Dear radio friends and those who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ,
It is my pleasure to be with you for the next several months on the Reformed Witness Hour. We pray our time together in the Word of God will be profitable. In the next several broadcasts we will study a number of verses out of Isaiah 40—a beautiful chapter of the Bible that describes who God is in comparison to man. Today we are going to consider Isaiah 40:27-28, “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.” We are going to study these verses of Isaiah 40 first because they explain to us what was going on in the nation of Israel. They explain why Isaiah speaks the message of this chapter.
Do you know what a remnant is? It is a leftover. My wife has on the shelves of a closet in our house little plastic boxes containing pieces of material that are left over after she makes her various quilts. These left-over pieces of material are remnants. Well, this word “remnant” is used by the prophet Isaiah no fewer than 16 times in this book of his writings. Out of those 16 times, for sure 10 times he uses this word to refer to the very few people of God, those few true believers that were left yet in the nation of Israel. These he calls “the remnant”: out of the millions in Israel, those few people (leftovers, if you will) who yet faithfully clung to Jehovah, His covenant, and its promises.
Throughout his prophecy Isaiah addresses the nation of Judah or Israel as a whole in terms of judgment and destruction. Because she had forsaken the way of righteousness and begun as a nation to follow after the horrible sins of the heathen nations around her, she was ripe for judgment. Therefore Isaiah pronounces woe upon her. These pronouncements of doom and destruction were spoken to the nation as a whole.
But within that nation, remember, was the remnant who, according to grace, still looked in hope for the coming Messiah. These too heard the prophecies of judgment. And because they longed for the coming of their Messiah, such prophecies smashed to pieces their hopes. As a result this remnant became despondent, that is to say, they became disheartened and discouraged. God was angry with Israel—rightfully so. The remnant saw the debauchery: the fornication and adultery, the drunkenness, the heresies Israel had now embraced. They knew Israel deserved punishment. But what of the promise of God’s covenant that he would send a Savior who would deliver them from sin? God was now angry. God was now filled with vengeance. Had He forgotten them?
So Isaiah is now sent by God to address this remnant of Israel, the true Judah, the true sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The words of this chapter are addressed to them—not the wicked nation as a whole, but to the faithful remnant who yet believed. And the word Isaiah was to speak to them was: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people! Speak comfortably to Jerusalem!” Isaiah was sent to speak words of comfort and encouragement to a despondent remnant. And the word of comfort was this: behold your God! Everyone needs a good dose of theology, that is, the study of who God is, since there are so many misconceptions about God afloat today. But we need a good dose of this too, just for encouragement and strength to continue to fight the good fight of faith.
WAITING UPON OUR EVERLASTING GOD
I. Jacob’s Despondency
The believing saints in Israel had become despondent. It is for this reason that Isaiah addresses them as he does in verse 27: “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?” It is striking that these questions are not asked of those who were walking in their sin. They are not addressed to those in Israel that in their pride were arrogantly acting as if God did not see their sin or that God was not going to judge them for those sins. This is what many in Israel were thinking. They walked arrogantly in their sin, as if God did not see it, as if their ways were hid from Him. They did not even give a second thought to the fact that God would punish them for their heinous sins. In their estimation, God did not judge them in their sin. So they continued on blatantly, openly, and unrepentantly in their fornication, drunkenness, idolatry, frivolous party life, and so on.
But Isaiah is not asking these questions to the wicked nation of Israel and those who were walking in their sin. He is addressing the elect remnant in Israel who had become discouraged. These people had raised their complaint to God and perhaps even to other believers. Isaiah, therefore, addresses believers whose faith was being tested and found wanting—for they were doubting God’s good hand. They were beginning to waver and to question God. They grew faint and weary in their ways.
