Monday, July 27, 2015

Isaiah 41 - I Am with you.

"I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me, for I have redeemed you."
Isaiah 44:22
1“Listen in silence before me, you lands beyond the sea.
Bring your strongest arguments.
Come now and speak.
The court is ready for your case.
2“Who has stirred up this king from the east,
rightly calling him to God’s service?
Who gives this man victory over many nations
and permits him to trample their kings underfoot?
With his sword, he reduces armies to dust.
With his bow, he scatters them like chaff before the wind.
3He chases them away and goes on safely,
though he is walking over unfamiliar ground.
4Who has done such mighty deeds,
summoning each new generation from the beginning of time?
It is I, the LORD, the First and the Last.
I alone am He.”
5The lands beyond the sea watch in fear.
Remote lands tremble and mobilize for war.
6The idol makers encourage one another,
saying to each other, “Be strong!”
7The carver encourages the goldsmith,
and the molder helps at the anvil.
“Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over.
8“But as for you, Israel my servant,
Jacob my chosen one,
descended from Abraham my friend,
9I have called you back from the ends of the earth,
saying, ‘You are my servant.’
For I have chosen you
and will not throw you away.
10Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with My victorious right hand.
11“See, all your angry enemies lie there,
confused and humiliated.
Anyone who opposes you will die
and come to nothing.
12You will look in vain
for those who tried to conquer you.
Those who attack you
will come to nothing.
13For I hold you by your right hand—
I, the LORD your God.
And I say to you,
‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.
14Though you are a lowly worm, O Jacob,
don’t be afraid, people of Israel, for I will help you.
I am the LORD, your Redeemer.
I am the Holy One of Israel.’
15You will be a new threshing instrument
with many sharp teeth.
You will tear your enemies apart,
making chaff of mountains.
16You will toss them into the air,
and the wind will blow them all away;
a whirlwind will scatter them.
Then you will rejoice in the LORD.
You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.
17“When the poor and needy search for water and there is none,
and their tongues are parched from thirst,
then I, the LORD, will answer them.
I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them.
18I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus.
I will give them fountains of water in the valleys.
I will fill the desert with pools of water.
Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground.
19I will plant trees in the barren desert—
cedar, acacia, myrtle, olive, cypress, fir, and pine.
20I am doing this so all who see this miracle
will understand what it means—
that it is the LORD who has done this,
the Holy One of Israel who created it.
21“Present the case for your idols,”
says the LORD.
“Let them show what they can do,”
says the King of Israel.
22“Let them try to tell us what happened long ago
so that we may consider the evidence.
Or let them tell us what the future holds,
so we can know what’s going to happen.
23Yes, tell us what will occur in the days ahead.
Then we will know you are gods.
In fact, do anything—good or bad!
Do something that will amaze and frighten us.
24But no! You are less than nothing and can do nothing at all.
Those who choose you pollute themselves.
25“But I have stirred up a leader who will come from the north.
I have called him by name from the east.
I will give him victory over kings and princes.
He will trample them as a potter treads on clay.
26“Who told you from the beginning
that this would happen?
Who predicted this,
making you admit that he was right?
No one said a word!
27I was the first to tell Zion,
‘Look! Help is on the way!’
I will send Jerusalem a messenger with good news.
28Not one of your idols told you this.
Not one gave any answer when I asked.
29See, they are all foolish, worthless things. All your idols are as empty as the wind.

Isaiah 41 is a courtroom scene in which God summoned the nations to account for the spectacular military successes of an unnamed conqueror (later identified as Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians). The nations could not answer. God answered His own question by announcing that it was He who raised up the unidentified conqueror who would play a key role in releasing His people from captivity. 

God announced that He was in control of history and He who made possible the successes of the unidentified conqueror. Isaiah describes the panic that seized the nations when they learned that Cyrus would be the instrument of God's purpose. In a frenzy they tried to fashion more powerful idols to deal with Cyrus. All of this effort was vain and futile. Cyrus would accomplish God's purpose by defeating Babylon.

In this passage are messages of reassurance to Israel that they had been chosen by Him and would not be forsaken by Him (41:8-9). They were still His chosen people and owed Him their allegiance and loyalty. God promised to protect and care for His people and give them victory over their enemies (41:10-13). He would transform Israel from a "worm" (41:14) to a "threshing sledge" (41:15) that would pulverize her enemies and all obstacles (41:16). God promised to care for "the afflicted and needy" (41:17), a reference to the exiles, and make provision for their needs on their journey home (41:18-20).

Perhaps one of the most well known verses of the Bible is Isaiah 41:10 but I equally love Isaiah 41:13. In these verse are the pillars of fearlessness. When God calls me to be free from fear as I share my faith, take a test, face an interview, take a stand against an unjust business practice, confront someone with sin in their life,  leave a secure position and take a risk in a new venture, face an operation or a treatment, lose a spouse or a friend—God calls me to be free from fear. 

He commands me to overcome this natural emotion and have peace. He does not leave the command hanging in the air. He puts pillars under it.  That's the nature of all biblical commands. They come with divine support: For God is with me; God is my God; God will strengthen me; God will help me; God will uphold me.

The key to overcoming fear is resting on the pillars of the promises of God. And if the key to fearlessness is believing that God is my God and is with me and will strengthen me and help me and uphold me, then knowing the greatness of God will intensify my faith and fearlessness.

Look God's Greatness that Isaiah 41 gives.
The God who judges all the earth and calls the coastlands to give account . . .
The God who rules the rulers of history . . .
The God who calls the nations of earth into being because He is first and last . . .
The God who calls His own people and makes Himself their God freely and graciously . . .

That God says to me as a believer:
I am your God.
I am with you.
I will strength you.
I will help you.
I will uphold you.
Then Comes the Command—On these pillars

Therefore—because I am the Judge of the nations . . .
Therefore—because I rule the rulers of history . . .
Therefore—because I call nations into being . . .
Therefore—because I choose freely my Own . . .
Therefore—because I—this great and sovereign God—
I am your God and I am with you and will strengthen you and will help you and will uphold you . . 
Therefore, do not fear.

Change the image for a moment. Instead of pillars, see God in five relations expressed in five different prepositions.

I am your God—over you.
I am with you—by your side.
I will strengthen you—from inside of you.
I will help you—all around you from wherever the enemy comes.
I will uphold you—from underneath you.
Over you, by you, inside you, around you, underneath you....Therefore do not fear.

God says to me as I wake every morning: 

"I call you today to stop defining and limiting your future in terms of your past and start defining it in terms of Who I AM."
"I call you to recognize I Am is greater than your personality, greater than your past experiences of timidity. I Am greater than your "family of origin." And because of Who I Am - I call you to live this day in joyful fearlessness."