Meditations on Isaiah 40: No.13. The Enormity of God
Isa 40:12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?
God, too small? And so we move into the second part of this chapter where we are presented with description after description of God to confront our small ideas. Quite a few years back, a translator of the New Testament, J.B.Phillips, about the middle of last century, wrote a little book entitled, “Your God is too small” whose title speaks for itself. I suspect its challenge is one that every single person on earth needs. We have two problems, we just cannot imagine the enormity that is God and we cannot really imagine having a living relationship with one so enormous. Perhaps that is one reason Jesus came.
Preparation: The recent verses in Isaiah 40 have been gradually easing us towards these things: “the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together,” (v.5) and, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them,” (v.7) and “the word of our God endures forever,” (v.8) and “the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm.” (v.10) Already we have had hints of God’s glory that is so great it will be seen by every living person – “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him.” (Rev 1:7) We’ve seen His power that can destroy, His word that lasts forever, and His sovereign power to rule. Each of these things hints at the greatness of God, but now the prophet will bring us challenge after challenge to believe in the greatness of God, and opportunity to meditate on it. Let’s consider verse 12, bit by bit.
Water: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand.” What an amazing picture this is. Two pictures. First, you with a cupped palm holding a handful of water. It is an easy picture. Now, second, try and grasp a picture of the waters of the oceans. Imagine the terror of being out in it in a small boat with sixty-foot-high (easily twice the height of my house) waves and no end in sight. Now imagine we have a very, very fast small jet and we are going to go around the globe but only above the water and not the land. Imagine we leave, say New York and start south eastwards, across the thousands of miles down and across the Atlantic Ocean, and south around Africa, due east to Australia and to catch the enormity of it, north to Japan and then across the even mightier Pacific Ocean, then down the western seaboard of North and South America, around the tip of Argentina and then up the eastern seaboard of South and then North America.
It is a long way and we have seen a phenomenal amount of water, and we haven’t even thought about the depth of these oceans that, we are told, go up to 6 miles deep! I cannot imagine going down 6 miles vertically in water! Now imagine a hand that is so big it holds ALL this water. Now let’s be truthful; you probably lost it even half way across the Atlantic. It is virtually impossible to imagine realistically these distances and these depths – of water! And as for a hand holding all this water!!!!
Space & Earth: If that wasn’t bad enough, see where he goes next: “or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?” The heavens? Space. But there appears no end of space and I know modern Star Trek or Star Wars films with speeds at faster than light have taken up to the edge of the galaxy, only to realise there are millions of other galaxies. At that point my mind gave up! But he doesn’t stop there, he comes back to earth: “Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” What? I am utterly lost. But isn’t that exactly what the prophet wants of us?
Challenge: What is he doing? He is challenging us with our silly, puny efforts and tiny thinking to grasp just a tiny bit of this concept of “God”. When theologians are reeling off the attributes of God as seen through the lens of the Bible, one of the words they use is ‘infinite’ which means unlimited, endless, immeasurable. Now let’s be honest, we can’t handle that. I cannot imagine a ‘Being’, and ‘Entity with personality’ that is that big and when I do struggle to grasp it, I sort of feel, well, surely He (it) is not going to be bothered with just a tiny atom of space we call the earth, and as for me on it, surely He won’t even notice me! And that is where we start falling into error of thinking which is so quickly followed by the error of behaviour. If He doesn’t see or doesn’t care, what does it matter what I do?
Jesus: I hinted at the answer earlier on: “The Son is the image of the invisible God,” (Col 1:15) or as the Message version puts it, “We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen,” (I like that!) and in Hebrews “This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature.” (Heb 1:3 Message version). However, when you see these verses in the context of Isaiah, you realise there is a danger with the picture of Jesus as God, or God’s Son, that we scale God down and put Him in human terms, small. Isaiah challenges us to ‘think big’ and when we do, we realise He is mighty, and we are small and when we really get hold of that, we join Job: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3,5,6) We can save ourselves that humiliation by simply acknowledging God’s greatness and our smallness – and shut our mouths of any critical comment and instead just worship Him. That is wisdom: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psa 111:10) Wisdom starts with an awesome respect of God. May we have that wisdom.
Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, please forgive me that so often I allow my view of you to diminish. Please, open my eyes, open my heart afresh to see the wonder of who you are. I bow and worship you, my Lord, this day.