The Judgment of Religion
August 26, 2018
God’s Invitation to Judgment
The people of Israel are to know God. But, what about the rest of the nations? God loves people from every nation, and God desires for all of His creation to know and worship Him.
God summons all the people of the world to come together for judgment. God wants the people of the world to arrive at a verdict. What is at stake is the answer to the question, “Who is the true God.”
God proposes He be allowed to state His case first while the coastlands (bible speak for the nations) will listen to Him in silence. When God is completed presenting His evidence, the people of the nations are invited to come forward and speak.
At issue is whether the gods of the other nations are worthy of praise and worship or whether the God of the nation of Israel, the Lord, is the One True God to whom every knee ought to bow.
The stakes are high. A guilty verdict brings eternal condemnation. If the God of Israel fails to prove He is the Lord of the Universe, then He ought to be cast onto the dust-heap of history and the idols of the nations are to be exalted. But, if the God of Israel proves He is the One True God, then the people of the world are to be condemned for breaking God’s commandment. God decrees that there may be no other gods before Him.
The judgment centers on answering whether the gods of the nation’s prove worthy or does the God of Israel prove worthy? Who will we praise and give our thanks? Who will we turn to in time of need? Who will we love and adore? Who will be our treasure?
God’s invitation to judgment is an invitation to examine the idols of the world and compare them to Himself.
God is further addressing the question asked in Isaiah 40, “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?”
The all-powerful sovereign God who controls the stars and calls them by name and merely blows upon the rules of the world and they whither, will not allow other gods to be worshipped.
But, the people of the nations in the world do not know God. They worship idols. God speaks through Isaiah and challenges the nations to examine their beliefs. God desires for them to know the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).
Breaking the first commandment is the worst offense in the universe. It is evil to put an idol above God. God considers having other gods above Him as doing nothing less than hating Him (Exodus 20:5). To have an idol is to hate God. God says the wrath of God is coming upon idolatry (Colossians 3:5-6).
Idolatry is an offense which takes place in the heart. The heart is the seat of our desires. Idolatry is to crave, want, enjoy, desire, or find satisfaction in anything but God.
Jesus said, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. People treasure all sorts of things. Our heart is an idol factory. John Calvin writes, “Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.”
The worst sort of idolatry is to love a god of a false religion. False religion is the creation of a god by the human mind. There are many false gods crafted by the human imagination. Those who practice Hindu create thousands of false gods. People even make Mary, the mother of Jesus, a false god.
Idolatry is more than taking part in a man-made formalized religion. Anything can be made into a religion. To some, money is a religion. Others make health their religion. People idolize Hollywood movie stars and rock bands. People make pets into idols. Hobbies and pastimes can become idolatrous. There is no end to the list of human idols.
We may identify an idol by how much we love the idol compared to our affections for God. Do we think about the idol more than God? Is the idol a source of satisfaction and fulfillment? Does the idol determine how we spend our time and money? Are our thoughts filled with things about our idol or things of God? People dream and fantasize about their idols. They talk endlessly about their idols, and they become an expert on the subject.
People will do all sorts of things for their idols. They will steal idols from other people. They will lie and deceive so they may have their idol. They will make their home a shrine with pictures of their idols plastering the walls and will place statues of their idols in their yards. They may even murder if they think it will please bring them closer to their idol.
God is challenging the people of the world to judge their idols. Come people from around the world. Enter into the courtroom of discourse and present your case. Together, God and people will make a judgment. Judge between the gods of this world and the God of Israel.
God Presents His Case
God chooses to speak first. The nations are to listen to Him in silence. God begins by asking, “Who has aroused the one from the east …?”
God’s case centers on this one from the east. At the time this chapter is written, it is an odd question. There is nobody from the east that fits the description Isaiah provides. This chapter is written 100+ years before the man from the east is born. As we will see, the prophecy is the point of God’s argument.
All of this will make sense after Isaiah dies and the people of Israel are captive in Babylon. As the book of Isaiah unfolds, the one from the east is identified as Cyrus from Persia (Isaiah 45:1-2). Cyrus is God’s anointed ruler. God raises up Cyrus as a conqueror of nations and the eventual conqueror of Babylon. Cyrus is God’s servant who sets the Israelites free. Before Cyrus is born, God reveals His plan.
God wants to know, who works in the heart of this mighty ruler from the east and calls him to stand before His feet? In other words, who does this mighty ruler serve? God delivers kings and nations into the hands of Cyrus. Cyrus easily makes them like dust.
