13. The Enormity of God

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.

2. Thinking about Visions

Meditations from Ezekiel: 2.  Thinking about Visions

Ezek 1:1  In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.

In our first study in this new series we considered Ezekiel, a thirty year old exile from Israel, taken prisoner to Babylon, together with many of his countrymen. We pondered briefly in this catastrophe in his life, just as he was approaching the age to start in the priesthood, carried away from all that was familiar to all that is unfamiliar. We perhaps rarely think about what it must have been like for such people. At the age of thirty it is probable that he had a wife and a family. We know nothing of them. Did he lose them in the exile? We don’t know. All we do know it that it was a time of immense turmoil.

Visions? And then it was at that we read, “and I saw visions of God.” This expression, “visions of God” occurs at two other significant places in the book: “He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance to the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood,” (Ezek 8:3) and much later, “In visions of God he took me to the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, on whose south side were some buildings that looked like a city.” (Ezek 40:2)

A ‘vision’ is a picture formed in the mind that is so strong that everything else falls into the background of experience. It is not mere imagination but almost, we might say today, like a video being run in our mind that blanks out everything else. There are a number of such instances in the Bible.

Examples:  At one point in earlier history God’s word came to Abram in a vision (Gen 15:1), as it also did to Israel (Jacob – Gen 46:2). The apostle Peter had a clear vision when he was being sent to share the Gospel for the first time to the Gentiles (Acts 10:9-) although it was referred to as a trance (and yet he does later refer to it as a vision in a trance – Acts 11:5). This, of course came after Cornelius had received a vision (Acts 10:3-) telling him to send for Peter. The apostle Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia calling him to come to them (Acts 16:9). The Lord also later spoke to Paul in a vision to encourage him not to be silent (Acts 18:9). The implication from these examples seems to be that the Lord speaks through a vision at particularly important times of people’s lives, times that are particularly significant.

Sometimes the prophetic word of God comes in such clarity about the future that it is referred to as a vision, as in the case of young Samuel (1 Sam 3:15) but the distinction from the former use is that there is no visual picture. It may be that in such cases the reality of the contact with God is so strong that although there is no reference to a picture of what is seen, nevertheless everything else fades into the background in the face of the reality of what the person was hearing. This also appears true of Ananias in Acts 9:10-12.

Heavenly strangeness: And so now we read, “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” We note this was specific revelation of heavenly things with heaven being opened. Although we will see specific pictures that we can at least partly relate to, they are nevertheless revelations about what is in heaven, or express the will of God that comes from heaven. Perhaps we might suggest that such was the chaos and confusion in Ezekiel’s life at this time, being carried away into exile, that it needed something as dramatic as a vision, or series of visions, to break into his awareness, which take us back into the historical context.

Time overview: Although verse 1 and later verses come in the first person – “I” – for a moment there is a break in verses 2 and 3 that come in reporting mode in the third person – speaking of Ezekiel as from an observer: “On the fifth of the month–it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin—the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was upon him.”  (v.2,3) Indeed this is the only third-person narrative in the book. Perhaps its purpose is to clarify the date in v. 1.

The historical books tell us in respect of King Nebuchadnezzar, “In the eighth year of the reign of the king of Babylon, he took Jehoiachin prisoner,” (2 Kings 24:12) and “He carried into exile all Jerusalem: all the officers and fighting men, and all the craftsmen and artisans–a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left.” (2 Kings 24:14) which was probably April 597BC. But we read that the word came to Ezekiel in the fifth year of their exile which, it is suggested corresponds to 593BC.

Settled in exile? Now we almost implied earlier in the previous study that this had only just happened to Ezekiel but the truth is that he’s been here for somewhere between 4 to 5 years already. If you have ever watched the film Ben Hur (the earlier version conveyed this better than the remake) the sense of terrible sense of futility and hopelessness that must come on a slave in chains is absolutely terrible, Barring a disaster (which happens in Ben Hur) there is nothing but nothing that you can do to free yourself. You are in this position until you die and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. That must have been the sense felt by these exiles; the unthinkable has happened because Jerusalem has been taken (and is later destroyed). This is the background for this book.

