Meditations on Isaiah 40: No.18. Mover of People
Isa 40:23,24 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
Just to remind ourselves, in the second half of Isaiah 40, Isaiah focuses us on the Lord, seeking to enable us to realise just who it is who is coming to Israel, and in so doing he reminds them of their inheritance, of what they have been taught. Previously we saw the Lord being compared to idols, but already he had asked who else was there like the Lord with His unlimited knowledge and power (v.12-14), one so great that He made nations and lands appear almost insignificant (v.15-17). It was only then that the subject of idols had been raised (v.18-20) and then swiftly demolished as a competitor to the Lord who is the great Creator above all things (v.21,22).
There is a rhythm in this chapter that is almost like the waves rippling in on the seashore, repeating again and again the things being said. Having said the nations and lands are almost insignificant in comparison to the Lord’s greatness, the prophet now returns to that subject (v.23,24) and then again to the Lord’s greatness.
Verse 23: “He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.” Here is a general statement of His power and His actions in respect of leaders, rulers of this world. It is a simple statement and a challenging one. We look at the leaders of the world and think how mighty and how powerful they are. In these days of twenty-four-hour news channels we are bombarded with news which is so often filled with the goings on of the leaders of nations, whether America, China, Russia, Iran, or Korea, often hearing their rantings and threats and, let’s be honest, it is sometimes scary! The great temptation is to think they will always be here, it will always be like this and Isaiah puts us right.
It is interesting to think back over the last century and recall names that are drifting out of our memories, names like Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Fransisco Franco, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Benito Mussolini, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, Marshall Joseph Tito, Mao Zedong, and there are a lot more, but the truth is we probably struggle to imagine or remember these dictators who are now dead and buried and whose evil deeds have been washed away by the passing of years. At the time they were terrors and all caused the deaths of others, often many, many others – but they are now gone and almost forgotten!
If we elevate powerful men (and it is mostly men) we forget the lessons of the Bible. Nebuchadnezzar is a great example of this (see Daniel 4 in its entirety), a king whose name brought fear so great was his power. Yet this great king was brought to nothing and then later restored. The Lord spoke a word, and it was done! Again look at these great world leaders, strutting around in their corridors of power, often abusing their power and lining their pockets and filling their bank balances, shouting off words to the rest of the world – unrighteousness incarnate! Read again the word of the Lord.
Verse 24: If you have not taken that in fully, listen to the picture language the prophet now uses: “No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.” We see such men as immovable blocks of stone who blight our present landscape and cause us to worry in the early hours. From where we stand they are great and powerful and they use their power to generate fear as they appear invincible, but Isaiah challenges our limited vision.
Isaiah likens these people to seed. They are sown, they germinate and take root. Yes, we see them on our TV screens and we observe their powerful positions, they are definitely features on our landscape and we tremble, if not literally in our thinking. And then the Lord blasts them with either heat or wind and they are swept away.
Look back at the history of the last hundred years and see how many times this has happened. Powerful despots, wielding fear, causing deaths of hundreds, thousands and even millions, but where are they now? Gone! Often prematurely. Once they looked invincible and we all trembled and then came their downfall.
The message of these two verses: The Lord is all powerful and reigns over all of mankind. Perhaps even reading the descriptions above, you wonder why the Lord allows even these terrible things at the hands of such men? There are two sides to that answer. One is earthly and to do with judgment, and the other eternal, to do with a fuller perspective of existence way beyond the ‘three score and ten years’ on this earth. For such answers we have to change to the ‘big-picture mode’. For now we simply observe these ones we thought were permanent features on our landscape and now gone – and God is still here. One day in heaven, if the Lord should allow us to see the full details of His activity in history, we may find ourselves gasping at the scope of His activity in bringing these people to an end as perhaps He says, “Enough, thus far and no further. Cease.” And they wither and are swept away. Let’s make sure we hold a right perspective every time we turn on the news!
Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, please help me retain a right perspective when I watch the news, help me to remember who you are and what you do.