Isaiah 40:21-31

A. INTRODUCTION

1. Decision Making
Every now and again we all face turning points in our lives—ones that requires major decisions. It might involve something to do with education, and the decision about which stream to take. It might involve employment, and what kind of career to pursue. It might involve having a partner, and the decision about whether to commit or not. In addition, there is housing, children, retirement, etc., etc., all of which require major decisions which may require drastic changes to our way of life.

Of course with all these major turning points in life, in order to make a decision, you need a certain amount of information. You need to ask questions so that you can make an informed decision. And those questions can be about both facts and opinions. And they can be asked of a friend, a family member, a neighbour, an expert in a particular field, and even of God himself. But only when all the information is in, can a proper decision be made.

Some decisions will be easy and others difficult. But procrastination, and non-decision can be just as bad as the wrong decision—and can lead us down the completely wrong path.

Unfortunately, in asking questions—in gathering the information we need—we may not always get answers with which we are comfortable. However, if our decisions are to be the right ones, not only do we need to ask the right questions, but we need to have the courage of our convictions too. And that is despite the fact that the right decision may well make us very uncomfortable indeed.

So, how do we make our decisions? Do we tend to get all the facts together first, or are we happy with only a limited amount of detail? And when we do have all the facts, what do we then do with the ones that suggest that we should make ourselves uncomfortable? And where does God fit in to our decision-making processes?

2. The Exiles
Now to consider some of these questions, I’d like to refer to the passage from Isaiah. Because it’s a passage which has as its background a picture of God’s people who had found that what God had asked of them was too much. In fact, it made them so uncomfortable they decided to take another path. God wanted his people to put him first, but it was not a concept that the people found easy. So they made a decision on which way to go in life—and it just happened to be the wrong one. And as a consequence of making the wrong decision, they had to live with the consequences.

And the consequences of their wrong decision were two-fold. Firstly, they were taken captives to a foreign land; they were split up from their families, homes, and the things they loved. And, secondly, being a long way from home, they felt terribly abandoned by God (and that is despite the fact that they had abandoned him). In other words, faced with the major decision of whether to follow God or not, they made the wrong decision. And they consequently had to live with the consequences.

Having said that, however, they came to realise their predicament. And as a consequence, they started the process of decision making all over again. They began to ask questions all over again—to gather data. And having adapted themselves to the local way of thinking, their questions began at a very basic level.

B. TWO QUESTIONS

1. Is God Just One of Many Gods?
Because the very first question they asked was: “Is God just one of a number of gods? And if so, in contrast to others, how powerful was he?”

Yet to that question, they received an answer through the prophet Isaiah. And although Isaiah provided no new information, he repeated the things that they should have already known, because the character of God had been passed down from ancient times (21).

Indeed, God was not just A creator, but THE creator (22). It was God alone who had created everything. He had designed, pre-planned, and knew everything from the beginning to the end. He alone was responsible for his creation and for the care of the world that he’d created.

And, yes, there were many others who claimed to be gods (23), but they were nothing in the scheme of things. Some of the rulers of the earth may have claimed divine status, but they were nothing—less than specks—in comparison with God.

The essential character of God, Isaiah claimed, was that he was holy. That was how he revealed himself to his people. In comparison, the so-called Babylonian gods may have been identified with the heavenly bodies, but the heavenly bodies were really only part of the created order, which had been assigned their proper and limited functions by God the creator himself.

The conclusion to the question about God, then—about whether he was just one of many, and how powerful he really was—was that God was the absolute power over the whole universe. Indeed, he was the sole creator, for all of creation was confined to the activity of the one God.

2. Comment
And, having received that reply, which simply restated what they should already have known, one could easily have expected that God’s people—facing this point in their lives—would simply make the decision to follow God. To re-commit themselves to God, and, at the very least, to reinstate their past worshipping practices. However, like all decision makers, getting the facts right does not necessarily mean they were willing or ready to make the right decision.

They were still uncomfortable with the decision they should logically have made. So, in this case, rather than make a decision at all, they hesitated. They then added a further question, aimed at blaming God rather than themselves for their predicament.

3. Or, Is It That God Is Unwilling to Help?
OK they said, if God is the only god—which they were inclined to believe—then was it that God was unable to help them in their predicament, or was it that God was just unwilling to do so?

In other words, having been reminded of the past regarding God the creator, they recalled that God had made certain promises to their ancestors, about making them a great nation etc, etc. And they pointed out that, in their current predicament, God was actually ignoring their rightful claim to the fulfilment of those promises.

The issue, therefore, was that either God was deliberately refusing to see the fate of the exiles (27), or that he had so confused his people that they had lost their way.