God possibilities: We suggested this before but it bears repeating before we get into the text of the visions. This background should challenge us, that with God the future is NOT set in impossible concrete, we do not know what God might come and do with us. Centuries before he had come to an aging shepherd in the backside of the desert in Midian and said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians …. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Ex 3:7-10) A most incredible message of deliverance but devastating for Moses who after forty years in the wilderness had lost every ounce of self-confidence. Is that us? Has life done that to us? It is NOT the end.

For Ezekiel, it is slightly different; he is going to remain with his people in exile but he is going to bring God’s word to them that will no doubt filter its way back to Jerusalem. He is going to act as the confirming prophet to Jeremiah and he is going to set markers in history for the will of God. He is no longer ‘just an exile’; he is about to become a man with a mission. Bear all this in mind as we enter into the wonder and complexity of what is about to follow – and never say, “I am stuck in these unchanging circumstances.” With God you can never know!

God of Glory

God in the Psalms No.13

Psa 8:1 O LORD , our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

In the 6th of these meditations, when we considered the face of the Lord, we briefly considered the glory of the Lord. Let’s now think about that more fully. David starts this eighth psalm off by reflecting on how wonderful the Lord’s name is.   He uses the covenant name for God (LORD = “I am who I am” – see Exodus 3:13-15 and footnotes) which is another way of saying “God of Eternity” or “the Eternal One”.

When he thinks of the Lord he feels His name is majestic, higher than any other, and then he gives the reason for this: the Lord, he says, has set His glory above the heavens. Now that’s an interesting way of putting it: “above” the heavens. In some old paintings the painter showed the earth and the sky above it, and then had heavenly beings above the sky. It’s like they wanted to put the heavenly world above “the heavens”, the sky, to give a fuller or more complete picture of reality.

When we look at the rest of this psalm we see David marvelling at God’s work in Creation (v.3). He then wonders at the fact of God making man and giving him all this and making him ruler over all of it (v.4-6). As he ponders on this and on the wonder of this incredible world, God’s gift to mankind, he just bursts out with, “how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (v.9). Man may have been given this world to rule over, but God Himself is the King over all things. He’s the One who created all things and therefore He’s the only one who can really claim to be King, Lord of all.

But there’s more than this, there’s this reference to the Lord’s glory. When we considered God’s glory before, we saw it as the brightness that literally shines from God’s presence, the glory that was first revealed to Israel at Sinai.   It was subsequently seen at the completion and dedication of the Tabernacle (Ex40:33-35) and the completion and dedication of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:10,11).   Is that the glory that is being referred to here by David now?   Not quite but the same sense is there in what he describes.   He is saying that when you look at the wonder of God’s creation you see the wonder of the Master Craftsman, the Creator, behind it all; it isn’t just a bland piece of construction; it is a masterpiece that reflects the staggering nature of the One who brought it all into being from nothing.  What it reflects is the glory or wonder of the One who made it all.

Have you ever seen it like this?  Have you ever been somewhere in the world and gazed upon what you see before you – and marvelled and wondered at what is before you – the handiwork of the Master Creator?   Have you ever stood on the seashore with the sun setting and marvelled?  Have you ever stood on a hillside gazing on the panorama before you, and marvelled?  Have you ever seen the Canadian Rockies, or any other great mountain chain, and marvelled?  It would be possible to write for hours describing the incredible variety of the features of the world that are so beautiful.  This is God’s world; this is what He has made.  You have to be hard-hearted or blind not to see the handiwork of God in all this and remain unmoved. Paul wrote about such people, what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen (Rom 1:19,20). His conclusion about their blindness and refusal to respond? They have no excuse! Let’s not be like them!