Dear Radio Friends,
Last week we considered three verses that compared God and man. We took a close look at the worth, the honor, the glory, and the power of God as opposed to that of man. The conclusion? Though man may think himself so great and so powerful, in the sight of God he is less than the fine dust of the balance. God is so great and man is so small that there really is no comparison at all. When laid in the balance, Godâ€™s glory and power shines forth in all its excellence. The significance of all the nations put together as one is as a drop of water in a bucket. The composite of all the greatest individuals, the most intelligent, the most powerful and influential, the richest, the most famous individuals of this world is emptiness. The most powerful nations together are nothing in the sight of God. He sits in the heavens and laughs at manâ€™s feeble attempts to break away from His rule. Even if every nation of this world would join its power together with all other nations of this world to form one grand powerful kingdom, such a kingdom, in Godâ€™s sight, is less than nothing. That is the God whom we serve, fellow believers.
Behold your God.
The verses of Isaiah 40 we consider today are more of a practical nature. These verses (18-21) read: â€œTo whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him? The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains. He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved. Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?â€
If we truly believe that God is the great and mighty God of heaven and earth that reigns in the heavens, a God to whom no creature can compare, it will certainly affect both our worship and our lives. If we have a low opinion of God, this will reveal itself in dishonorable worship and ungodly living. A high opinion of God, on the other hand, will result in honorable worship and holy living.
I. Judahâ€™s Sin
So, here is the test we receive in the Word of God before us: To whom do we liken God? What likeness will we compare to Him? How will we worship Him? How will we live before Him?
Here is the question that is put before us in these verses: Whom can we compare to God? If God is far greater in glory, power, honor than man, what creature can bear a likeness to God? If God is an invisible God who is transcendent above all the creatures of His hand, what creature can we compare to God? To whom can God be likened?
The nation of Judah in her sin never really considered that question. Neither did she want to consider that question. The nation of Judah had become thoroughly absorbed in idol-worship. Isaiah describes the foolishness of this act in verses 19 and 20: â€œThe workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains. He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooses a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.â€ This is a description, mind you, of the people of Judah, that is, the church at that time. There is no doubt that this is a fitting description of the heathen nations around her. But Isaiah is not here describing the idol worship of the pagan nations who served other gods. He is describing an action that is unique to Judah. The heathen nations had made graven images of their various gods. The wicked nation of Israel had joined these nations in serving these gods, too, by means of these images. But the sin here described by Isaiah in these verses is a violation of the second commandment of the law of God: Do not serve Jehovah by making a graven image that is supposed to represent Him. â€œWith what creature can you compare Me?â€ Isaiah asks.
Yet it was this sin that Israel now, and repeatedly up to this point, commits against God. The people had made graven images of the creature and said that these images represented Jehovah. Then they bowed down and they worshiped these images. The act described in verses 19 and 20 is simple to comprehend. The wealthy man in Judah would go to a workman to order an image made. This workman would then melt a piece of iron or brass to shape or mold it into an image of a man or an animal. That same workman would take a sheet of gold and melt a fine layer of gold on top of that image to make it look shiny and expensive. Then he would make silver chains to hold the image up so it would not topple over if it was a bit top-heavy.
A poor man wanted his image, too. But he could not afford the precious metal to overlay it. So he would go into the forest and find a certain durable wood that would not quickly deteriorate or rot. After all, this image was to be the likeness of the eternal, unchangeable God! He, too, would find a cunning or skillful workman who was good at carving and this workman would shape this wood into an image of a man or an animal. Since wood was not as heavy as metal, it would have a tendency to tip over a little more easily. So the carver would have to make it bottom-heavy so it would not so easily be moved or bumped over.
We must not overlook the picture that Isaiah here draws for us. The wealthy man had by far the fanciest idol or image of Jehovah. But consider his folly. To make an image of solid gold would simply cost too much. Make the image fancy on the outside, but let the inside be made of cheap metal. That is good enough? Really? Good enough as a representation of the holy and majestic God who holds all the isles in His hands as a very little thing? And why the chains? So the image would not tip over if someone would bump it off the table or shrine? Really? You are going to bow down and worship an image that can be pushed around by a man as if this idol was a fit representation of Jehovah?
