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The book of Isaiah was written during a time of intense emotional strain. Political and military turmoil were on the rise, and the uncertainty of the future was the topic in everyone’s mind and on everyone’s lips.
Isaiah was a spokesman for God. Rather than uttering the happy platitudes which the people wanted, and even at times demanded, Isaiah spoke God’s Word. And much of what he spoke promised not peace, but even greater upheaval because of the choices God’s people were making.
Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.
Life was difficult for God’s people, and God makes it clear that the difficulty was due to a lack of knowledge. (See also Hosea 4:6) They may have known quite a bit about current events. They certainly knew a lot about armies, idols, and other things in which the world places its trust. But the knowledge they were lacking was a knowledge of God, and this was the reason for their instability.
Isaiah 33:6 (NIV)
He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.
Additionally, the opening chapters of Isaiah make it clear that the ignorance of the people was a willful ignorance. They had been taught the Word of God, but they rejected it in order to pursue what they considered a more useful knowledge.
In the face of military threat, for example, they did not consider God. They failed to even consult God. Instead, they placed their trust in the senses. And by senses’ reasoning, a visible nation with a visible army makes a much greater ally than an invisible God.
Isaiah 30:1 — 3
Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin:
That walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt!
Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion.
God calls His people rebellious children because in the midst of their distress they never even bothered asking His counsel. Instead, they trusted in Egypt — a resource that they could see, but which God calls only a shadow. It was a choice that would bring them shame and confusion. This outcome is explained in chapter 31.
Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD shall stretch out his hand, both he that helpeth shall fall, and he that is holpen [helped] shall fall down, and they all shall fail together.
The fleshly help that Israel continually sought continually failed them. And this is even more tragic in light of the fact that God was ever ready to help, guide, and deliver them.
For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.
Despite the words of Isaiah, very few chose to acknowledge God. Israel and, later, Judah, were both taken captive by unbelieving nations simply because they failed to trust God. Yet even in these circumstances, God was merciful. He spends much of the latter part of the book of Isaiah revealing truths regarding the peace that His people would one day enjoy.
In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.
Israel experienced very little stability and very little peace during the course of its existence because its people, with few exceptions, looked to the senses world for their sufficiency. But God promised a day when His people would inhabit a place whose walls were made of salvation, not of stone — and yet they would call that city strong.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste [be anxious or frustrated].
In Isaiah’s day, there was a building he could only speak of, a foundation yet unlaid. You and I are part of that building, resting upon that foundation. This affords us a confidence and a peace far beyond even that which was available to Israel. Whatever the state of the world, we can be sure; we can be strong.
Let’s be wiser than those of Isaiah’s day. Let us continue to put our trust in God’s unseen but powerful resources. In doing so, we glorify Him and we remain deeply rooted in all of the goodness He supplies for His people.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.
He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.