GETTING THE MESSAGE/God is sovereign over history
Lord willing, we will resume the study in Acts at the first of the year. This week we are looking in Isaiah 41. In this passage, God speaks to the nations and people of the world and then to his people who are called by his name.
He speaks to the people of the world in verses 1-7. He tells them to listen to him in silence (verse 1). He warns them of their accountability to him. He is beckoning them to his judgement. The “coastlands” is a phrase pointing to the remotest ends of the earth, signifying that no people are excluded from God’s judgment. So there is reason to be silent and listen. The opportunity to turn from delusions is being offered by the Lord.
The Lord speaks of a new power out of the East who will come upon the world’s scene at some point in the future. This conqueror will easily trample all those in his path (verse 2). The point here is that he is an instrument of judgment in the hands of the Lord.
The nations may look upon this conqueror as random or unfortunate, but the Lord says this rampage through the lands originated in heaven. God, who is sovereign over history, has raised this leader up for his purposes. When the Lord tells men what will happen in the future, he is inviting them to consider that their souls are in his hands.
The Lord says his name is I am, the first and the last (verse 4). He is the only non-contingent being in the universe. Everyone else and everything else depends upon him. In this context, with the Sovereign Lord appealing to them, it seems terrible for men to set their wills against his when they can turn and escape the danger before it is too late. But men have strong trust in their own devices.
The nations react in fear when the new conqueror emerges (verse 5). Their collective answer is to encourage each other to “be strong” (verse 6). They do not humble themselves and seek the Lord; rather, they prop up their courage by looking to their own resourcefulness to build better and stronger idols to protect themselves (verse 7).
We are taught a lesson here that is thematic in the Bible. Judgment comes because it is deserved. When it is delayed, it is due to the mercy of God. God’s appeal is for men to look to him, to turn from their ways to his ways. It is misery to be tottering on the edge of destruction because of your own folly.
In verse 8, the Lord turns from the unbelief of men in the world to speak to his people. They will face tribulations on earth, and the world of men will oppose them (verses 11-12). They are to “fear not,” no matter what comes over the horizon. God gives his people reasons for this command.
One is that they are chosen and beloved of God as Abraham was (verse 8). Abraham faced troubles in the world, but the Lord was with him. He was Abraham’s “shield and very great reward” (Genesis 15:1). It is a comforting thought to have the Lord tell you he loves you as he did Abraham. God appears unspeakably glorious and lovely in issuing this assurance.
No matter what happens, he will “not cast you off” (verse 9), but rather he says, “I will be with you” (verse 10). The Lord Jesus told his disciples they would face tribulations in the world, but that he would never leave them nor forsake them. God obliges himself by telling his people to commit their way to him, and he will preserve them and load them with blessings (verse 10).
As God’s people we are not to be dismayed with fear when troubles arise (verse 10). The word dismayed has the meaning of gazing in one direction and then another, not knowing where to look for safety. But the believer in Christ is not alone; he is to fix his eyes upon Christ.
The Lord makes promises to the believer in troubles: “I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (verse 10). The Lord repeats in verse 13, “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’
The Christian, in the face of fears, is to let God be his all in all. When subdued by and melted by the pardon of our souls, we can render to God both body and soul and be faithful even unto death.