The Problem With God’s People
To help us keep perspective of what God is doing with the people of Israel, we need to remember why the book of Isaiah exists in the first place.
The book of Isaiah is written because God’s people fall away from God. During Isaiah’s lifetime, there is horrific disregard for God. The Jews do not uphold their covenant with God. God’s indictment is that His people are in revolt against Him. God says that an ox knows its owner, but His people are dumber than an ox. They don’t know God. They are sinful and weighed down with iniquity. Rather than live as children of God, they live as corrupt sons of evildoers. They abandon God and His goodness. They despise God who lovingly does them good.
The beginning chapters of Isaiah reveal that the Israelites live as practical atheists. A practical atheist is someone who says they believe in God, but their life has nothing that proves their belief to be true. They live no differently than the people of the world. Those who truly believe in God, fear Him and obey His commands.
True religion takes place in the heart. Those who believe in God worship and love Him. God is trusted and seen as Deliverer. The Israelites do not have a heart for God. They do not pray or have words of praise coming from their lips. What comes from their lips is prideful bragging about their mighty army, wealth, their lavish homes, and their love for their idols. They take the credit for the well-being in their life and do not give God the glory.
If we were to step into their home and follow them as they live throughout their day, here is what we might discover. They disobey the laws of God. They disregard the covenant practices. They have no compassion and ignore caring for the poor, orphans, and widows. They cheat in the marketplace, and lie in the courtroom. Instead of going to the temple to pray to God, they go to the altars of idols and make sacrifices.
God is not glorified by the Jewish people. The other nations do not see Judah as a nation of holiness and righteousness. They are the opposite of being a blessing to the nations. They are a scandal to the God of Israel. They are no different than Sodom and Gomorrah, and they deserve the wrath of God.
God sends the prophet Isaiah to warn people about the condition of their heart. If they are willing to repent and return to God, God is willing to show grace and mercy. But, if they are unwilling, God will bring punishment. God will not sit idly by while Judah brings shame to the name of the Holy One of Israel. God plans to remedy the situation by restoring His people.
God Works to Restore His People
When God’s people refuse to obey God, God promises punishment. His end goal is not injury, but restoration. God’s punishment is not the end, but the means to the end. His goal is not to say, “that’s what you deserve” and then walk away. It is not payback for disobedience. The pain and suffering from punishment are meant to bring about good. God’s work is not to punish the Israelites, but to bring joy and happiness.
God is righteous in all that He does. The first thing God does is declare the condition of Israel and His plan to restore His people to a right relationship.
1-God Declares His Perfect Plan to His people through the prophet Isaiah.
One of the indictments against the Israelites is that they are blind and deaf to the ways of God. To open their eyes and ears, God sends the prophet Isaiah to speak words of truth to the people of Judah. Through Isaiah, God reveals their sinful condition. He tells them how they have broken the covenant with their sin and rebellion. God tells them His plan to bring about restoration. God is doing it for His namesake.
2-God proves that He is God by declaring and fulfilling future events.
God proves that He is God through prophecy. Throughout Isaiah’s life, the words he writes are, “thus says the Lord.” To validate Isaiah as His prophet, God foretells future events, and they come to pass. He does this with prophecies that come true in the short-term, while Isaiah is alive. Isaiah tells Hezekiah the shadow on the staircase will travel backward, and it does. Isaiah foretells the defeat of the Assyrian army will take place miraculously (chapter 37). And, God continues to prove His word to Isaiah with the prophecy of the Babylonian captivity and the later reestablishment of Jerusalem under the direction of Cyrus (chapter 45).
The reason God wants His people to know He is speaking to them is that He wants them to know that He is sovereignly in control. Everything that happens is because He is orchestrating events. The intended effect is that His people will fear Him and obey Him as God.
3-God’s perfect plan involves the captivity of His people which brings them pain and sorrow.
The most important event God foretells is the Babylonian captivity. The prophecy of the Babylonian captivity begins early in Isaiah’s ministry. We capture glimpses of what the captivity looks like beginning in chapter one and continuing through chapter twelve.
God tells His people beforehand that they will suffer pain. They are in captivity because God puts them there. It is not because the Babylonians are strong and mighty. It is not because the armies of Judah fail. The reason for the captivity is because they sin and God desires to sanctify His people. He is working to bring about repentance and righteousness. God informs them of their plan, so they know He intends good.
4-God will glorify His name regardless of the rebellion of the Israelites
God always seeks to glorify His name. When we are glorifying God, we are in a right relationship with Him. When we are not glorifying God, we are in rebellion.