Or the poor man. You are going to choose a log out of the forest, cut it in half, and use one half of it as firewood? Then shape the other half into an image that represents Jehovah? Then make sure you carve the image in such a way that it will not easily topple over either? Now you are going to bow down to that piece of wood as the great and holy one, the all-powerful and unchangeable Jehovah God? The folly of it all!
But the folly of it all is not found simply in this outward act of actually bowing before an image that was made with human hands. The folly, the utter foolishness, of the people of Judah was a matter of their heart. They had a low opinion of who God is. This is where the sin of idol-worship was rootedâ€”in manâ€™s vain imagination.
You see, man is always guilty of one sin, a sin that stands behind every sin he commits: pride. In pride, man imagines that God is no different than man, that God actually serves the whims of man. He thinks that he may subject God to the judgment of man. Man will determine the god whom he chooses to serve. Man thinks that God is altogether such an one as himself. That was the sin of Judah. Judah thought of God as man. God changes His mind, God has a great sense of humor, God does not judge people, God loves everybody and does not want to hurt anyone, God is a buddy and we can talk to Him as if He were our equal. God does not determine everything, God is not the sole ruler over all things. This low opinion of God, this robbing God of His glory and power and transcendence had resulted in the most horrible sins in the nation of Judah. The members of that nation, or the church at that time, began to sin in the way they worshiped God and in the way that they lived. And it was for this reason this nation now lay under the just wrath and judgment of God. Whenever the second commandment is violated, it always results in a perversion of proper worship of Godâ€™s name. This is true because a low opinion of who God is results in man determining his own worship of God rather than it being determined by God Himself in His Word.
With idol worship in Judah came the horrible practice of the heathen nationsâ€”the sacrificing of their children to the gods. The people of Judah were desecrating the Sabbath day, that is, they were not keeping the day holy unto the Lord. They fasted in an outward, formal way; but behind their fasting was sin. God explains in Isaiah 58:3: â€œBehold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.â€ The outward, formal sacrifice has no pleasure in Godâ€™s eyes.
Is this any different than the worship of many churches in Christianity today? The church of today rationalizes away the proper use of the Sabbath. We no longer need a day of rest, they say. God is no longer sanctified this day for the worship of His name. To the church of today, too, the words of Isaiah come: Call the Sabbath a delight, by honoring God and not doing your own ways and finding your own pleasure on that day (Is. 58:13).
The modern church of today worships, but is their worship God-honoring? Or does her worship call attention to man? Does God, in His Word, dictate her worship, or are all kinds of man-made innovations injected into her worship?
In Christianity today, too, there is such a low opinion of who God is. No different are we than Judah. A low opinion of God and a false worship also produce the sins that were so prevalent in the nation of Judah. At any given age in the life of the church the members of the church are susceptible to the same sins that characterized this nation. Today, too, just as in Judahâ€™s day, the abuse of alcohol is an ever-present danger. The abuse of alcohol is a sin that goes hand-in-hand with a low opinion of God. Beer, wine, hard liquor become themselves idols to which men give themselves to find enjoyment in life. In fact, God warns us in Isaiah 22:13, 14 that the sin of partying, along with its abuse of eating and of drinking strong drink, was His judgment upon Israel for her failure to serve Him from the heart. This sin would follow Israel until she would die by the hands of her enemies or be taken away captive.
The sin of fornication also always follows a person who lacks a proper knowledge of God and who walks in the ignorance of his unbelief. The Bible is explicitly clear in its condemnation of fornication. But the people of Judah had ignored the command of God, just as do many members of Christian churches today. What is worse, however, is when the church itself, rather than condemning this sin, condones it, as was true of Judah at that time. The people in Judah and many today think of God as if He is altogether such a one as we are. There is no fear of God. So adultery and fornication abounded in Judah.
Then, too, there was the sin of greed. This too goes hand-in-hand with idol worship. Men make idols out of alcohol, they make idols out of fornication, and men make idols out of money and the luxuries it buys. As a result, they cheat and gamble. Their eyes are tainted by their lust for the wealth and prosperity of this world. All these sins in worship and in the lives of the members of Judah had made this nation ripe for judgment. Godâ€™s wrath lay upon her.