When Cyrus comes into power, he pursues nations where his foot has never traversed. In other words, unlike many conquerors, Cyrus never first visits the lands he conquers. He marches in and takes over.
God asks the people of the nations, “Who has performed and accomplished the calling forth of Cyrus.” After asking, God answers His question. He identifies who does this. He says, “I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last. I am He.” God is the one who arouses Cyrus from the east. God gives the nations into Cyrus’ hand. And, Cyrus is God’s servant who God summons to do His bidding and accomplish His purpose and plan.
Evidence: God brings fear to the hearts of the nations
God’s servant strikes fear into the hearts of the coastlands. The people of the nations are afraid and tremble because of Cyrus. They gather together to try to encourage one another. They tell one another, “be strong.”
Because they are afraid, the people turn to their idols. Their faith is not in God. They believe their idols will protect them from God’s servant. They work together to create more idols while telling one another what they are doing is right and good.
Evidence: God chooses Israel
The judgment of the world religions turns to God’s people. As God says in the first verse, this trial will give His people new strength. While the arbitration is in process, God speaks with tender assurances to the Israelites.
The people of the other nations invent their gods. But, the Israelites are chosen by God. They are the descendants of Abraham, who God calls His personal friend. The gods of the other nations don’t choose or make friends with people.
God’s chosen people are never rejected by their God. Even as a remnant living as captives in Babylon, God chooses them as His own. Their situation in Babylon is not the end of the story. The rest of the nations are in fear of God’s purpose and plan, but the Israelites are not to be in fear. He says, “Do not anxiously look about you.” Don’t fear because what is going on is His perfect plan. What is going on is for their good, and not their demise.
In verses 11-13, God provides further comfort by telling His chosen people that those who come against them will ultimately perish. There will come a day when the chosen people will look around and find that their enemies are non-existent. They will perish because it is God who says to them, “Do not fear, I will help you.”
Evidence: Israel is made strong
God furthers His case as a powerful God over all the idols of the world. He talks of how His people, although they are a worm (how flattering), will be helped by God. The people of Israel will go from being weak slaves held in captivity, to being a strong people. Their transformation takes place because their Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
God will make them a people who will make ready for the revealing of God’s glory. They will make the way straight and remove obstacles so that God’s glory may be revealed to all flesh.
Because God makes them a mighty nation, they will rejoice in their God and will glory in the Holy One of Israel. They do not become mighty on their own. God makes them mighty. It is God who works in them to make them sharp threshing instruments before which the powers of evil become as chaff.
Evidence: Israel knows God’s blessings
God shows His strength as a God to meet the needs of His people. He sees that they are afflicted and needy, He sees that they thirst, but there is no water.
The other nations call upon their idols to no avail. But, God’s people call out to Him, and He hears their cries. The Lord answers. Idols don’t have ears, but God does, and He comes to the aid of His people.
God does what only He may do. He is the Sovereign Creator of the universe. He holds the waters in the hollows of His hand. From His hand, He pours rivers where the land is bare. He gives springs in the valleys and He makes the wilderness a pool of water. He plants beautiful trees for them to enjoy, cedars, acacia, myrtle, olive, junipers, box and the cypress.
God responds to the cries of the Israelites because He wants His people to know Him and see Him as God. He wants them to know His hand provides for their needs. He desires to have a relationship. He desires that they see, recognize, consider, and gain insight into His ways.
The Holy One of Israel desires for His people to worship Him. He is their Treasure, Provider, and Protector. God is the source of their joy and fulfillment. In the beginning, God is the One who walks in the Garden with Adam and Eve. He desires to return to that relationship. He desires to walk with His people, and they know Him as the One who provides for them and gives them all they need for life.
The Nations Present Their Case
God rests His case. Now, it’s time for the nations to come forward and prove their gods are worthy of worship.
“Present your case,” the Lord says. “Bring forward your strong arguments.” In other words, give it your best shot.
The Lord tells the idols to prove that they are gods, the need to declare what is going to take place. The gods must announce what is coming in the future. They also need to explain why things take place in the past. In other words, “what will happen and why do things happen the way that they do?”
The idols of this world are futile. What world religion accurately predicts the future? When does a Hollywood idol ever explain the true meaning of life? When do alcohol or drugs provide insight? The idol of sports does not predict the outcome of a game or the future of life. The worlds idols are silent on the subjects that matter. All idols ever do is steal people’s time, devotion, and energy.
