us to Him by dying on the cross for our sins. A thing utterly unheard of from any other religion! So we can truly say “Is there any God beside Him? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one!”
He is an eternal God, the first and the last—not a god that comes and goes with the latest trends, or only appeals to one age, culture, financial, or social status. He is the eternal and unchanging God, who is for all people at all times, because Jesus is more than just a quick fix for what we think we need for the day. He is instead the eternal answer to our greatest need, the need spans all time, social and economic realities, the need that all need is redemption and life. That need is release from sin, from sickness and death, from separation from God and in need of life and restoration. There is no other god that is equal to the task of fixing this great separation.
Only the One True God, Israel’s Redeemer, offers forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation by grace—as His free gift to us, paid (redeemed) for by His own blood. What other God suffers for His children, His own creation? What other God does not demand that that we earn our way into heaven, but rather descended to earth Himself to give it as a gift? What other God would suffer an ignoble death to pay for the crimes and sins His creation committed? Truly, there is no other Rock but Jesus Christ. When it comes to persecution, problems in the world, doubts, fear, even earthly and national problems, we need have no fear when we are secure in the Rock who is like no other, Jesus Christ.
He has written not only on your hand, but upon your forehead and upon your heart, “The Lord’s.” His name is yours. He has given it to you in death and resurrection. That you may bear His name, recalling His salvation, and rejoicing in it all the day long.
During the Lenten season we sing this proclamation, of the Lord giving His name, inscribing it upon us, as He proclaims in Isaiah to do so on the hand, His name, His inscription, given to us in the death and resurrection of Christ.
Let us turn and proclaim this very thing, singing hymn 422, On My Heart Imprint Your Image.
On my heart imprint Your image, blessed Jesus, King of grace, That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures, never may Your work erase; Let the clear inscription be: Jesus crucified for me, is my life, my hope’s foundation, and my glory and salvation!
And the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
(Disclaimer: we like Build-A-Bear, they make a fine product)