Meditations on Isaiah 40: No.20. Excuses & Grumbles
Isa 40:27 Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord
To catch the full sense of this remaining section in this chapter, we have to remind ourselves of the beginning of the chapter, a call to comfort Israel. Now whether this chapter is to apply to the Exile in the years ahead, or to some other time when Israel was being disciplined by the Lord for their unfaithfulness, the truth is that in such times Israel would be feeling down and defeated.
We too, when we are going through times of disciplining (see Heb 12:5-8) go through a time before it comes to an end and we are lifted up, of feeling like this. We’ve been over this ground before, but we have to face it if we are to come into a place of freedom and security. Honesty is required. It goes back to the idea of the desert, a time when we feel we are in a dry and arid place, a place that seems static and unfruitful and (and this is the most important thing) the Lord seems absent. If you have never known a time when the Lord seems distant, it either means you live in unreality or you have never learnt to sense His presence and thus the horror of when that presence does not seem to be there. Of course, the reality is that it is not that He has moved, and we are alone, it is that in our thinking, somehow or other we have got into this ‘desert’ mentality.
Now that is not the thing Isaiah is complaining about, it is the silly things we find ourselves saying when we do feel in that desert place. Do you remember how we thought about faithfulness and how it can flag under pressure? In those times, as with Jesus, the enemy wanders up and starts making insinuations like, “If you were really a child of God you wouldn’t be feeling like this,” or, “This is obviously an indication that God doesn’t love you, that He could leave you like this,” or, “Well God is obviously busy with important people and you just aren’t on his radar.” So common and so untrue. So Israel need comforting, and part of that is gentle chiding, “Hey guys, whatever are you thinking, saying that God has given up on you and doesn’t see what you are going through and doesn’t know how you are feeling?”
It is for this reason the prophecy now moves in this direction: Verse 27: “Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? They feel away from the Lord. They have suffered correction and so often that meant an enemy prevailing over them and they felt the Lord was far away. In such times we forget that the Lord said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:5 quoting Deut 31:6). The truth is that He has not left us, but it does tend to feel like that when we focus on the pressures upon us. Jesus expressed the same thing when the weight of the world’s sin covered him on the cross, and he lost the sense of the Father’s presence (which was still there – love never abandons!) and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46) It is a more common experience that many of us realize. So he continues:
Verse 28: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” The unthinking and superstitious might think that God is too tired or too busy to bother with them, that He has got caught up in His own affairs and forgotten them, but none of that is true. Why should the Creator of the world, the all-powerful, all-knowing and all-wise one be like that?
You may not be able to understand His actions or His apparent inaction, but you have nothing to worry about on that score! That latter part of verse 28 really impinges on our thinking so often at such times: why is God allowing this to happen, why doesn’t He do something? That was the cry of Habakkuk (see Hab 1) and it is the cry of so many of us, and each time we have to come to a fresh realization that God’s sovereignty is underpinned by His wisdom and His love for us, and so often He steps back, so to speak, and allows the folly of the world to be revealed and thus our need for His salvation. But He never ceases to be personally concerned for us.
He will go on to explain how this works, but it is important that we face this experience within the Christian life. Before you became a Christian God seemed a million miles away, but when you became a Christian you didn’t expect that there would seem to be times when that felt like that again. Sometimes life feels a real battle (and Eph 6 suggests that it is!); it is just how it is, living in a fallen world with a real enemy, with things still in existence that Jesus considers enemies, as we’ve considered before, sin, sickness and so on. Having to live in this world and under this pressure is a temporary thing, but when we do experience it, remember the main truths about it: He has not left you, He is there for you, and this time will pass away. Just hang in there, let God’s word strengthen you to enable you to remain faithful throughout. Amen? Amen!