Isaiah 40:12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who has directed the spirit of the LORD, or as his counselor has instructed him? 14 Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice? Who taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? 15 Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as dust on the scales; see, he takes up the isles like fine dust. 16 Lebanon would not provide fuel enough, nor are its animals enough for a burnt offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before him; they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. 18 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? 19 An idol?--A workman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains. 20 As a gift one chooses mulberry wood--wood that will not rot--then seeks out a skilled artisan to set up an image that will not topple. 21 Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; 23 who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. 24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. 25 To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. 27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God"? 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the followers of Moses, the people of the Covenant, have been carried off to Babylon as captives. They look in despair at the heavens and ask “Where is God in all this”. And at this point Isaiah brings a word – in the shape of Isaiah Chapter 40. It begins with the instruction to Isaiah to comfort the people because the moment will come when God will level the mountains and fill in the valleys to make a highway that will take them back home. There is a pause – where we can almost sense those who hear Isaiah shake their heads in hopeless despair. The road home seems impossible because those who hold them in captivity are too powerful, and the Children of Israel are too weak. Isaiah’s reply is decisive: “To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.” The God of all creation is more powerful than any earthy ruler and so will make this happen. In addition to this, the people are not to think of themselves as weak because “He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless”.
These words have sustained generations of people since then. Whenever people have felt demoralised, we have turned to Isaiah 40 for words of comfort. Whether we read them aloud – or we sing them as in Part I of Handels’ Messiah – they remind us that God is larger than our history and will carry us through the particular moment we are experiencing.
Just as God speaks words of freedom from captivity to Israel in Isaiah 40, so God continues to speak these words of rescue. And we who follow the ways of our God are partners in bringing comfort to those who have lost courage, and liberation to those who are held captive. Whether this is a woman living in fear of a bad husband, a child who is crushed by the burden of bad adults, a refugee running from bad government, or someone who is terrified of their own bad decisions – the truth remains: “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Do not fear your particular moment in history. The “everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” is with you!
Third Sunday after Trinity
34 Our Weakness and God’s Strength
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 213.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.