The Sovereign Lord Determines and Declares History (Isaiah Sermon 49 of 81)
September 21, 2014 | Andrew Davis
Glory of God, Prophecy, Providence and Sovereignty of God
Glorious Promises in Unfamiliar Territory
I'd like to commend to you that you open your Bibles to Isaiah 41. I think, especially as we move out of Isaiah 40, which is very familiar I think to any that are regularly reading the Bible and we go ahead now into Isaiah 41 and beyond that into other chapters, I guarantee we're going to go into some unfamiliar territory. And just because it's unfamiliar, doesn't mean that it's not a rich blessing. Actually in some ways it's even better that way, isn't it? We're going to be discovering some incredible things in the word of God, but I just am following section by section through the chapters. And so, it'll just mean more to you, if you're able to see it right on the page and be able to link the things I'm saying to what you're reading in the text, so I just commend that to you. Before I begin, I just want to summarize the message in a simple word right now, just a simple summary. What we're going to find in Isaiah 41 is that God who takes on the idols on a specific issue, what you just heard, read for us, he's going to take on the idols and say, He can do something that no one else can do. He is able to foretell the future.
And we're going to see the reason He's able to do that is because He has decreed the future, He is the King over the universe, and He is able to predict the future not only at a smaller detailed level of Cyrus coming and destroying the Babylonian Empire, and allowing the Jews to return, but bigger than that he has decreed a savior, who for us now is in the past, but in Isaiah's day was in the future and His fulfillment of all of that points to a bright and glorious future for all of us. And so, my final application is not just to marvel that God knows the future and can predict it, and no one else can. But in verse 10, that this same God wants to comfort you in your own fears about the future, because you don't know what's around the next corner, and it's so easy to be afraid. You are wise enough and old enough to see the kinds of tragedies that suddenly befall people, even brothers and sisters in Christ, and you may be shrinking back from that and wondering, "What is my future, what's going to happen to me?"
I'm going to kind of end up at Isaiah 41:10. Do not be afraid. I am with you. I have already been to the future. More than I have just been to the future, I've decreed it, and it is a good place for you. So be filled with hope and I'm going to get you there. I'm going to hold you by my righteous right hand, and I'm going to bring you straight through to a glorious end. So there it is. So now you may wonder why even do all the details? I'll tell you why, because the details are glorious, and so, I yearn to just unfold Isaiah 41 for you and we're going to have to keep a strong pace.
Okay, I'm going to just take a minute now and tell you something that happens regularly at my kitchen sink, alright? You may wonder what in the world does this have to do with anything? I'm not even sure why I'm telling you this, but we have a little soap dispenser there of kitchen soap. And I regularly make the same mistake over and over, I pour too much of the liquid in there and it just pours out and gets wasted. I have a feeling that my wife may be talking to me about this, that probably never happens to you, but I just... It just pours out and I have to rake it in the sink, and it goes down the drain.
Don't let that happen to you today. I'm going to be pouring out Isaiah 41 in you. Expand your capacity and let's take the whole chapter in. Let's not waste any of all that God wants to tell us. So just pick up with me and track. And now, as I begin, I want to tell you I... My initial thought on this, I go to the end of the chapter, and you've already heard beautifully in Isaiah 41 how God boasts over the idols his ability to predict the future. And he says, he's the only one that can do it. This is something that sets him apart from the idols.
What Makes Christianity Unique?
Now, many of us wonder, as we stand at this place in time in this pluralistic country of ours, a country that embraces and loves all kinds of diversity, some of it is good diversity that God made, some isn't. As we stand here at this juncture of time, we are again and again being asked to make a defense for Christianity from the unbelieving, the skeptical, the culture despisers of Christianity saying, "How do you know that your religion is any better, any different than anyone else's? How do you know that Christianity is the one true religion in the world? How can you tell?"
We are called on by God to be the light of the world, we're called on to shine radiantly in a dark place. Peter tells us that we should always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asked us to give a reason for the hope that we have. So, my desire is to preach towards that hope. So, you're radiant and hope start there, but now I want to go beyond that and give reasons for it. I want you to be able to give a reason defense for Christianity to skeptics and atheists and other people who may ask, "What makes Christianity different?" And even more importantly, "How do you know that Jesus Christ is truly the Savior of the world, the only savior there is?" For me, personally, ultimately, it all comes down to this book, the Bible, the uniqueness of the Bible as it testifies to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, that's the difference between Christianity and every other world religion. Now, skeptics may claim other religions have sacred writings, other religions have their sacred books.