What were these saints saying? My way is hid from Jehovah. They thought Jehovah had turned away from them, too, in anger and weariness over the unbelief of the nation as a whole. Their way refers to the rocky and narrow straits through which God now led them. These few saints were surrounded by unbelief and sin. Others refused to hear their admonitions. They were, no doubt, ridiculed and mocked for their faithful stand on the Word of God. They were labeled as narrow-minded extremists who were far too strict in living the law of God. Their place in the church of that day had become small and despised. They were but a remnant, and the rest of Israel that walked in unbelief was large and powerful. This made life difficult for those faithful few in Judah. They had no standing. No one—not even friends—cared to listen to them. So they raised the voice of complaint before God: my way is hid from Jehovah. He does not seem to see how difficult my way is. He does not seem to listen to my prayers. Has He forgotten to be kind?
The next complaint stands in close connection with the first: my judgment is passed over from my God. Or, more simply, God has failed to maintain the cause of the righteous. My judgment, my right cause, has been passed over by God. God does not undertake my cause. He does not defend my righteousness. Where is God in everything that is happening in the church?
Indeed, where is God in everything we see happening in the church of today? Sometimes the same complaints are shared by us who stand in the midst of the apostasy so rampant about us. So many denominations of churches and independent churches trample underfoot the commandments of God. They give their approval to fornication and adultery, to abortion and homosexuality. Their members desecrate the Sabbath. They walk in the same ways as the world around them, their lifestyle being totally worldly and unbelieving. Their heresies stink to high heaven—making God a female, making salvation dependent on man, despising the sovereignty of God in creation and providence. And the church and her members that strive still to remain faithful are small and despised today. Her voice and her warnings are ignored. How easy it is to say: My way is hid from God and the just cause I represent is passed over by Him.
But then there is the question that is meant to reprove God’s saints who waver and doubt God: “Why sayest thou this, O Jacob, and speakest these things, O Israel?” Why do you say this, Jacob? Why do you speak this about God, Israel? Notice how God addresses this remnant. He calls them Jacob and Israel. God addresses these faithful few as Israel and Jacob because they were true Israel. Those in this nation who did not believe were called such only because they belonged to the nation that housed or encased true Israel and Jacob. God saw this elect few as the very core or kernel of the nation of Israel.
But these names are appropriate as applied to the faithful few in this nation too. They were Jacob—the natural-born sons of Jacob—true. But they were also sons of Jacob from another point of view: they were now complaining as Jacob did when he was faced with the possible death of Benjamin: “All these things are against me!” This is what the remnant of faithful saints in Israel were saying: all these things going on in the nation are against us! They had forgotten the truth: if God is for us, nothing can be against us!
So they were appropriately called Jacob. But then they were called Israel too. And this is a reminder that God’s promises to Israel are sure and they would indeed be fulfilled. Why do you say these things Jacob, Israel??? Behold your God!
II. Jehovah’s Encouragement
Consider the God whom you serve!! He is the everlasting God, Jehovah. This God whom you serve is from everlasting to everlasting. That means He knows the end from the beginning and everything that takes place in between. He was there before the world began and He will exist when the history of this present world is long over. He is God, after all. Do you think your ways are hid from his all searching and all knowing eye? Do you think he does not know what is going on in Israel and in the nations around you? He knows because he is an everlasting God. The God who has planned all these things. And he is Jehovah—the never-changing, ever-faithful God in the work He performs. How can you say, “My judgment is passed over by God?” Is not God faithful to His covenant, and from its promises does He ever waver? God always maintains the cause of the righteous man. God dwells with us and smiles on us in His favor. God never forsakes His own. God never puts away His people. God’s promises are sure because of the Messiah that was yet to come. Though the nation of Israel as a whole will be punished and scattered and destroyed, God will save His Israel, His true Israel, because your God, O Jacob, is Jehovah!
That same word of encouragement we hear today too. God knows what is going on in the world and in the churches of today. He sees it. The ways of His people are not hid from Him any more than they were in Israel’s day. God sees and knows and will indeed judge. And He will do so because He is the everlasting God, Jehovah. God’s remnant according to grace is viewed together with Jesus Christ. They are in Him. They are covered in His blood. Their sins are forgiven them. They are righteous in Christ. For His sake, God’s promises are as sure today as they were then. He remains faithful to the cause of the righteous. He will preserve His true church through judgment, that is, by way of judging and punishing the false church of our day.
