Eugene Peterson’s book “Eat this Book” teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. These selected verses from Isaiah 40 emphasize the rule of God over the world and God’s amazing grace to us.
Isaiah 40: selected verses (Common English Bible)
21 Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
Wasn’t it announced to you from the beginning?
Haven’t you understood since the earth was founded?
22 God inhabits the earth’s horizon—
its inhabitants are like locusts—
stretches out the skies like a curtain
and spreads it out like a tent for dwelling . . . .
28 Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the creator of the ends of the earth.
He doesn’t grow tired or weary.
His understanding is beyond human reach,
29 giving power to the tired
and reviving the exhausted.
The world, it seems, is running amok! Our thoughts waver between the dangerously complicated tribal and terrorist warfare in the Middle East, the specter of a saber-rattling Russia, the obvious symptoms of climate change, and the never-ending torture of the 2016 campaign for president. And we all feel the stress and anxiety of trying to ward off the insanity. The prophet Isaiah has a question for us: Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
A little Biblical background is helpful. Chapters 1-39 in the book of Isaiah are about loss. Chapter 39 ends with a prophecy that Judah will be conquered by the Babylonians sometime in the future (after King Hezekiah is dead and gone). The people wonder what will happen to their kingdom. Hasn’t God promised them the land of Canaan? The Jews begin to fall away from their God and into idolatry.
Over 160 years pass. Jerusalem has fallen and the people have been led into exile just as Isaiah had prophesied. But then comes chapter 40 from “Second Isaiah” and the vision changes from loss to hope.
After several glorious verses describing the power of a God who inhabits “the earth’s horizon” and stretches out his tent to cover the universe, Second Isaiah asks “Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?” He reminds the people that they have been taught through the centuries about the one God who created the universe who was eager and available to protect and save them. He reminds them of a majestic God who called them to be God’s people . Have they truly forgotten what they had been taught about experienced with this God? Are they doubting his grace and generosity?
Isaiah’s question is a question for our times. Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? Have we forgotten that our God is the everlasting God who is in control of the universe? In our fear and anxiety, have we run to other gods to save us? Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? God is with us! “This God is eternal, unchangeable, and his purposes cannot fail”(Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible). We may not trust the situations and systems around us, but we can believe that “All hope for the future in the Isaiah tradition is rooted in the character of God who has the capacity to do something utterly new” (Walter Brueggeman in The Spiritual Formation Bible, p. 984).
Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? Maybe we should all take a step back from the gloom and doom and wait to see what “utterly new” thing God is going to do.
♥ Silence – The best cure for stress and mental fatigue is the discipline of silence. Turning off the world’s noise brings us the ability to rest in God and receive God’s encouragement and whispers of love. Take at least a half hour away from 2016 soon and rediscover God’s grace.
♥ Simplicity – The discipline of simplicity is defined by Richard Foster as “The inward reality of single-hearted focus upon God and his kingdom, which results in an outward lifestyle of modesty, openness, and unpretentiousness and which disciplines our hunger for status, glamour, and luxury.” Notice that Foster begins with a focused heart which creates a focused life. Pray every day for the Spirit to help you focus on the love of God and see what changes happen in your life.
♥ Service – We all know that helping others takes the focus off our misery. Give sacrificially to your favorite organization that helps refugees, immigrants, or victims of floods. Pay special attention to what you can give up (gourmet coffee, nights at the movies for several months, a new winter coat, an autumn trip) to make it possible to give to others. Do you even miss it?
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“Isaiah shows us that God is powerfully and decisively – though hiddenly – engaged everywhere in the reality of the world Once we acknowledge this claim, then the work of our faith is to relinquish in life, personal and public, all that contradicts the reality and purpose of God and to receive from God what we cannot generate for ourselves . . . . Isaiah calls upon us to attest to both the grandeur of God in compassionate sovereignty and the pastoral reality of being God’s people who are mandated to be unafraid in the world, because the world belongs to the God who is doing a new thing. May the book of Isaiah empower us to be unafraid of our calling” (Walter Brueggemann in The Spiritual Formation Bible, p.984).