For example, Buddhism has various collected sayings of Buddha called the Buddhavacana. Hinduism has the Vedas and the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita, and different holy writings. Of course, Islam has the Quran. Shintoism has the Kojiki. Scientology even has a book Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard. Mormonism of course, has the Book of Mormon, so how do we know that Christianity is different? How can we know the Bible is unique in this crowded field of spiritual writings, holy books revered by millions of people around the world? Now, there are many answers to this as I've already said, the greatest answer is the way the Bible testifies to Jesus Christ and Jesus of the Bible is utterly unique and could not have been concocted by human ingenuity. The person and work of Jesus Christ claiming to be God incarnate, sinless, claiming to be sinless, teaching in ways that no one had ever taught before or has taught since, doing astonishing signs and wonders and miracles, raising the dead, cleansing those that had leprosy, speaking to the wind and the waves and it obeyed Him. And then of course, the greatest miracle of all, His own resurrection from the dead on the third day.
Focused, especially on Christ, His atoning death and His bodily resurrection witnessed by over 500 people. But along with this, is the Bible's testimony to Christ, especially in the issue of prophecy, things that were written about Jesus and about the world long before they happened. The Bible contains dozens of prophets who speak with amazing clarity about future events. One scholar has counted, listen to this, over 2000 prophecies in the Bible covering every nation within 1000 miles of Jerusalem. In Isaiah alone, there are dozens of very specific prophecies about the nations of His day, Israel, Judah, Egypt, the Philistines, Moab, Ammon, Syria, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, etcetera, specific prophecies, about the nations of his day, and what was going on in that time. But not only Isaiah, Jeremiah, specifically predicted the fall of Babylon, exactly when it would happen, and exactly how it would happen, by the diversion of a river enabling soldiers to crawl under a wall and then slay those who were drunk in their sleep and then open the doors, the gates of Babylon so the city could be destroyed, that specific 70 years before it happened.
The Book of Daniel very specifically predicts the coming of Alexander the Great, the king of Greece, who with astonishing speed destroys the Persian Empire, and reaches a height of power scarcely to be imagined, but at the height of his power, cut off, his kingdom divided and broken into four sections, exactly what happened to Alexander the Great. The Book of Ezekiel describes the destruction of the City of Tyre, a prosperous port city by a series of conquests, one after the other, including Alexander the Great, centuries before any of it happened. And even more amazingly that the city of Tyre would never be rebuilt, though, it was just perfectly situated as a port city. But the most overwhelming body of prophecy in the Bible focuses on the person and work of Christ, that same scholar accounted over 500 specific prophecies focused on Jesus. And I believe all of it ultimately points to Christ, ultimately. God isn't ultimately wanting us to be amazed that Cyrus the Great was predicted a century and a half before he was even born and just be amazed that Cyrus had some kind of a kingdom at some point, that's all gone, it's dust. Nobody even... Barely even knows him.
And the Medo-Persian Empire is gone. Was that the whole point? No, that was not the whole point. Rather that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world, and his kingdom will never pass away. That's the whole point that we're moving towards. Now, by contrast, I went with the kind of confidence that comes from a Bible believer, reading the themes of Isaiah 41 and later in this section of Isaiah, clearly God saying, He's the only one that can predict the future and make it come to pass. I went with great confidence to Google and searched phrases like Islamic prophecies and had a wonderful time. My very biased conclusion is, there are none. Now, you can read. There's one website where they talk about how in the Quran, the use of fingerprints and fighting crime is predicted, then you go to the Quran and read it, just have a good time with it, because there just aren't any Islamic prophecies. There were some immediate oracles about some of the nations that surrounded during Muhammad's time. Go ahead and read and come to your own conclusion.
Buddhism and Hinduism doesn't even try. It's kind of like floating above all of the earthly events and just up there in enlightenment-ville. And so, they're not trying to make predictions about the nations, it's just not what they do. There are a few of them that talk about general sinfulness of the human race, but it just is not compelling at all. Any prophecies there are in some of the cults are borrowed, I think, from the Bible. And so ultimately, there just aren't any fulfilled prophecy, and we shouldn't be surprised, because God's the only one that can do this. So let's dig in and look.
I. The Lord Challenges Idols... and Defeats Them!
And in this chapter what we're going to see is that God specifically is challenging idols and defeating them. In Isaiah 40, we've already seen the awesome God of Isaiah 40, now He's moving out in Isaiah 41, to comfort and strengthen and save His people. That's what's happening as we move from Isaiah 40 to 41. Isaiah 40, what a great chapter, how from the beginning, God comforts His people with the message that their sins are forgiven by an ample atonement, ultimately in Christ.
