Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Crisis & Choice, Pt 5: “The Lord of All the Earth”


One day a man goes to a pet shop to buy a parrot. The assistant takes the man to the parrot section and asks the man to choose one. The man asks, “How much is the yellow one?” The assistant says, “$2,000.” The man is shocked and asks the assistant why it's so expensive. The assistant explains, “This parrot is a very special one. He knows typewriting and can type really fast.”

“What about the green one?” the man asks. The assistant says, “He costs $5,000 because he knows typewriting and can answer incoming telephone calls and takes notes.”

“What about the red one?” the man asks. The assistant says, “That one’s $10,000.” The man says, “What does he do?” The assistant says, “I don’t know, but the other two call him boss.”

Who runs the world? Who is in charge? The President of the United States? The Premier of China? The Prime Minister of England? Whose power on earth is unquestioned, unequaled and unchanging?

During the dark days before Judah’s exile to Babylon, the Israelites complained that God was not doing anything, nothing was working for them and things were an absolute mess. The Israelites then forged foreign alliances, worshipped pagan gods and forsook the Lord. Isaiah reminded Israel that not all was doom and gloom, all was not lost. God would preserve a faithful remnant and return them to the Promised Land to rebuild the nation. He comforted and warned the Israelites, reminding them that God is the Lord of all the earth and He would punish the nations, uproot her leaders and show His power.

Why is God so slow to act? When is He ever making His move? What is His response to charges against Him and His reign?

The Rulers are Powerless
15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. 16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. 17 Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing. (Isa 40:15-17)

God’s first question to Israel was, “What are the nations to me?” Nations come and go, empires unite and disintegrate, governments change hands and philosophies.

The glories of the Roman, British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Turks, Austro-Hungarians and Dutch empires are nothing but a faint and distant memory today. It’s been said that only the British Empire ended decently. The most unbelievable and unforgettable event of the last century must be the unimaginable and impossible breakup and the fragmentation of the powerful Soviet and East-European bloc in 1989.

War, hunger, ambition, corruption and decay will continue to undermine, destabilize and topple even the latest superpowers of today, whether they be the current economic superpowers today known as G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) or G8 – including Russia, the two military superpowers in the world (United States and Russia), or the five veto countries in the United Nations Security Council (US, UK, China, France, Russia).

Please note the progression from “drop (water)” to “dust (powder)” in verse 15 and finally “nothing” in verse 17. All the nations of the world are like a “drop” in the bucket. This drop, which occurs only once in the Bible, is not the measurable type, like a drop of rain that falls to the ground as a result of gravity. This particular drop is the finest existing particle or the tiniest conceivable droplet - not big enough to see or heavy enough to drip. It is as light and as miniscule as a single molecular unit of vapor, mist or steam. God considers all countries, empires or kingdoms as nothing but mere fizzle and hot air.

The biggest and strongest nations are as substantial as dust on scales (v 15)! Their land is merely dust or powder — a speck of dust or a glob of dirt, no bigger than a ping-pong ball or a golf ball. It is not oversized, nor is it really that big or heavy to God. Next, He weighs the islands (v 15), scoops and lifts them like feathers or air.

Islands (v 16) are pristine, unspoiled and beautiful shores and perfect tourist spots, but God sneezes at the worth of these paradises in the sun. The “fine dust” (v 15) of island is more exquisite than the “dust” of the nations in verse 15. The word “fine” means refer to skinny, thin strips of material, no more impressive than a strip of bacon, a shoestring or a piece of mouth floss. This is the same word that describes the skinny cows and the thin heads of grain Joseph saw in his dream (Gen 41:3, 6). Islands are not the stuff of dreams, but just child’s play or small stuff to Him.

If islands are merely a drop in the bucket, mountains are less stirring and impressive to God. Lebanon (v 16), known for its hilly slopes and rugged terrain, is synonymous with mountain ranges (Deut 3:25, Judg 3:3), thick forests (1 Kings 10:17) and choice timber and wood (2 Chron 2:8, 16), notably from cedar trees, fir trees, and algum trees (2 Chron 2:8). King Solomon and the post-exilic Ezra chose the world-renowned cedar trees for the construction of the temple (1 Kings 5:6, Ezra 3:7). However, the Lord considers even Lebanon’s cleared jungle is not wood or coal or fuel enough to warranty as burnt offerings.

The nations are not only nothing, they are described as worthless (v 17) or desolation or without form, from the Genesis 1:2 phrase where the earth was “formless” and void. They are not only nothing, but “less than nothing” (v 17), or the popular translation elsewhere as “the ends of the earth” (Deut 33:17, 1 Sam 2:10, Ps 2:8, 22:27, 59:13, 67:7, 72:8, 98:3, Prov 30:4, Isa 45:22, 52:10, Jer 16:19, Mic 5:4, Zech 9:10), the lowest of the low or the last on the list. Essentially, they have no shape (worthless) or significance (less than nothing).

The Residents are Puny
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. (Isa 40:22)

A popular song years ago asked:
If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to His face if you were faced with him in all his glory?
What would you ask if you had just one question?
Yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah yeah

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home...