And in that question, not only did they seek to blame God for their situation, but they seemed to have conveniently forgotten the whole reason they were exiled in the first place. That is, because that they had turned their backs on God, which is why he could no longer offer them his protection. Indeed, it was they who needed to repent and turn back to God, not the other way around.

Despite that, however, the prophet Isaiah, again, came to their rescue. But he did not offer anything new in this second answer either. He simply answered by appealing to the things they should already have known:

That God was an everlasting God (28); that his controlling activity extended throughout all time—past, present and future. That God’s power was equally unlimited in space. And if that was part of who God was, how could he possibly grow tired or weary? On the contrary the human mind was far too small to comprehend God’s mind or judge his intentions. Yes, God would act, but only at the appropriate time.

He reminded them of their history, and that that God had rescued individuals, and the people in general, many times in the past (29). And as a consequence he could be expected to do so again.

He reminded them that there was a huge contrast between the frailty and unaided human strength at its best (30-31), and the strength which God gives—and would give—to those who wait for the Lord. All they needed to do was to wait, with confident expectation and trust.

So in conclusion to the question of whether God was unwilling to help, the answer was that they needed to have faith, they needed to trust God. And if they did that, even in old age, it would be like they could grow wings and fly.

4. Comment
Of course the sad thing is that even having been reminded of who God was and what he used to mean to them, did not necessarily mean that even then they would make the right decision.

However faced with the dilemma—this point in their lives—they had sought out the answers to their questions, and in response they received some facts from Isaiah (facts they should have already known). And so they were now in a perfect position to make their decision.

C. APPLICATION

So what this passage provides, then, is an example of the sort of processes that we can go through when we have to make one of those big life-changing decisions.

Because it reminds us of the need to get answers to our questions, in order to make the right decision. It reminds us that many of the facts that we may need to consider may well be already known to us. It also reminds us that many of the answers might make us feel uncomfortable.

However it also reminds us of what can happen if we make the wrong decision—that we will need to live with the consequences

In regard to our own decision-making processes then:

1. Asking and Listening
Firstly, when we ask questions of people, as well as of God, we need to make sure we are willing to listen to the answers. Because it’s no good dismissing some of the facts, simply because they make us feel uncomfortable.

For example, if we want God to guide us for the future, it’s no good putting limits and restrictions on the things we’re prepared to hear, because there are some things we are simply not prepared to do. Rather we need to be willing to hear every word, and have our hearts open to the things that God has to say.

2. Decision and Action
Secondly, when we’ve got all the facts together, it’s decision time. And no amount of indecision or prevaricating will make that decision any easier.

And in the context of following God, we need to look at the facts. We need to look at the things that he is asking us to do and the places he wants us to go. And we need to make the right decision.

Now, obviously taking any new track is likely to make us feel uncomfortable. And going along the path that God calls us to walk on will usually mean we will get very uncomfortable indeed. But we need to have the courage of our convictions. Because any decision making is pointless, if we deliberately choose the wrong way, or if we agree to something in theory and then refuse to put it into practice.

3. Living with the Consequences
And, thirdly, whatever decision we make, we need to understand that we have to live with the consequences. And it isn’t good enough to blame others, or blame God, for the poor choices that we make.

4. Application
But in regard to any spiritual decision:

If our decision is to agree to do whatever God asks—whether we’ve done it before or not, and no matter how challenging or what others might think (and that can pretty uncomfortable)—the reward will be great blessings.

But if we decide to go down a different path—a path we think we can cope with, a path that is more acceptable to us and to others, a path that provides no real spiritual challenges—then we have to be prepared to live with the consequences.

After all, the Israelites maintained a deaf ear to the things they were uncomfortable with. They knew the answers, because all Isaiah had to do was to remind them of the things they should have known. The Israelites’ problem was that they were just unwilling to put their convictions into practice. Indeed, they preferred to blame God rather than themselves. And we have to make sure that we don’t end up doing the same thing too.

D. CONCLUSION

Now we all have to make decisions in life—and many of them. And part of the decision-making process is the need to gather all the facts in order to make the right decisions. But being willing to ask questions is one thing, being willing to act on the answers provided is another thing altogether.

So when we have a decision for the future to make—and it will different for each of us—it may be helpful to have the Israelites in the back of our minds. They were supposed to be the people of God. However in reality they fell far short of the mark. They made the wrong decision. They knew the answers but were frightened of making the right decision. They knew what to do, but they found it more comfortable doing something else. And as a consequence, they looked around for someone to blame for their own poor decision making.

So, yes, we can learn from their (poor) example. Because it’s not a picture that we should want anyone to repeat.

Posted: 20th March 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis
www.brianacurtis.com.au