The same God who moves out over a desert road and levels the mountains and raises the valleys and no obstacle can stop Him. The God who reveals His glory to all mankind and the entire human race will be able to see the glory of the Lord. The God who declares that all humanity is flesh and all their glories, like the flowers in the field and the grass withers, and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever. This is the God who proclaims a message of good news to Zion and to the ends of the Earth. And the center piece of that good news is, behold your God. The astonishing range of this God who tends His people like a gentle shepherd with His lambs. But at the same time, holds the waters of the Earth in His cupped hand, and with the breadth of His hand marks off the heavens. The God who says of the nations, they are a drop from the bucket and dust on the scales. The God who sits enthroned above the circle of the Earth, and all of its people are like grasshoppers, this God rules over all of human history, He is sovereign over the nations.
Now why does God take on idols and idolatry which He clearly does in this chapter? You look at verse 7, and it talks there about the idol maker, who is smoothing gold with his hammer and nailing it down, so it won't topple. He's dealing with idolatry and idols here. Well, it's because of idolatry that the exile to Babylon, which hasn't even come yet is going to come. And so, God is challenging the idolatry of His people. But let's go above the immediate circumstances, because every single human being struggles with a choice between worshipping idols or worshipping the true and living God. So we struggle with idols every bit as much as they did. And so God is challenging the idols of our hearts in every generation. Now, Israel's punishment would be exile to Babylon, God's remedy then is to challenge the idols, take them on, fight them. He wants to control history and use his sovereign control of history to orchestrate a salvation for His people. So God takes on the idols. And we're going to see this again and again in these 10 chapters, Isaiah 40 to 49, God is going to take on the idols, he's going to challenge them. And we see in this the jealousy of God. God is jealous over our hearts, he's jealous like a husband over the affections of his wife. The church is called the bride of Christ. Israel was portrayed in similar language as the wife of Yahweh. And so, he is jealous. He even says His name is jealous.
He says in the 10 Commandments, "Do not make any idols, for I the Lord, your God, am a jealous God." The Psalmist said, they made idols and so provoked God to jealousy by what their hands have made. So God is jealous and He's going after our heart affections and He's challenging His rivals, He's taking on His rivals, see what they can do. And He's going to defeat them. And so, the battle ground he chooses here. [chuckle] So let's do this, bring in your idols and let's see if you can foretell the future, and that's going to be the challenge. Let's see if you can do that. So ultimately He's going to win. And so, God is challenging the issue of the foretelling of the future. Now, in order to understand that, we have to understand what we know already basic facts of nature of the physics of the world we live in. And the linear progression of time, the sequencing of events is basic to the world we live in. Look at verse 4, it says, "Who has done this and carried it through calling forth the generations from the beginning." I mean, that should recall even the very beginning of the Bible. In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.
So there's a beginning, that means there's a beginning, a middle, and an end. There's a linear view of history being taught in the Bible, not the big circular thing with karma and all that being taught by Eastern religions. But there's a linear view beginning, middle, end. It's Biblical, a linear view of history. First this, then that, then the other. A then B, then C, then D. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, there's a linear sequencing here. One, two, three, four. You see it in Genesis 1. There was evening and there was morning, the first day. There was evening and morning, the second day. There's a sequencing here and the thing builds on it, you can't have beasts and people made of the dust of the Earth if there is no dust or Earth yet. And so, first you have to have Earth with dust and then you can have beasts and people made from it. So there's a sequencing here and it makes sense to us. So it is in redemptive history. First, you have the promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky when he was just a solitary man at that point.
That must precede the Exodus, don't you see that? It must precede his numerous descendants being rescued out of Egypt. And so, the sequencing of those things they must become slaves in Egypt before the Exodus can happen. There's a sequencing in redemptive history. God has ordered all the details of human history before He created the universe, the Bible tells us that God had, and let's use a very human expression, figured all this out before the world began. Now, don't go there, because God doesn't figure anything out, He knows. It's not like God ever said, "Aha, I got it." That means a moment before that, He didn't get it yet. So God doesn't figure anything out. I'm just saying, He knew everything about history before the world began. But more than that, the Bible teaches He decrees that history, He decrees it, like a sovereign king, He chooses that history. Then beyond that he sends forth special individuals, prophets, who declare certain details of that history... Is it still there? No, it fell. Sorry about that. I don't move around much. Should I? Is this better? Over here? No, I'm not doing that.