God uses Cyrus to bring fear into the hearts of men. God taunts the idols and says, “indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together.” The idols of the world are unable to bring fear into the hearts of God’s people. God’s people do not fear because their God is sovereign and protects them. The God of Israel is strong and mighty and holds the future in His hand. Their future is a future of eternal hope and blessing. They do not fear.
God brings His argument back to the raising up of Cyrus. He speaks of Cyrus coming from the north in verse 25. Cyrus begins his conquest from Persia in the east and finishes his conquest by coming down to Babylon from the north. God says Cyrus will call upon the name of the Lord (which Cyrus does, and it is recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:22 and Ezra 1:2).
God calls Cyrus by name 150 years before He is born. He prophecies of his conquests well-beforehand. What about the idols of the world?
Which of them declared this would happen from the beginning that we might know?
The answer is simple.
Surely there was no one who declared,
Surely there was no one who proclaimed,
Surely there was no one who heard your words.
God looks about at the idols and finds there is no one who may give an answer (Isaiah 41:28).
God proclaims the rise of Cyrus from the east and his conquest of Babylon from the north by telling Jerusalem of the good news that Cyrus will free them from captivity.
The idols are unable to predict the future or explain the past.
The idols are unable to strike fear in the hearts of God’s people.
The idols fall short of the glory of God.
God reaches a verdict: Those Who Choose Idols are an Abomination
God reaches a verdict. The judgment is clear. The idols are worthless molten empty images, and their work amounts to nothing.
People spend money on idols, live and breathe for idols, and they get to know idols intimately. People of the world chase after empty, worthless pursuits. Because they choose idols rather than choose to serve and worship God, their fate is sealed. God says all those who choose idols are an abomination. They are a disgrace to God. Their choice is outrageous. They are nothing less than an evil scandal in a universe God creates to be a holy place.
God’s chosen people are not an abomination. They do not belong to the nations of the world. As Peter says, God’s people are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's possession (1 Peter 2:9). They are not an abomination, but they are chosen to reflect the glory of the image of God.
Worship and Rejoice and Do Not Fear
We have much to gain when we understand Isaiah 41. It tells us how we are to live.
The main idea of the chapter that we may apply to our lives is this: Worship and rejoice, and do not fear, for God proves to be our Redeemer.
What a joy to worship a God who proves Himself worthy. The naming of Cyrus and prophecy of his conquests is amazing and a great encouragement to our faith.
We are to worship God and not partake in idolatry. God is our treasure. God is not deaf like an idol. He hears our cries and longs to pour out His grace upon us. He is our Provider. He holds our future in His hands. He loves us enough to lay down His life for us. Idols bring sorrow, but God promises to take away our tears. Don’t let the god of this world take your eyes off the Lord. The god of this world will do all he can to blind us to the glory of God. He seeks to steal, kill and destroy, but our Redeemer promises we will have life in abundance.
Don’t let the god of this world tempt you with false idols with empty, worthless promises. Fill your heart and mind with the truth of God’s word. Surround yourself in the safety of God’s people. Worship God as the Treasure in the field and the Pearl of great price. Let go of the world and hold fast to the one True God. Glory in the Holy One of Israel.
We are chosen by God. He is our Redeemer. He rescues us from the domain of darkness. God provides living water for our thirst and feeds us with the bread of life. We rejoice in knowing we have all that we may ever need or want because we have God. We rejoice because God proves His love for us in a profound way. He is the Redeemer who purchases our redemption with the precious blood of His beloved Son. God showers us with the blessings of Heaven.
Sing songs of salvation. Ring bells of joy. Break out the guitar and piano and let’s sing songs of rejoicing. Our God is alive, and He loves us with an everlasting love.
Do not fear
The people of this world who choose to worship idols have much to fear. But, we have nothing to fear. Our injustice does not escape God’s notice. He is sovereign. Our God proves Himself to be strong and mighty. He overcomes our greatest enemies.
Three times in chapter 41, God tells His people, “Do not fear.” He says, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” What a great promise makes to us! All the promises of God find their answer in Christ.
He can keep His promise because He holds the future in His hand. He proves Himself by foretelling world events. God is directing every molecule in the universe to bring about the glorification of His saints.
We need not fear poverty, because we are co-heirs with Christ. We need not fear persecution because God numbers the hairs we have on our head. We need not fear death because for us, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. As Paul tells the church in Rome, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31).
Worship and rejoice, and do not fear, for God proves to be our Redeemer.
NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." This manuscript is provided as a courtesy and is not intended for publication. The recorded audio/video message differs from the manuscript. Thanks for understanding.