Meditations on Isaiah 40: No.17. Comparisons
Isa 40:21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
We have been considering a fact of life in the times of Old Testament Israel, that of idol worship. From our perspective it may simply be a view of a superstitious nation and yet superstition holds a very strong position in the lives of godless people. But it is there, and Isaiah has been making Israel look at the stark realities of these idols, pieces of wood or cast metal made by men. Dressed up by gold or silver coverings to make them appear more impressive, but never-the-less still just man-made objects. That is the truth.
Verses 21: Back to God: This links back to verse 18 – “With whom will you compare God?” So he continues, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?” (v.21) The Message version puts this well: “Have you not been paying attention? Have you not been listening? Haven’t you heard these stories all your life?” This is a people who have been taught about God. Public teaching has long been a feature of the life of Israel. So he says, come on, you know all about this, Moses told it to you, he told you (Genesis) all about this world being created by a Creator, our God! It is all part of our history and it makes sense; you know all about it! God is Creator!
An aside: I cannot help mentioning this every time this subject comes up. We have come to a fascinating time in history where scientists and scientific philosophers (and philosophy has become an important part of scientific theory) say the universe is expanding and therefore extrapolating back there must have been a time of some ‘beginning’, in their words, ‘a Big Bang’ but that gives no answer because the one thing we all believe is that something cannot come from absolutely nothing (“nothing nothing” as Francis Schaeffer used to say) so what was before whatever went ‘bang’?
Verse 22: Creator: No, he implies, you’ve been taught all this, you know there is a Creator, our God. He continues with a picturesque image of God: “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.” (v.22) Look, he is saying, God is greater than this earth, He is above it, if you like, and therefore when you compare Him to all of humanity, we are like small insects, grasshoppers if you really want to put us in perspective, hopping around insignificantly in the bigger scheme of things. God is the one who created whatever is ‘up there’, the heavens, and for Him it’s like He stretches them out like putting up a tent. (Stop and think about that – a tent is just a small thing set up in a bigger world! Think big, think God!)
And so? So set these two sets of ideas next to each other, the things about idols (v.18-20) and now the Creator God (v.22 onwards). There on the mantlepiece or the shelf or the window sill is this little idol, made of wood or metal, sometimes dressed up with a covering of gold or silver, but nevertheless a manufactured article. (Today imported in crates by the thousand from abroad, made with cheap labour!) And then, there is God, boundless, limitless, eternal, not created but The Creator, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise. Which one of these two deserves worship? The idol? You’ve got to be joking.
In the previous study we disposed of idols, both in Isaiah’s day and in our own. We don’t realise their futility, their helplessness to help us, until suddenly our lives are threatened. Today, in the West at least, we are doing a good job at preserving life and yet, I have observed, that for many as they pass their sixties, the quality of life is not so wonderful, and I have wondered about this prolonging of life without great quality. Is it God’s way of giving us more thinking time, time to come to our senses and realise that we have been trusting idols, trusting ‘God-substitutes’? Will some face God after death and be silent when He says, “I gave to thirty more years than your ancestors to think about these things and still you didn’t come to your senses”?
This thing about comparisons between God-substitutes and God Himself is very real. Don’t read these verses in Isaiah 40 casually and treat the subject lightly. It is perhaps the greatest deception of twenty-first century mankind. We have never been so affluent, never so well off, never had such help from technology, never been so secure and, therefore, there has never been such a temptation to allow the ‘God-substitutes’ of today to blind us to His reality. The things that are intended to bless us become the things that lock us into godlessness and seal our fate. But it is never too late to face these things and it is better to face it before old age or serious illness come. Some today may say, “But I didn’t know,” but the truth is that the Bible is still the world’s best seller and still available to most of the world, a book that begins, “In the beginning God created….” No excuses.
Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I bow before you as Creator of all things, the Lord God Almighty, lord of heaven and earth, and I worship you.