By Mark Scott
There are such things as primal realities. Examples include the law of gravity, DNA, and math formulas such as 2 + 2 = 4. Primal realities are things that are original or primitive. They are of first importance, fundamental, and foundational. We have some of these in our text today.
As we turn the corner in the study of Isaiah (chapter 40 is a significant shift in the book), we find a reminder of the primal realities of God in the earth. Isaiah prophesied that the future destructions of Assyria and Babylon would precede the coming of the Messiah. By Isaiah 40, the prophet began to sing the song of comfort and deliverance (vv. 1, 2). He predicted the coming of John the Baptist (vv. 3-5) and reminded his people that God’s Word stands forever (vv. 6-8). Isaiah wrote about the greatness of God seen both in his tender care of his people (vv. 9-11) and his sovereignty over creation and idols (vv. 12-20).
Every type of literature can convey truths about God (the whole Bible is evidence). In this section of Isaiah the prophet spoke in poetry. It is dangerous to turn poetry into propositions, lest we empty the poetry of its beauty. However we need some way to get our arms around the content of the text so we will mention four foundations evident in this poem.
God Creates & God Rules
Isaiah 40:21-26, 28a
God founded the earth. God created the heavens. God is called the Creator of the ends of the earth. This is foundational. The poetic device of questions helped Isaiah underline this foundational truth. In fact there are eleven questions in our text (Do you not know? Have you not heard?). Every one of those questions is located in the verses about God creating (with the exception of verse 27).
Descriptive phrases also helped Isaiah underline this foundational truth. God is enthroned above the circle of the earth. God stretches out the heavens like a canopy and spreads them out like a tent to live in. God brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Since this is poetic literature, it might not be proper to look at these phrases as scientific, describing how creation took place, but poetry is not disconnected from reality.
Even in the Creator section of the text we read that God sees people like grasshoppers (one of five similes found in our verses). No matter how much humans try to reach up to God, our ruler still has to come down to us. For example, see Genesis 11:7; Bruce Parmenter points out, “Perhaps the people of Babel needed to climb so high because they felt so low” (What the Bible Says About Self-Esteem). This is why taking our identity from God is so vital.
God not only rules in general, he rules the rulers in particular. He brings princes to nothing. He reduces the rulers of this world. Rulers come and rulers go. God can simply blow with his breath and knock them into next year. They are swept away like chaff. This was extremely good news to the people in Isaiah’s day. With fairly good kings gone (Isaiah 6:1), and evil kings surrounding them (Isaiah 36), God’s people needed to know the foundational truth that God rules.
God Knows & God Renews
Israel has always been a small land mass. The nations that surrounded Israel had more geography and often more military clout. Israel’s self-esteem was in the ditch. They did feel like grasshoppers at times (Numbers 13:33). They cried out to God that their way was hidden from the Lord, and their cause was disregarded by God. But the implication from the surrounding context is that God knows. Nothing escapes his notice. His understanding no one can fathom. This truth is foundational.
The renewal section (vv. 28b-31) is poetically inspiring. In contrast to humans, God does not grow tired or weary. God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2) but not because he was tired. He does not slumber or sleep (Psalm 121:4). Because he does not grow tired he can renew others (a word that means to refresh or sprout again). Even young people get tired and stumble. But if God’s people look to him for renewal he will help them soar on wings like eagles . . . they will walk and not be faint. God himself is the ultimate primal reality.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
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