God then declares certain details of that redemptive history that he had predicted in the Prophets. He declares it before it comes to pass, then he executes His plan down to the tiniest detail to achieve His final ends. And the centerpiece of all of this, is the saving work of God in Christ for sinners like you and me. That's what He's doing. And so, we are looking today at the astonishing power of predictive prophecy. No created being really knows the future. None of us. No human being and no angel or demon. No one. Why is that? Because God decides what finally is going to happen? Think about what it says in Proverbs 19:21, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it's the Lord's purpose that prevails." You make all your plans, all the plans you want, but if God says no, that's it. So a king may say, "I'm going to invade my neighboring countries." If God says, "No, you won't." He doesn't. Read about it in Isaiah 7, when one king decided they're going to come into Judah and topple the Davidic King and God said, "No, you won't, it will not take place." And so, it didn't take place.
Satan may say, "I'm going to ascend to Assyria and Assyria is going to wipe out Jerusalem," and God says, "No, you won't." And so, Satan doesn't know the future, he's got to wait on God to find out what He'll permit, because God is the sovereign King. So the ability the prophets have to declare the future shows that they're speaking for Almighty God. We should not imagine therefore that God is just a good guesser or a very astute student of the human heart. None of the above. God's not a good guesser, God doesn't do any guessing. God decrees and makes it happen. It's the ultimate, as I've said, self-fulfilling prophecy. He makes the prophecy and then He fulfills it.
And His ability to do this sets Him apart from all the Gods of the nations. In this chapter therefore, in several places in the series of chapters, we're going to see this again and again, God highlights his ability to predict the future events. Look at Verses 26-27. "Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know or beforehand, so we could say he was right? No one told of this. No one foretold it, no one heard any words from you [Speaking to the idols]. I was the first to tell Zion, look, here they are. I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good tidings." And along with that He exposed the idols for the false Gods they are. Look at verse 24, speaking to the idols again. "You are less than nothing, and your works are utterly worthless. He who chooses you is detestable." In Verse 29, "Behold, they are all false. Their deeds amount to nothing, their images are but wind and confusion." Now, the specific focus here, the immediate focus of this prediction is the rise of Cyrus the Great, one from the east, we're going to see in verse 2, one from the east. He's not mentioned here, there's lots of debates about this one from the east. But by the time we get to Isaiah 44-45, he's mentioned by name Cyrus.
In those chapters, Isaiah 44-45 are clear, and so therefore, I think it's reasonable to see the actions of this same Cyrus here, why is he important? Because Cyrus is the one who's going to destroy Babylon and allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it. But that's just the detail. Big picture is, God can do this all the time, this is what God does. And so, as I said, I'm bringing you ultimately to verse 10, saying, "Do not be afraid of the future for God is with you. He's already seen the future, he's already decreed the future, he knows that for you in Christ it's bright." And he wants to encourage you about that. So this is just evidence of the stunning uniqueness of Christianity, the uniqueness of the Bible, this issue of predictive prophecy. No other religion has it. So when you're on the college campus, when you're in the workplace, when you're talking to unsaved relatives and they say kind of, this kind of thing to you, "How do you know that Christianity, your religion is different than any other religion in the world?" Now you have an answer. You've already had it before, perhaps, but focus on this.
Fulfilled prophecy specifically, as it points to Christ, that's the difference. That's why... How we know that Christianity is different than any other religion there is in the world, this is something they cannot do.
II. The Lord Stirs Up a Conqueror to Do His Bidding (vs. 1-7)
Now, let's look at the chapter section by section, first verses 1-7. The Lord stirs up a conqueror to do his bidding. In verses 1-7, he begins by giving a summons to all the Earth. Verse 1, "Be silent before me you islands. Let the nations renew their strength, let them come forward and speak, let us meet together at the place of judgment." Well, you heard Ira say this so beautifully. "The God of the Bible is not just the God of the west, he's the God of the whole world." Wasn't that beautiful when you heard that? I was so blessed by that. This is the God of all the Earth, even the distant coast lands, or the distant islands, and he has the authority, the power to summon them to a place of judgment. So here it's metaphorical, for, let's bring them together and let's have a debate, a discussion on me versus the idols. But it's foretaste of the real assembling of the nations that's going to happen at the end of the world, what the Bible calls Judgment Day.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the only God there is, and He's the God of all the Earth, and He is going to summon all nations, and they will all be gathered before Jesus and Jesus, the judge of all the Earth will separate the people into two categories, the sheep and the goats, believers and unbelievers, the righteous and the wicked. This is coming. And at that time, on that day, we'll have to give an account to God, the judge for every careless word we have spoken, Judgment Day is coming. So, verse 1 is a foretaste of the time when the judge of all the Earth will assemble all the nations, and they will have to give an account to Him, so He brings them together.