Well, God is not like one of us, any creature or anything in creation. The Lord sits majestically, gloriously, splendidly upon His throne (v 22). When the preposition “in” or “by” or “with” is added to the Hebrew word “sit,” the meaning changes to “dwell” - “dwell in,” “dwell by” or “dwell besides” (Gen 25:11) or “dwell with” (Gen 29:14). However, if the preposition “upon” or “above” is added to “sit,” the expression “sit above” then is commonly used for kings who are seated on the throne, emphasizing their reign, dominance and authority (Ex 11:5, Jer 29:16). The prepositions “in,” “by” and “with” added to “sit” refer to one’s dwelling place, but the added preposition “upon” or “above” refers to might and power. The former is for location, the latter is for lordship.

In contrast, the inhabitants are like scrawny grasshoppers (v 22). That was the same expression used by the ten spies who disobeyed the order to enter the Promised Land. In their eyes their opponents, the sons of Anak, were giants; the spies considered themselves as grasshoppers – weak, undersized and defenseless (Num 13:33).

Still, God cares and provides for humans, stretching the heavens – rolling, scrolling, paving, surfacing and straightening the skies, the heavens or the universe like a curtain or a long and flimsy piece of crumpled cloth. Not only does God stretch the heavens for our habitation, he spreads it out like a tent. The word “stretch” (v 22) is a one-way elongation of an object, like extending an arm (Ex 6:6), a hand (Ex. 7:5) or a finger forward, but the next word - “spread” - is a simultaneous extension to the sides. God has not only cut the world into form and spin the world into action, He has ordered and fashioned heaven and earth for our habitation. This planet is tailor-made and customized like a tent for our home or habitat.

Their Ruin is Predetermined
23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. 24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. (Isa 40:23)

One of the legends of Charlemagne (742-814), the first Holy Roman emperor who is considered the greatest of medieval kings for his success at uniting and Christianizing Western Europe, concerns his burial in his imperial robes inside a cathedral.

Charlemagne had previously given instructions that when he died he should be buried seated in the royal posture of a monarch ruling on a throne. Then he directed the Gospels should be laid on his knees, his sword beside him, the imperial crown on his head and the royal mantle on his shoulders. His body remained accordingly for 180 years.

About 1,000 A.D. the tomb was opened by Emperor Otto. They found the skeleton of Charlemagne dissolved and dismembered into various hideous postures. The skull was till wearing the crown but the bony finger of the skeleton was pointing to a verse from Scripture, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matt 16:26) (7,700 Illustrations # 5346)

Not long after Charlemagne’s death in 814 the empire collapsed. His descendants could not hold the vast empire together. His grandsons’ fierce rivalry hastened the division of the kingdom.

Princes (v 23) do not mean the sons of kings, but a generic term for kings, rulers and emperors. Again the same Hebrew term “not” or “naught” resurfaces in this Isaiah 40 for the sixth time — “not” and “nor” in verse 16, “nothing” in verse 17, “naught” in verse 23, “no one” in verse 28 and “weak/no might” in verse 29, not including another three “no” in verse 24 (different Hebrew word). The nations, their assets and, presently, her princes are nothing before God. They are just middle men. The law-enforcing rulers or, technically, the judges of the earth (v 23) are nothing or vanity, the same term for worthless, desolation or formlessness in verse 17.

The Hebrew meaning of verse 24 is even starker. Instead of the repeated “no sooner” translation – usually translated as “not” and never translated as “no sooner” in other texts, which suggests that the princes and rulers are blown away the moment they are planted, sown or rooted, the original text suggests that the princes and rulers did not get that far. It says, “YEA, NOT shall they be planted; YEA, NOT shall they be sown; YEA, NOT shall their stock be rooted in the ground…” God blows on them and they wither and die like grass, flowers, plants, herbs and vegetation. Isaiah 40:7 echoes the same thought, using the exact words “blow” and “wither”: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass.”

The princes and the rulers wither, dehydrate or evaporate like poor, depleted and arid soil. The whirlwind (v 24) or hurricane sweeps or carries them away like dry straw, empty huskers or hollow nutshells. The up and down or the rise and fall of godless puppet leaders is as sure as God’s word. The only thing yet to come is their complete disappearance and final judgment, which God has promised.

Conclusion: God is all-powerful all-knowing and all-wise. Nothing escapes His mind, eye and grasp. All the isms, the movements and their founders, tenets and declarations are just blowing in the wind. Phillip Brooks said, “The true way to be humble is not to stoop till you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is.” Have you given praise and submitted yourself to God, who is the Lord of all the earth. He is sovereign, dependable and unchanging. Do you believe in God’s word? Do you trust the plans the Lord has for you and do you walk in His way?

Small Groups:
1. Name a powerful in history? How is it faring today? Why do nations rise and fall? How do Christian faith and values relate to the country’s rise and fall?
2. What criteria are important to determine how powerful a country - size, wealth and international status?
3. To whom does one compared God (v 18)? List some attributes of God.
4. Complete this line: “If I were in charge of the world, I would  ________________________________
5. Who do you regard as the most powerful person in the world or in history? Why? How do you measure his or her power?
6. Is God active in world (political) affairs? How is He involved in the world’s current affairs? What are some signs of His involvement? What evidence is there of His involvement?
7. What is our role in society? Do you feel like you can make an impact? Name a few specific areas you can contribute or a few things you can do.


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