Boasting

Psalm 135 begins with the statement, “Praise ye the LORD” (Psalm 135:1). The Hebrew word translated praise in this verse is halal. In its simplest active form, the word halal means to boast” (1984). Everyone knows how to boast and most people do it on a regular basis, and yet, boasting about God is not something that happens naturally. The reason we are told to praise the LORD is because “the LORD is good” (Psalm 135:3).

Goodness is not a measure of quality, but a characteristic or attribute of a thing or person. When he was referred to as “Good Master,” Jesus responded, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:16-17). What Jesus was saying was, it is impossible for a human to be or become good. The best we can do is live by God’s standard and give him the credit for the result.

Help!

There are times when it seems like God is inactive, as if he is asleep or on vacation. Because he is invisible, we look for evidence of his existence and can forget that God is always at work in our lives. Psalm 46:1 states, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The Hebrew word translated present, mâtsâ’ (maw – tsaw´) means to come forth, appear or exist (4672). Although God is always with us, we notice or are aware o his presence most when we are in trouble.

When Sennacherib king of Assyria threatened to attack Jerusalem, he used psychological warfare to intimidate the city’s people. The type of trouble the people experienced was an anguish of soul, a distress of a psychological or spiritual nature. What they needed was assurance that God was near. The psalmist declared, “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God shall help her, and that right early” (Psalm 46:5).

Often times, fear causes us to run. We want to get as far away from our trouble as possible. One of the ways that God challenges us to trust him is to wait, to not do anything for the moment. In their time of distress, God told his people, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10). Isaiah said to the rebellious children of Judah, “Therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still” (Isaiah 30:7).

The primary reason God doesn’t want us to react to our emotions when we are in trouble is we usually make things worse. If we stay and watch to see what will happen, we get to see God at work, and may witness a miracle. Psalm 80 focuses on God’s ability to break forth in a situation like the sun coming up over the horizon. The psalmist prayed, “Stir up thy strength, and come and save us. Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved” (Psalm 80:2-3).

Three times in Psalm 80 the phrase “turn us again” appears, emphasizing the importance of connecting with God at a personal level. God’s people turned away from him continually and did not obey his commandments as they were instructed to. In spite of this, the LORD remained faithful and responded to their cries for help. The psalmist, pleading for God to intervene on Judah’s behalf, requested of the LORD, “Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit thine vine” (Psalm 80:14).

Sennacherib

Sennacherib king of Assyria was referred to as “the great king” (2 Kings 18:19), a title often used by the imperial rulers of Assyria, in order to intimidate and break the resistance of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. This title was associated with the LORD in Psalms 47 and 95 where it says, “For the LORD most High is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth” (Psalm 47:2), and “For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:3). It is likely the Assyrian rulers intentionally used the title “great king” to mock God and to elevate themselves above his authority.

Sennacherib sent a message to king Hezekiah in the Hebrew language and made sure it was read publicly so that everyone in Jerusalem would be aware of his contempt toward their God. It said, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria: thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand: neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria…Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?” (2 Kings 18:28-30,35).

Sennacherib implied that the LORD was unable to deliver Jerusalem out of his hand. In essence, saying that he was more powerful than God. Sennacherib’s claim revealed his arrogance, and his willingness to say anything in order to intimidate his adversary king Hezekiah. When Hezekiah turned to the LORD for a response, Isaiah told him, “Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him and he shall hear a rumor, and shall return to his own land: and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (2 Kings 19:6-7).

God wanted to demonstrate not only his ability to deliver his people from Sennacherib’s army, but also his sovereign control over all the kingdoms of the earth. Sennacherib’s position as king of Assyria was subject to God’s will. If he decided to remove Sennacherib from power, God could do it in an instant. It says in 2 Kings 19:36-37, “So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went and returned, and dwelt in Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sherezer his sons smote him with the sword.”

Phase Two

The LORD identified Cyrus king of Persia as the shepherd that would lead his people out of captivity (Isaiah 44:28). God referred to Cyrus as his anointed (Isaiah 45:1), a term associated with Israel’s Messiah. In Cyrus’ case, this title meant that he was consecrated by God for a special office or function. Cyrus was a pagan king that did not know God. The LORD declared about him, “For my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me” (Isaiah 45:4).

God intended to use Cyrus for his own purposes in order to demonstrate his sovereign control over all his creation. In explaining this strategy the LORD said, “That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:6-7). Cyrus’ connection to Israel’s Messiah made it possible for God’s people to see that Jesus was to be the savior of the world, not just Israel.

The idea that God would save the world was a new concept for the Israelites because up to that point the Gentiles were excluded from having a relationship with God. If Israel had kept God’s commandments, they might have been able to retain their exclusive rights to his inheritance (Isaiah 48:18), but as it were, they chose to rebel and forfeited that right (Isaiah 48:19). Therefore, the LORD said, “Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them” (Isaiah 48:6).