God’s Claim: He Orchestrates Human History
Now God makes a claim in verses 2-4 that He orchestrates history, He rules it, he runs it. It's not random, it's not an accident. Things are going according to God's plan. Look at verses 2-4, "Who has stirred up one from the East? Calling Him in righteousness to his service, he hands nations over to Him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword to wind blown chaff with his bow. He pursues them and moves on unscathed by a path his feet have not traveled before. Who has done this, and carried it through calling forth the generations from the beginning? I the Lord with the first of them and with the last."
That's a huge statement. I am He. God is the God of every generation. This Isaiah prophecy is a prophecy for every generation. God will be with every generation right to the end of time, with every one of them. But more specifically, He's with every massive powerful conqueror who builds an empire on Earth. He's with the first of them, and He's with the last. He's the one that does it. This one from the East as I say I think is Cyrus, he's coming from the east and God says, who stirred him up to do it? The implication is that God did that. God stirred up Cyrus and moved him out. Well, how did you do that? Well, God controls human history by controlling human minds and hearts. He has the power to do that. God actually has the right to invade your mind and do what He wills with. It doesn't make us robots, that's way too simplistic.
What it means is that God controls people's hearts and the king's heart is like a water coursing, the hands of the Lord, he directs it whichever way he pleases. God can do that. Well, He doesn't just direct kings' hearts, he also directs common people's hearts and all that. So how does an individual become king in his tribe among his nation? How does he rise up above his brothers, the competing princes? How does one of them get identified as the leader of his own nation first? That's long before anybody ever heard of Cyrus. But the Meads and Persians identified him and began to follow him. Why? More intelligence, better leadership qualities, certain breaks along the way, it's God that orchestrates all of these things. Who did this? Who raised him up and called him in righteousness to his service. Now, it's interesting that individual in most cases, doesn't even acknowledge the God who's doing all these things, doesn't even know that He exists, but God's doing it. There's not a square inch in God's world that He's not ruling over actively. He doesn't... He's not an absentee ruler and so, He's doing this on nations all over the Earth, all the time. And he raises them up.
And He does it in righteousness. You see, the man's motives may be thoroughly wicked and corrupt and God will judge him for those motives. But God's motives are righteous. He knows what he's doing in redemptive history, and he's raising up guys, like Cyrus and giving them kingdoms for his own purposes. He is one from the east, and he's given a gift of military conquest. By his sword and his bow, he turns his enemies into dust. But he himself moves on unscathed it says. He's not touched, he's not wounded, he's certainly not killed. Great leaders frequently expose themselves to great danger on the battlefield. They do so with an arrogant sense of their own immortality, or invincibility, for that attitude God will judge them. But it happens time and time again, these great military leaders just seem to be completely fearless. You see this again and again, if you know anything about military history. Alexander The Great did this, he jumped over a wall into a fortress alone and fought by himself, because he was disgusted by his own soldiers who weren't following his lead. He was ready to die at that moment. Shamed, his other soldiers followed and saved his life. He was severely wounded. But he never died from battlefield wounds.
At one battle George Washington's coat was filled riddled with bullet holes, but he wouldn't come off the battle, battlefield. Douglas MacArthur landed, and there were just still snipers, it was still dangerous and there were bullets around his feet kicking up sand. Now, it could be argued if they get knocked off we'd never hear about him. True, good point. They die early in their military career, we never hear about them. They don't make it into the Encyclopedia Britannica. But they... This, it clearly says, Cyrus moves on unscathed by a path his feet have not traveled before. He came from the east and went over and conquered Lydia and its wealthy king Croesus got all his gold and then moved from the north down to conquer Babylon. So both of these things are fulfilled in verse 25, both directions. Look at verse 25. "I have raised up one from the north, and he comes, a one from the east who invokes my name." Which is it? Is he from the north or from the east? From both. He originally came from the east, he moves across conquers Lydia and then comes down from the north to conquer Babylon. But in all of this God's activity is highlighted. Who did this? It's God who does this.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He is the one who stirs up and give them victory. God hands nations over to him. The fear of the nations is there in verse 5, "The islands have seen it in fear, the ends of the Earth tremble." And they turn to their idols for courage. Verse 5-7, "They approach and come forward, each helps the other and says to his brother, 'Be strong.' The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smooths with his hammer spurs on him who strikes the anvil. He says of the welding, 'It is good.' He nails down the idol, so it won't topple. Good thing, don't want your idols to topple. I mean, the God of the Bible doesn't grow weary. He has infinite power, he doesn't need to be nailed down so he won't topple. And so, God's clearly mocking these idols here. So, oh, Israel, oh my people, do you not see how foolish and worthless idols are? Worship the true God of the Bible.