II. Godâ€™s Reminder
God therefore comes to the elect remnant in Judah, those faithful few now who yet have believing hearts and look for the coming of their Messiah, and He asks the rhetorical questions of verse 21: â€œHave ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?â€ Do not think for a moment, dear friends, that Godâ€™s saints then were not tempted to walk in the ways of the wicked in Judah. These sins were real and present dangersâ€”especially to a weak believer. The wicked in Judah did not know God. â€œMy people have gone into captivity because they have no knowledge,â€ God had said. But the same is not true of those few believers in Judah. They had knowledge. And Isaiah now appeals to that in these questions.
There are four question asked here, each of which appeals to the knowledge of God that these saints now have freely been given by Godâ€™s grace. â€œDo you not know?â€ God has worked in your hearts by His Spirit that you know God. Maybe you need to be reminded of who God is, but you know God! The believer has the work of Jesus Christ in his heart. Christ has died in order that he may be given eyes to see and understand the things of the kingdom of God. To us they have been revealed by a gracious work of God through Christ. We know. We know our sin. We know our salvation in Jesus Christ alone. â€œHave you not known?â€ Yes, we know!
â€œHave you not heard? has it not been told you from the beginning?â€ Not only has God given His children eyes to see, but He has given them also ears to hear. The gospel has been preached since the beginning of time. Godâ€™s people have always heard the Word of God. The prophets have repeatedly told you about the majesty and might of God. You know who God is because God has so worked in your hearts to sit under the preaching of the Word and to believe in what is said. Truly, the church of Christ can say today that they have heard Christ. They hear what the Spirit says to the churches. They hear this through the true preaching of the Word.
Are we going to be so foolish as the unbelievers in the realm of the church who claim to believe but who walk in the utter foolishness of their unbelief? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? Does not the earth itself, and everything contained in it, shout aloud of the greatness and power and divinity of God? The wicked man may take this truth of God testified of in creation and hold it in unrighteousness. He may serve the creature rather than the Creator, but the same is not true of the believer. We cannot ignore what the foundations of this earth and this universe teach us about our God.
What then does God remind us of concerning Himself? His answer is given to us in verse 18: â€œTo whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?â€ Let us not forget who God is. He alone is Creator. All else is creature. He stands above His creation in His transcendence. He is the invisible God who bears no earthly likeness. He is the One true God, Jehovah. He is from everlasting to everlasting God. He has planned all things in eternity. He carries out the counsel of His will in heaven and earth. He holds the waters in His hand and the isles as a very little thing. He measures out the entire universe with the span of His hand. Nothing in this world escapes the rule of God. He is supreme in the heavens. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing. And He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand or say unto Him, â€œWhat doest thou?â€ That was Nebuchadnezzarâ€™s testimony of God. And that is the believerâ€™s confession. God is great and glorious above all creatures. Terrible is He in His dignity. There is no God like unto our God. Look at Him. Look at Him with the eyes of faith and worship Him with a heart of faith. Live to Him out of that faith.
There is no one and there is nothing in this world that can be compared to God. Nothing remotely bears His likeness. Swallow all human pride and bow before the living God with awe and humility and listen to God. â€œFor thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spiritâ€ (Is. 57:15).
III. The Believerâ€™s Response
When we consider how great our God is, our response, as believers, is that of humility. God is our refuge and our strength, a helper ever near us. This God is our God. He will be our guide even unto death! Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief. May I not give in to the temptations that surround me, even when I see others in the church living in the way of these sins. May my worship of Thy holy name be kept pure so that my praises are acceptable unto Thee, the high and lofty One. And, Lord, where I have forgotten Thy name and stretched forth my hands to the idols of this world, rise, help, and redeem me! The believerâ€™s response is always one of humility. Then, in a positive way, he goes forth and strives the more to live a life worthy of God. He walks in thankfulness unto God and enters into worship with God. He lives the life of fellowship and love with the God who keeps covenant with His people. Such a believer then knows and is assured that that great God is his God and that Godâ€™s anger and wrath does not rest on him, but his sins are forgiven him and he is blessed indeed of God.
No matter how God then leads him in his life, he is happy and content. Ahâ€”the blessedness of the believer!