This Jehovah is the Creator of the ends of the earth and will not faint or grow weary. God has created all things on earth and in heaven. He has created the ends of the earth, that is, the universe and all things that it contains. All power belongs to Him in heaven and on earth. God is almighty. By a simple word He called each creature into existence. How then can you say that God has grown weary with what was going on in Israel? How can you even think that God faints or is exasperated with what is going on to the point that He has simply given up on Israel? Do you really think God has thrown up His hands in despair and said, “I’ve had enough! I can’t take it anymore! I quit! I am tired of man thwarting my will.” God is the Creator of all things. He does not forsake or quit His work. Behold your God! The unbelief and apostasy of Israel were under the sovereign control of the Creator! He brings these things about. Does God grow weary in carrying out these details of His plan? Does He become exasperated at what He has willed to do? Examine who God is! He never grows weary and never becomes faint in carrying out His plan for what He has created.
Then, to make an impact upon the hearts of these saints, God places this knowledge of who He is before them with a twofold question. Have you not known? Have you not heard? Come now, My beloved people! You know who I am! The objective knowledge of Me you have known in your generations since the beginning of time. I have always left you with My witness. You have been told who I am! You have heard! The knowledge of who God is has been handed down from father to son through oral tradition. It has been passed on to these believers in the line of their generations through the preaching of the gospel as well.
Now, they knew who God is. Besides, this knowledge was not simply theirs objectively. It was a subjective knowledge that was worked in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. What they knew about God they also believed. You believe in Me as God! Do you really need to complain and say that your way is now hid from Me and your just cause is passed over by Me? Come now! Have you not known? Of course you have! Have you not heard? Of course you have! Believe it!
We too, people of God, must believe that, in all the ways God leads His true church in these last days, even though those ways may be difficult, He fulfills His will and good pleasure. His ways are beyond our understanding at times. Isaiah says that to the elect remnant in verse 28, “There is no searching of God’s understanding.” It is not, of course, that God contradicts in His being what He tells us in His Word. It is not as if God’s understanding of what is going on in this world is different from our understanding—from what He tells us in His Word. That would be folly. It is just that our human understanding bumps up against the limits of this present world in which we have been placed. God’s understanding of the events of this world goes beyond our understanding. His ways are in the sea and His footsteps are not known.
For that reason, there is no searching of His understanding. But this we know: the knowledge of God is always good and wise. Sometimes we may not fully understand why God does what He does. We do not always understand why we are led through the flood and the fire. Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer for their just cause? We may not fully know the answer to that. But we do know that the ways God leads us are His ways and they are always filled with goodness and wisdom. This is why there is never any reason to complain and question God.
III. Israel’s Need
So, Isaiah addresses a certain need that he saw among the believers remaining in Israel. That need was to see and submit to the eternal purposes of God regarding the nation and church of which they were a part. Nothing escapes the knowledge, the eye, or the control of our sovereign God. The apostasy that we see in the church world around us today, just as the apostasy of Isaiah’s day, is under God’s control. Even when there is so much sin and unbelief rampant in modern false Christianity today—ungodly living and heresy—God is working all things for the good of His true church. Neither may we fail to see His design in all of this: He always saves His church through judgment. God knows the way of the righteous, but the way of sinners shall perish.
But there was one other need of which Isaiah reminds the church in this world. She must humbly submit to the will of God and wait for her salvation. God’s promises are sure. The Messiah would come. God’s people would indeed be redeemed. Israel must trust that God’s way for them was best and that He would bring about the coming of Christ. So also today. God leads His church unto the second coming of Christ. He directs the events of the world and the church today to bring about that coming. His promise is sure: Christ comes and comes quickly, to bring final and complete salvation for the church. Now