God will glorify His name with or without us. God is glorified regardless of our participation. He does not need us. We see examples of how God brings glory to Himself without His people.
Think about the story of Cyrus. God’s people are not glorifying Him. Because the nation of Israel fails to glorify God, God exalts Cyrus. Cyrus grows up not knowing God. He is not circumcised. He doesn’t bring offerings to the Temple. He is a gentile from Iran. But, God uses Cyrus to bring glory to His name.
As Jesus says about the rocks along the road to Jerusalem, "I tell you, if these become silent (if the people don’t praise Him), the stones will cry out!" (Luke 19:40).
God’s Creation Yields Righteousness
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the Israelites as God reveals His purpose and plan. It is not hard to imagine that the people of Judah may object to God’s work.
The natural reaction of sinful people is to think God is unjust. How may God bring about calamity (Isaiah 45:7)? They, after all, are the descendants of Abraham. They deserve God’s favor. He is supposed to bring about only well-being, not a calamity. They should not be captive by those who do not believe in God. The Babylonians are godless people. How is God just in allowing godless people to make the Israelites slaves?
And who is this guy, Cyrus? How dare God call Cyrus His shepherd! God’s anointing is special. It is a scandal that God calls Cyrus His anointed? He is an uncircumcised gentile from Persia which makes him the least qualified person to deliver Israelites from captivity.
God anticipates the objections to His plan. Isaiah 45:8-13 justifies God’s purpose and plan. The passage begins by speaking of God’s righteous work.
“Drip down, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds pour down righteousness; let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, and righteousness spring up with it. I, the Lord, have created it. (Isaiah 45:8)
The words heaven and earth are “Bible-speak” for all of creation. The two words encompass the universe. God says His work in Creation is to rain down righteousness and bring forth the fruit of salvation.
As we go about our day, God is going about His. As Creator, He does as He pleases with His creation. Everything God is doing is right. His work never ultimately result in evil, but only good. It may appear to us what God is doing is wrong or unjust, but it is not. People blame God for evil in the world. Little do they know it is impossible for God to do evil. He may bring about calamity, but the result of the calamity is righteousness and salvation.
If someone asks us, what is God doing, what is His plan with creation? We may answer with this verse. God is pouring down righteousness upon the earth. In every nook and cranny, in every place where evil exists, God is pouring down His righteousness. At the end of the age, the entire earth will be dripping and soaked with His holy rain. Everything God does with His creation is right and good.
Woe to the one who quarrels with God
Because God is raining down righteousness and bringing forth the fruit of salvation, woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker. Woe is a word of warning and condemnation.
The heart of pride rejects strongest to the truth of God’s sovereignty. The Apostle Paul gives us the same warning in the letter to the Romans as he describes God’s sovereignty in choosing Jacob and not Esau (Romans 9:14-26)
Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’
As Jerry makes a wooden craft in his shop, imagine the piece of wood saying, “he has no hands (he has no talent). Or imagine the teens carving pumpkins and the pumpkins say, “can’t you do better than this?”
Isaiah gives another example of a child speaking to the parents and saying, what right do you have to give birth to me? What are you doing? (Isaiah 45:9-10)
The point God is making is that to quarrel with God’s plan is nothing short of absurd. Not only is it absurd to quarrel and object to God’s work, but it is also a dangerous act which leads to dire punishment. Woe to the one who quarrels.
When God says that His work is righteous and that He is bringing forth salvation, don’t argue with what comes about. We are to know our place. God is the potter, and we are the clay. If we need reminders of the greatness of God, take a moment to read Isaiah 40 and hear of how God directs the stars of the Universe and calls them by name.
God Works All things For His Righteousness
God continues declaring the righteousness of His work by bringing in His role as Creator. He asks, “Do you question what I do for My sons (children)? Do you tell me what I am to do with My hands? I am the one who made the earth and created people to live on it. I stretched out the heavens and placed the stars. I will do as I please. I will raise up Cyrus to fulfill My purpose. He will restore Jerusalem and will set free My people. And, he will do all this without Me giving him payment or reward.” (Isaiah 45:11-13)
God will have Cyrus do His bidding. And, Cyrus will not receive the slightest payment for his efforts. It will be done by Cyrus’ good pleasure. God doesn’t need to, nor should He need to, bribe, reward, or cajole people into doing what is right and good.
And, to add a little more emphasis, He closes by saying, thus says the Lord of hosts, the Commander of all the army of angels. He is raining down righteousness and bringing forth the fruit of salvation. Nobody is in position to question God’s goodness.
