Thursday

12 January 2012

Isaiah 41:17-29

"I the Lord with answer them, I the God is Israel will not forsake them." (v. 17)

Background

Verse 17 takes us back to the wilderness where the previous chapter first began (Isaiah 40:3). This continues to link the current exile period with the previous experience of 40 years travelling in the desert from Egypt to Canaan. Then the people complained of thirst and Moses struck a rock from which water gushed (Exodus 17:1-6). In the future God will provide rivers and fountains, pools of water and springs (verse 18). There will be so much water that trees will grow and transform the wilderness in to a beautiful place. It will be a new creation and will be a sign of the power of the "Holy One of Israel" (v. 20).

The prophet contrasts the undoubted power of God with the powerlessness of the idols created by human hand. It is almost as if he is putting the idols that were all around them in Babylon on trial. He invites the people to bring evidence that the idols have any power at all, whether for good or evil (verse 23) but they cannot. They are nothing, they don't exist and anyone who believes so must be made or delusional. This is a verdict repeated again and again not only in verses 24 and 29 but also indirectly in the verses in between as none of the false gods predicted the rise of Cyrus. It was only the God of Israel who did this (verse 27).

It is possible that the power of the Babylonian empire was already on the wane with the emergence of Cyrus, "the one from the north" (v. 25) and so it would be increasingly evident to the Jews that the idols and foreign gods, who they once feared, actually had no power at all. In fact it is now clear to any sane person that they don't exist at all. There is only one God who is on their side.

To Ponder

What are the idols that are worshipped in our society? How should we challenge or overcome them?

In a world where many people have to contend with long periods of drought, how do you interpret the promise made in verse 17?

Isaiah looks for proof of the existence of false gods but finds none, but to what extent is it possible to prove the existence of God? Why (or how)?


Bible notes author

Dr Richard Vautrey

Richard Vautrey is a local preacher and church steward in Leeds, and a former vice-president of the Methodist Conference. He works as a GP, is an elected member of both the BMA council and Royal College of GPs council as well as being the deputy chair of the BMA's GP committee.