III. The Lord Defeats Israel’s Enemies (vs. 8-16)
Next section, in verses 8-16, we see the Lord defeating Israel's enemies, there's a clear contrast between the pagan idolatrous nations who turn to their idols for strength and help, and Israel, who is descended from Abraham, God's friend. Look at verses 8-16. Start at verse 8-9, "But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham, my friend, I took you from the ends of the Earth, from its farthest corners I called you, I said, 'You are my servant'; I have chosen you, and have not rejected you." God's unconditional election of Israel sets them apart from the other pagan nations of the world. Sets them apart. So they're turning to their idols for help, Israel turns to the true and living God for assistance. Isn't it beautiful in verse 8. He calls them the Jews. You descendants of Abraham, my friend. Isn't that amazing? The God of the Bible, the God who measures the Cosmos with the span of His hand, calls Abraham who's he, flesh and blood calls him His friend. He says, concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I'm about to do?" He involves Abraham in what He's doing. He draws him into an intercessory relationship. He draws him into a loving relationship. This is fulfilled for us in Christ, isn't it? Doesn't that say in John 15, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have call you friends, for everything I learned from the Father, I have made known to you."
We were created to be an intimate relationship with the Eternal God of the universe. He in Christ calls you and I, His friends. Actually though in the resurrection, after the Resurrection, Jesus goes even beyond that. He says them to go and tell the brothers that he is going to go ahead of them in Galilee and there they will see him. Calls them brothers, so we are his brothers and sisters, we are members of his family, adopted sons and daughters of the living God. How beautiful is that? And so, the application in verse 10 is plain. Do not fear, in the verse 10. "So do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." How easy it would be for Israel in exile to think that God has forsaken them? How easy it would be? But he said, "Do not be afraid for I am with you, and I will strengthen you and I will uphold you by my righteous right hand."
Jesus has put it plainly in this way, "I will never leave you, nor will I forsake you." And so, whatever God has planned for you and it might involve great pain, you know that, don't you? God uses pain to sanctify us, but whatever he wants to bring you through he's going to hold you by His righteous right hand, and never leave you or forsake you. And so, God has made this commitment to crush Israel's enemies by transforming Israel from the core of their being.
God’s Commitment: To Crush Israel’s Enemies by Transforming Israel
Look at verses 11-16, "All who rage against you, [speaking about Israel] will surely be ashamed and disgraced. Those who oppose you, will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who war against you will be as nothing at all for I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear, I will help you." Verse 14, "Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, oh little Israel, for I myself will help you declares the Lord your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel." Verse 15, "Behold, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp with many teeth, and you will thresh the mountains and crush them and reduce the hills to chaff. You will winnow them and the wind will pick them up and the gale will blow them away. But you will rejoice in the Lord in glory, in the Holy One of Israel."
So here, God takes on Israel's enemies. So I'm going to crush your enemies. I'm going to take on your enemies and I'm going to defeat them and there will come a time oh Israel that you will search for your enemies and you won't be able to find any of them. There will be none. They'll all be gone, that's what He says in these verses. Well, if you look at the history of the Jewish people from the time of the Babylonian invasion, until this very day, has been what Jesus called the times of the Gentiles. They've been under Gentile domination and even in the promised land, up to this present time. So these words have not been fulfilled, there's really no stretch of time in which Israel could say, "You will look... They looked for their enemies, they couldn't find any of them, they're all gone." That has not happened to this present day. So what is it talking about? Dear friends, I believe this is immediately talking about the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and His resurrection, and beyond that, the coming new heaven and new Earth, and the kingdom of God in which we will look for enemies, and not find any. And the gates of the new Jerusalem will stand open forever, because there's no threat.
