Last week, I started studying Isaiah 40-66. These are the last 27 chapters of the book, and they record an extended dialog where God speaks candidly about His feelings, desires, and plans. In this passage, He revealed His plans for ancient Israel’s immediate future at the time, for the Messiah’s coming (included the four famous Servant Song passages), and for events that are still in the future for those of us reading Isaiah today.
If you go back and read last week’s post, you’ll see I made a list of key themes that I want to study more extensively in this section of scripture. The list included (among other things) God’s defense of His reputation and His power to achieve all He’s promised. Another related point is that God is incomparable and sovereign, so trying to replacing Him with idol worship is foolish.
God shows so much emotion in this section of scripture, and much of it is related to the topic of who He is and how people ought to relate to Him. He’s angry and heartbroken when His people turn away, cutting off contact with Him. He’s confused by Israel’s forgetfulness about all He’s done in the past. He wants them to see Him for who He is and give up their foolish attachment to gods made from wood and stone. Though some of the specific wording is closely connected to Israel of Isaiah’s day, the passages also hold meaning for us today. The specifics of our struggles might be different but we’re not immune from developing an inaccurate view of the Lord.
After God parted the Red Sea in Exodus, Moses and Miriam led the people in a song of joy that includes these words: “Who is like you, Yahweh, among the gods? Who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Ex. 15:11, WEB). In Hebrew, “who is like you?” is mi chamocha (which is where we get the names Michael and Michelle). You can hear parts of this Hebrew prayer in The Prince of Egypt’s soundtrack (click here for lyrics with a translation; click here for the song).
As I read through Isaiah 40-66, the phrase mi chamocha kept coming to mind. In the Exodus song, the question, “Who is like you, Lord?” is a rhetorical one. The answer should be obvious when we look at His creation and marvelous miracles, such as rescuing Israel from Egypt–there’s no one who can compare to the Lord. Many years later, though, the descendants of those people who once sang mi chamocha aren’t so sure of the answer. And so God asks a series of questions near the beginning of the passage we’re studying in Isaiah.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
and marked off the sky with his span,
and calculated the dust of the earth in a measuring basket,
and weighed the mountains in scales,
and the hills in a balance?
Who has directed Yahweh’s Spirit,
or has taught him as his counselor? …
To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare to him? …
“To whom then will you liken me?Isaiah 40:12-13, 18, 25, WEB
Who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Isaiah’s readers–past and present–need this reminder. In our modern world, it’s easy to forget how awe-inspiring God is. We’re jaded, tired, and distracted; often out-of-touch with the marvels of God’s creation and forgetful of His wonderful works. We need reminders of our insignificance and God’s mighty power (Is. 41:14-20). Yet like Isiah’s first audience, we’ve already witnessed God’s goodness. Now we need to remember it and worship Him accordingly, recognizing that there is no other god (Is. 43:10-13; 44:6-8; 46:5-11; 63:7-14; 64:4).
When we turn away from God and put something else in His place, we’re guilty of idolatry. In ancient Israel’s case, this often took the form of literally worshiping other gods. My guess is that most of you reading this today aren’t tempted to carve a block of wood into a shape and bow down to it. Our idolatry temptations are more subtle. They’re still there, though, and it’s still important to be careful of them. The Apostle John makes this clear with the final admonition of his first letter: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5: 21).
God’s feelings about idolatry take up huge parts of Isaiah 40-66. He keeps coming back to this topic. He seems genuinely puzzled by how a people to whom He’s revealed Himself and who’ve seen Him work wonders could turn from Him and bow down to images they made themselves. It’s simply absurd.
Everyone who makes a carved image is vain.
The things that they delight in will not profit.
Their own witnesses don’t see, nor know, that they may be disappointed. …
No one thinks,Isaiah 44:9, 19, WEB
neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say,
“I have burned part of it in the fire.
Yes, I have also baked bread on its coals.
I have roasted meat and eaten it.