The authority of God’s argument in defending His glory is clear. God is in heaven, and He does as He pleases and what He does is right and good.
Main Truth: Live, believing God is righteous in all that He does.
What should be the response of the Israelites? How should we respond to this text? The main truth of this passage is: Live, believing God is righteous in all that He does. Here are three ways we may see this truth applied in our lives.
1. Live, believing God’s work of salvation is to restore our relationship.
Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, people have lived in a broken relationship with God. People have become gods. People do not obey God or worship Him as God. People even deny His existence as God.
If we are to define the outcome of God’s work of salvation, I believe there is one verse which sums it up well.
“I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness
And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. (Isaiah 45:23)
The Apostle Paul rightly quotes this verse numerous times. The entirety of God’s plan has its aim in having every knee bow, and every tongue confesses in the supremacy of God in all things. God’s aim with our salvation is to bring us to a proper attitude of humility and servitude. We are to be dependent upon God, not independent of God.
The primary problem with mankind is rebellion to the authority of God. People choose idols because they do not want to submit to God’s authority. The universe may not exist with creatures resisting the authority of the Creator. Therefore, God saves us by working in our life to have us bend our knee to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
The more we understand that our relationship to God requires humility and a servant attitude, the more we are in a right relationship. Be thankful that God is working to restore by replacing our hard, stony rebellious hearts with soft hearts of flesh.
2. Live, believing that to quarrel with God is begging for disaster.
God is sovereign and in control of all things. The way He sees it, how He ordains our day is His prerogative. He is the Creator, and He works in creation as He pleases. If God were an evil monster, obviously His sovereign control over all things would be a disaster. But, God is not an evil monster. He is the exact opposite. He is holy, good, and righteous. His work is holy, good, and righteous.
When we live with the belief that God is doing all things for the sake of righteousness, we need to look at every circumstance in life as a blessing from God. God is all wise. He knows what is best for us. Arguing with Him is to beg for disaster. God says, woe to those who quarrel with Him.
Most of us know better than to quarrel with God directly. We are not blunt and direct in our rebellion. But, we do have ways of stating our dislike for God’s plan. When we complain about anything that happens in the day which God brings us, we disagree with God.
For example, we may complain about the weather. When the weather is not to our liking, we are, in essence, saying we believe there is a better choice for our day that God did not make. If we complain about the rain, we might as well say God made the wrong choice for the weather, and we know better than He does. (Just as parents don’t like to hear their children complain about the meal.)
When we complain about our job, we are saying God fell short in His plan. If our vehicle needs repair, and we curse and complain, we are cursing and complaining about God allowing our vehicle to fail.
When we complain about our spouse or our children/parents, we are saying God chose for us the wrong people in our life. God lacks wisdom in putting relationships together.
We need to apply this concept to every area of our life. Every day we wake up, God has an adventure in store. He is going to bring us people and circumstances. It is all orchestrated by Him. Each day is God’s work of raining down righteousness and springing forth the fruit of salvation. In every moment and every detail, God is righteous, holy, good, and loving.
As we apply this concept, let’s recognize that it is not easy. We may suffer pain. Job suffered great loss and pain, and he was righteous. The Apostle Paul suffered beatings and hardships for the sake of the gospel.
The people of Judah suffered. Some deserved punishment because of sin and others did not. We are in no position to look at someone’s suffering and say, they must be suffering because of their sin. Remember the man who was blind from birth? The disciples ask Jesus, who sinned, this man or the parents? Jesus said, “Neither. He is blind so the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)
Let’s not quarrel with our Maker. Let’s take each day as it comes as a gift. Spend the day looking about and asking, what is my God doing today? Who will He put in my path? What event does God want me to experience? How may I glorify His name in all that He brings my way?
3. Live, believing God is to be glorified by His people.
God is glorified with or without us.
Remember the crucifixion? The disciples flee, but God uses a thief on the cross and a Roman Centurion to praise His Son. God will be glorified.
The best way for us to glorify God is to receive all that He has from His hand with thanksgiving. When the people in our lives see how we face diversity and challenges while still maintaining our faith in God, it is a testimony to God’s goodness. When we strive to be holy and righteous, despite the cost, it is glorifying to God.
The way we give God the glory is by living in obedience. Jesus demonstrates this. He lives a life of obedience and then boldly proclaims in His prayer to the Father, “I have glorified you” (John 17).
We glorify God by obeying the commands to be humble, compassionate, and loving. We glorify God by seeking to serve rather than be served. We glorify God by bending our knee to Christ and proclaiming Him as the King of kings and Lord of lords.
And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. (Isaiah 45:23)