The Israelites’ captivity would prepare them for a new assignment. Phase two of God’s redemption plan required his people to become messengers, spreading God’s word throughout the earth. The scattering of God’s people was not just to punish them. God had always intended for the world to hear of his fame. What the Israelites didn’t know, and were being told for the first time, was they would be sharing their story with the Gentiles in order to get them to repent.

Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob. And they thirsted not when he led them through deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out. There is no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked. (Isaiah 48:20-22)

 

Babylon

Babylon was not a random city where God chose to send his people into captivity. It says in Genesis 11:27-28 that Abraham’s father, Terah was born in Ur of the Chaldees or Chaldeans. Around the 19th century B.C., it says, “Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees” (Genesis 11:31).

Later, when God made a covenant with Abraham in the land of Canaan, he said, “I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it” (Genesis 15:7). God’s plan of redemption for his people included Abraham’s descendants being made into a great nation (Genesis 12:2) and their captivity in the land from which Abraham had first been called out (Isaiah 43:14).

It was appropriate for God to send his people back to the land of Abraham’s ancestors because their idol worship originated there. Babylon’s primary idols , Bel and Nebo were a father and son duo connected with the two golden calves worshipped in Israel. Isaiah explained that these idols were not only the cause of Israel’s captivity, but they would be taken captive with them (Isaiah 46:1-2). God’s intention was to once and for all do away with these false deities.

God’s ability to direct the course of events made it possible for him to bring things full circle. Even though Jerusalem was still decades away from destruction, God warned his people, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (Isaiah 46:9).

God’s vengeance on Babylon was due primarily to its arrogance. Isaiah declared, “And Babylon the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:19). Isaiah described God’s humbling of this nation in terms of a woman who would mourn the loss of her virginity. He said, “Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground; there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans; for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate” (Isaiah 47:1).

The Chaldeans were known for their practice of astrology. Perhaps their greatest claim to fame was their ability to foretell events that threatened the security of their kingdom. Using a sarcastic tone to mock them of their certain doom, Isaiah stated, “Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee” (Isaiah 47:13).

The Creator

One thing Isaiah made perfectly clear about God was that he alone created the world in which we live. Isaiah declared of the LORD, “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth” (Isaiah 40:25-26).

God’s sovereign control over his creation and ownership of its people and resources entitles him to do as he pleases with those who rebel against him. Using his chosen people as an object lesson in judgment, God showed everyone his ability to carry out his divine decrees and his willingness to forgive anyone who would repent.

As if speaking to the entire world; past, present, and future; Isaiah proclaimed judgment upon idol worshippers. He said, “Thus saith the LORD the king of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts, I am the first, and I am the last, and besides me there is no God…Is there a God besides me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any” (Isaiah 44:6,8). Idols were merely man-made images designed to take the place of God (Isaiah 44:17).

The primary issue God wanted to clarify was his ability to restore Jerusalem after the captivity of his people was completed. As far as God was concerned, it was a done deal. The LORD even named the pagan ruler who would facilitate the rebuilding of his temple and called Cyrus his anointed (Isaiah 44:28-45:1). Only God could do such an astonishing thing as to have the king of Persia fund Jerusalem’s rebuilding project.

God’s sovereign rule over every aspect of life was established when he declared, ” I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). God left no doubt about the source of his children’s punishment. Rather than blame the devil for the Israelites willful rebellion, God placed the responsibility for sin on each individual’s shoulders. The only hope for salvation was an intentional turning to God.

The LORD declared, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22). This invitation was given to everyone, regardless of race or nationality, because all will be held accountable for their acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ (Romans 14:12). Anyone who thinks he can live outside of God’s sovereign control is mistaken. According to the creator of heaven and earth, there is only one way to be saved. He said, “I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (Isaiah 45:23).

Not finished

The nation of Israel was unique in that God took a special interest in the descendants of Abraham, and in particular, the 12 sons of Jacob and caused them to settle in a land that had been promised to them hundreds of years earlier. As God developed the nation of Israel and caused it to grow, his people became known throughout the surrounding nations because of the way God blessed them.

After the northern kingdom of Israel was  destroyed by the Assyrians and the people of Judah were told they would be taken into captivity in Babylon, there was doubt about the future. God assured his people that he wasn’t finished with them. Through Isaiah he said, “But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name: thou art mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

Looking forward to the day when God’s eternal kingdom would be established, God declared, “Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him, yea, I have made him” (Isaiah 43:6-7). During an unspecified period of time, God’s people would be scattered throughout the world, but their identity as God’s children would be preserved and eventually, they would return to their land.

The primary focus of God’s future work was a re-creation of what was once the nation of Israel. As God had established his presence in the Promised Land, so he would make himself known throughout the earth by the redemption of his people. In order to distinguish himself from all other deities, God intended to show the world his glory by dying for the sins of all people (Isaiah 43:10-11).