Shall I make the rest of it into an abomination?
Shall I bow down to a tree trunk?”
God is a logical, rational being and He gave humans the ability to think that way, too. Sometimes, though, understanding is clouded to the point that people can’t even figure out that the same wood they cook their food over doesn’t turn into a god just because someone carved it into a shape.
Over and over God and Isaiah come back to the topic of idolatry, challenging their readers to think about what they’re doing (Is. 44:9-20; 46:5-7; 57:3-11). If people really realized who and what God is, they’d know they could never replace Him. As such, proving who He is and that He’s the one responsible for what happens to His people is a key part of God’s purpose in this section of scripture. He even says one of the main reasons for prophecy is to disprove idols.
I have declared the former things from of old.Isaiah 48:3-5, WEB
Yes, they went out of my mouth, and I revealed them.
I did them suddenly, and they happened.
Because I knew that you are obstinate,
and your neck is an iron sinew,
and your brow bronze;
therefore I have declared it to you from of old;
before it came to pass I showed it to you;
lest you should say, ‘My idol has done them.
My engraved image and my molten image has commanded them.’
God is all-powerful. He created everything that exists and He determines the shape of the future. We can rest assured that, just as He accomplished His purposes in the past, so He will bring His future plans to pass as well. And if we ever start losing sight of Who God is and wondering if He has the power to follow-through on all the things He’s promised, we can come back to passages like Isaiah 40-66 for reassurance and reminders (Is. 41:20; 45:7; 46:9-10; 55:8-17; 59:1).
God is Incomparable and Sovereign
Have you ever noticed how much the Bible talks about names? That’s because names in Hebrew culture are connected to a person’s reputation. In an Eastern society, like the one where the people in the Bible lived, family connections, honor, and reputation are extremely important (for more on this topic, see Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien and Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg).
God uses this cultural trait to emphasize how much He cares about the way people perceive Him. It is vitally important to Him that we remember who He is and realize that nothing and no one can compare to Him. Notice these words in part of God’s commission to Cyrus that’s recorded in these final chapters of Isaiah:
I am Yahweh, and there is no one else.Isaiah 45:5-7, WEB
Besides me, there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not known me,
that they may know from the rising of the sun,
and from the west,
that there is no one besides me.
I am Yahweh, and there is no one else.
I form the light
and create darkness.
I make peace
and create calamity.
I am Yahweh,
who does all these things.
What people think of God doesn’t change who He is; He is the sovereign Lord and creator of all things whether humans believe it or not. Still, He cares about how people–especially His people–view Him. He puts His name on us and tells us not to misuse that Name (Ex. 20:7; Num. 6:27). His reputation in our eyes affects our relationship with Him; the more accurately we see Him, the more properly we relate to Him.
“Listen to me, O Jacob,Isaiah 48:12-13, WEB
and Israel my called:
I am he.
I am the first.
I am also the last.
Yes, my hand has laid the foundation of the earth,
and my right hand has spread out the heavens.
when I call to them, they stand up together.
The world is full of distracting and worrisome things. That’s true for us today just as it was true in Isaiah’s day. We battle things that vie for our attention and hearts, offering to fill our time with comforting distractions rather than what really matters. We also hear and see constant reminders that the world is violent, unstable, and full of threats to our security and way of life.
God’s word cuts through that whole thick pile of distractions and worries like a sharp blade. How could we spend time in useless distractions when the Creator of the universe wants to speak to our hearts? How could we waste our time worrying about “what ifs” when the all-powerful Lord says He will deliver and preserve us?
God is incomparable and irreplaceable. Who is like the Lord? Only He Himself. There’s no one who can compare and nothing which can replace Him. We need to remember that. It will help keep our hearts in the right place and our eyes on the goal of eternal life with the Lord.
Featured image by Inbetween from Lightstock
Song Recommendation: “Mi Chamocha” by Dominique (Nique’s Oasis)