And all of the wicked that would not love God or serve him or believe in Christ will be removed separated like chaff from the wheat. And so the image here is of Israel being made into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, what is that? I have no idea. So I looked it up. Threshing sledge is used for threshing. What's that? Threshing is the separation of the wheat that you can use from the chaff that you can't use. And so, the sledge is this heavy thing with like, metal discs or something that's dragged across the wheat and pulverizes it, and then it can be threshed and separated. So Israel becomes in human history the separator, the separator of wheat from chaff. How does that work? Well, what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, salvation is from who? The Jews. And in Christ comes the fork in the road for the human race. And in Christ alone comes the separation from wheat to chaff. As John the Baptist said, he will clear his threshing floor, gathering up the wheat into his barn but burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Israel, though warm, though small, though weak will become the issue for the world, ultimately in the person of Christ. That's the best I can make out, of verses 11-16.
If you have a different theory, let me know, but I think it harmonize with what's actually happening in Israel's history. But look forward to the day, think about this, the day when you, as a Christian will look around, in the new Earth, you'll walk around and you will not be able to find any enemies at all. They'll all be gone. No satanic enemies or demonic enemies, no human enemies, they'll all be gone. You will search for them, but you will not find them, that's coming in Christ.
IV. The Lord Transforms Nature and Refreshes His People (vs. 17-20)
And so in verses 17-20, The Lord will transform nature and refresh his people. "The poor and needy search for water, but there is none. Their tongues are parched with thirst, but I, the Lord will answer them, I, the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water and the parts ground into springs. I'll put in the desert, the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland. The fir and the Cypress together, so that my people may see and know, may consider and understand that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it."
Well, let me summarize the image here. The image here is of desert conditions in which there's nothing growing, desert conditions, there's no water suddenly transformed by a flow of heavenly water that changes everything into a lush garden of Eden. That's what those words are talking about. So what is the desert? Well, I think it's both physical and spiritual. By the way, do you notice how often I do that again and again? It's both physical and spiritual, it's both physical and spiritual. I say that again and again with Isaiah. There is an immediate fulfillment that has to do with Israel in space and time, and then there's a spiritual fulfillment in Christ that has to do with the gospel. I think that's the only Christian interpretation you can do for these Old Testament prophecies. There is an immediate fulfillment.
Israel, when Joshua entered with the Jews and they took over, was described in this way, a land flowing with what? Milk and honey. Joshua was told, Moses was told, "You know, the promised land is not like Egypt where you had to irrigate with a foot pump." Frankly, Egypt was known as a pretty lush bountiful place, it was constantly cranking out bread for Rome and other places. But you still had to irrigate. He said, "No, no, it's better than that. It drinks in the rain year round, it's lush, it's a land flowing with milk and honey." Yeah, but by the time the idolatrous Jews got done with it, it was like a desert.
And God said, He would do this before they even entered. He said, "If you go in there and if you get dragged into the sins of the surrounding nations and you start worshipping Baal and Molech and all these other false gods, I'll tell you what I'm going to do." Deuteronomy 28:23 and 24, "The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you will turn to iron, the Lord will turn the reign of your country into dust and powder, it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed."
If you look at a satellite photo of Palestine now, it doesn't look like a land flowing with milk and honey to me, I think it's under judgment. Isn't this the very thing that happened at the Garden of Eden? Don't you remember, when Adam ate the fruit and God judged him? He said cursed is what? The ground, because of you. And so, this whole Earth lies under a curse, this whole created order lies under a curse. Israel itself was turned into a desert physically. So what is God going to do? He's going to rain down water on it. Physical water? Sure. But I think of a better water than that.
If you look at Isaiah 44:3, you can turn there or just listen. There he clearly links the pouring out of water as the giving of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah 44:3, he says, "For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground, I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring and my blessing on your descendants." That's that Hebrew parallelism, pour out water on the dry land, I'll pour out Spirit on you. And so, yes, I believe that God, that this Earth after it's done with all its fiery judgments will be so resurrected and transformed, it will be lush, better than the garden of Eden. But even better, we will be transformed because we, in our sin, we are like in the desert. Do you know what I'm talking about? Have you ever felt that way? Things so dry for me spiritually. I feel so distant from God. I feel like I'm walking through the Sahara.
And so David puts it in this way, in Psalm 63:1, he says, "O God, you are my God, earnestly, I seek you. My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water." He is parched spiritually. The answer is redemption through faith in Christ, and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And He's going to pour out rain and refresh you. And he's going to give you foretaste of heaven. He is the deposit guaranteeing your future inheritance, your fellowship with God. And you can drink in the Spirit any time. That's what's going on in 17-20. And so Garden of Eden language means that paradise will be restored. Look at 19 and 20, "I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it." And so, God will bring about a new heaven and a new Earth.
