Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 6/11/00
We saw something of Isaiah's Ministry with Hezekiah a couple of weeks ago; we saw something of his Message last week in chapter 30; today we see something of his Master. We remember that under the influence of idolatry Israel had been worshipping in the pagan High Places (2 Chron. 33:17). Therefore one of Isaiah's major themes was to distinguish between Jahweh and idols. Chapter 45 begins with the prophecy of Cyrus, who would arise to send Israel back to the Land--perhaps the most explicit prediction in Scripture, made in ca. 700 BC and fulfilled in 539. So astounding is it that God could have given the very name of a king not yet born, that liberal critics us this passage as an excuse to ascribe Isaih chp. 40 and following to another, later author. The point is that, by contrast with other Gods, Jahweh sticks his neck out. This theme comes to a head in vv. 18-22, where God dares the heathen to show cause, as it were, why they worship idols.
In daring the nations to set forth their case, Jahweh makes his own, offering as the credentials which prove He is the true God His work in three areas: Creation, (v. 18), Revelation (v. 19), and Salvation (vv. 17, 22).
The contrast here is that between the Maker and the made. Idols are made themselves, by the hands of men (see the sarcastic satire in 44:12-17). By contrast, God made the heavens and the earth. And He did not just make them, but made them to be inhabited. We know details today of the kind of intelligent planning this required that the ancients could only intuit. All life on earth depends on the chlorophyl molecule, which is somehow able to capture light energy from the sun and transform it into a form that plants can use--and the animals who eat the plants--and the animals who eat the animals who eat the plants. The formula is MgN4C55H72O5: one atom of magnesium, four of nitrogen, 55 of carbon, 72 of hydrogen, five of oxygen. Misplace just one of them and it doesn't work at all. So how ironic is it that Man, created in the image of the One who designed the building blocks of life, uses the creative capacity derived from the Creator God to make--Idols! Who is God: the Creator or the ones created by the created?
The contrast with other gods is just as implicit in v. 19, which speaks of Revelation. God's prophecies are distinguished from the oracles of the other gods by their clarity. The "dark land" (lit. "place of darkness") may refer to the caves associated with pagan oracles, such as the most famous at Delphi. Some of those oracles survive, and they remind one of modern horoscopes, always vague enough so that meaning can be read in to them by those disposed to believe, but also vague enough so they are difficult to falsify. God, by contrast, predicts Cyrus' name more than a century in advance. If He gets it wrong, everybody will know.
Morally, the same prinicple holds at the end of the verse. Missionaries report that pagan tribes live in constant fear of the spirits, whose will is arbitrary, and who can therefore easily be offended unintentionally. By contrast, God has told us plainly what He expects of us. We don't have to guess, to be afraid of committing arbitrary offenses. Everything is above board: we know exactly where we stand.
If Yahweh wins this trial easily on the grounds of Creation and Revelation, His victory is even more impressive in the area of Salvation. Others carry their gods about; ours carries us. He raises up deliverers for His People, like Cyrus--who is but a downpayment on the great Deliverer, the Lord Jesus Christ.
On the basis of these credentials, then, God gives us His INVITATION: come check me out! (vv. 20-21). What is clear in this invitation is that Jahweh is not afraid of the competition. Why then do His servants sometimes act as if they are? If I were a salesman and afraid of my competition, I would use emotional manipulation and high-pressure tactics and would not encourage people to think for themselves or do any research. Uh oh--sounds like an awful lot of Christian evangelism! If I were not afraid of my competition, I would encourage people to become knowledgable and to think for themselves, knowing that when they have done so they will come back to me because my product really is the best buy. Let us act as if we actually thought the Christian faith were true, or else shut up and get out of the marketplace.
Here endeth the lesson.