V. The Lord Alone Determines and Declares the Future (vs. 21-29)
Now, verses 21-29, we covered at the beginning. God alone determines and declares the future and we would add a third word, performs it. He does it, he determines it, decrees it as a sovereign King, and then he declares some of it through the prophets, not all, but just enough to know he's on the job and he knows what's happening and then he performs all of it.
So verses 21-24, "'Present your case,' says the LORD. 'Set forth your arguments,' says Jacob's King. 'Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; he who chooses you is detestable.'"
Well, we've covered this. Baal, Molech, Osiris, Isis, Iris, Isis, Jupiter, Zeus, Thor, all of these false gods don't exist, they are storefronts for demons. All of them. The idols are storefronts for demons, the demons do exist. And so, demons are god and goddess impersonators. 1 Corinthians 10:20 says the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God. But you know what, demons are just fallen angels and you know what, angels don't know the future. It says in 1 Peter, even angels long to look into these things, they're wondering what's happened. The good angels are celebrating when new things happen, like when Jesus was born, like, "Whoa, that's awesome." They're celebrating and they're wanting to know what's coming next. In the Book of Daniel Chapter 12. They're saying, "Okay, what's good? What's the outcome? What's happening?" They don't know. Only God knows and those who listen to what God says.
Now, both past and future are inexplicable apart from God. The idols can't even tell us what the past things were. It's really hard to know the past. Any historian knows how hard it is to find out what really happened. Any trial attorney knows or judges know how hard it is to get the history of what actually happened. But even more than that, so what? All this stuff happened, what did it add up to? Tell us what the former things are so that we can figure out their final outcome. You can't do that. So, all of history lies under God to interpret for us. That's what these verses are saying, and we can't interpret it apart from the finished work of Christ on the cross.
And so, God is acting in history to bring about His purposes, including raising up this conqueror, Cyrus the Great to come from the east and the north to destroy Babylon, verse 25. And God is the only one to foretell these events because he's the only one who ordained them and would bring them to pass, verses 26-28. No one else told it, no one foretold it, God alone predicted the future and made it happen. Why did he do this? So that we would believe in Him. Same thing as the miracles of Jesus, He did it so we would believe in Him. Jesus said it plainly in John 14-29, "I've told you this now before it happens so that when it does happen, you will believe that I am He." That's why predictive prophecy was given so that we would believe in God.
So what application? First and foremost, come to Christ, that's the point of all of this. All prophecy leads to Jesus, not to Cyrus the Great. Friends, Cyrus the Great is dead. And it's really, really hard to find his mausoleum burial place. His empire is gone, it's been superseded by the Greeks, which have been superseded by the Romans. I don't need to continue. They're all gone, they're all dust in the wind. But Jesus is risen from the dead and lives forever. He came for sinners like you and me, trust in Him. But guarantee there's someone listening to me here in this vast assembly that is a non-Christian, that came in here, unforgiven under the wrath of God. I plead with you, trust in Christ. You don't need to do any good works. You just need to repent and believe and trust that Jesus is your savior and that God raised him from the dead.
Secondly, dear Christian brothers and sisters, stand in awe at a God who controls history like that, who makes prophecies and fulfills. Just stand in awe of Him, worship Him, and stand in awe at His ability to predict the future. And proclaim it to skeptics. Go look for someone this week that says, "What's the difference between Christianity and all the other religions?" Say, "Fulfilled prophecy." There you go, just right away, just say, "Fulfilled prophecy," especially the prophecies of Christ. And just start with your own skeptical heart. Let's just start there, okay? If you're ever tempted to doubt, is it really true? Go to this? The Word of God is a miracle, fulfilled prophecy points to it.
And then ultimately, if I could say, "Do not fear for God is with you." Look again at verse 10, I'd urge you to memorize it. If you're only memorizing individual verses, memorize the whole chapter, although after this sermon you're like, "No, I don't think so." 29 verses, it's a long chapter. So, just do verse 10, "Do not fear for I am with you. Do not be afraid for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." You don't know what the future holds, you don't know what's coming. It might be what you think is more than you can bear. God knows what you can bear. He's been ahead of you already, he knows the future and he is telling you in effect, you could picture him going out to the future and coming back from it and saying your future in Christ is infinitely bright. So do not be afraid of what's coming. You may hurt. You may weep. You may go through trials, but I have measured all of those trials and I've captured all of your tears in my bottle. Everything will tend toward your final salvation. Do not be afraid, I am with you. Close with me in prayer.