Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan KS, 16 Sept. 2007
(Other quotes from ESV translation)
Earlier this week I woke up from a dream in which I was a wife being beat up every night by her husband. It was disturbing because there are thousands of women all over the world who life out this nightmare in real life.
Beth’s friend just died of cancer a few days ago, leaving her husband to raise their children alone. The same happened to my friend Rick’s wife and many, many others around the world. What kind of twisted mind created cancer that would painfully kill humans off and leave families with that kind of heartache?
A time-worn argument against our Judeo-Christian faith is that since there is so much evil in the world, there cannot be a God who is both good and sovereign, for if He were good, He would not allow bad things to happen, and if He were sovereign, He would be ABLE to keep bad things from happening.
Now I have affirmed to you that God is in complete control because that’s what the Bible says in Isaiah, but is that really true? When we look around, it looks like God is not in control.
If God were in control, wouldn’t He make the truth come out in the media? And yet last week, The New York Times gave George Soros a special $100,000 discount so that he could take out a full-page ad to smear General Petraeus and undermine support for our soldiers in Iraq.
If God were in control, wouldn’t He prevent injustice? And yet last week the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that a woman who almost died from a botched abortion was out of line to sue the abortionist who told her, “Don’t be stupid, it’s only blood.” This was the same court that granted legal rights to homosexual couples last October. These are the guys in power.
And who is in power in academics? Richard Sternberg was run out of the National Center for Science Education and the Smithsonian Institution when he allowed to be published in a scientific journal a peer-reviewed research paper describing the evidence for intelligence in the universe. Guillermo Gonzales was denied tenure at Iowa State University for documenting design he has observed in the universe. Caroline Crocker was forced out of George Mason University for briefly discussing problems with Darwinian theory with some students. Educators and scientists are being ridiculed, denied tenure, and even fired for the fact that they believe there is evidence of intelligent design in nature. You can see the facts for yourself when the docucdrama entitled Expelled comes out next February.
Who is really in control here? What are we supposed to do when we look around and see bad things happening and anti-Christian people in power?
A century after Isaiah’s time, things didn’t look so good either, God’s people were conquered by a pagan king, the city of Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, and the Jews were taken as slaves into a Babylon. Once Nebuchadnezzar quit taking over the world, another ruthless conqueror named Cyrus took over the world. Bad things were happening and good people were not in power. It looked like God was not good or sovereign after all.
Into this context, the prophecy of Isaiah 45 is introduced.
1. Thus says Jehovah to his anointed,
to Cyrus whom I have strengthened in his right hand
for nations to go down before his face,
and I will unfasten the belts of kings,
to open double doors before His face,
and the gates will not be shut.
2. I myself will go before your face and level the stacks,
I will shatter doors of bronze, and the bolts of iron I will cut.
3. And I will give to you treasures of darkness and the hoards of vaults
in order that you may know
that it is I, Jehovah, calling your name, the god of Israel!
4. For the sake of my servant Jacob and Israel my chosen so I will call you by your name.
I will name you, yet you will not know me.
5. I am Jehovah, and there is not another; besides me there are no gods.
I will help you, yet you will not know me.
6. In order that they may know from the rising of the sun and from its going down,
that there is none besides me; I am Jehovah, and there is not another.
7. Forming light and creating darkness,
making peace and creating evil. I Jehovah am doing all of these.
8. Cause the heavens to drizzle from above
and [from] the skies let righteousness rain down,
let the earth open
and let salvation bear its fruit
and let righteousness sprout - together. I, Jehovah created it.
Here’s the crazy thing – God actually takes credit for raising up this ruthless conqueror who worshipped Marduk!
“I... anointed [you for this job]... I strengthened your hand [held your hand through it]... I go before you [to make it easy for you to conquer the world]... I give you the treasures... I name you... I help/equip/strengthen you [as opposed to ungirding the other kings]... I do all of this... I created it all.”
You can buy your security doors and bolts, but if God wants to bring another Cyrus through, those bolts won’t protect you. Your only security is in knowing if the God that controls good and evil loves you or not.
B. This Prophecy came true down to the details:
Another remarkable thing to keep in mind is that although this prophecy was written before Isaiah’s death around 700 B.C., it was fulfilled in detail in the 530’s B.C. – almost two hundred years later!
· History has born out that there was indeed a man named Cyrus who easily conquered the Persian world.
v.2 talks about doors of bronze
and bars of iron.
The ancient historian Herodotus wrote that Babylon had 100 brass gates with brass posts and lintels.
V. 3 talks about Cyrus receiving
treasures that had been stored away in secret places.
Around 400 B.C. Xenophon wrote about this very thing in his Cyropaedia (7.2), including an encounter between Cyrus and Croesus, who was reported to be the wealthiest king in Asia:
“And when Croesus saw Cyrus, he said: "I salute you, my sovereign lord; for fortune grants that henceforth you should bear this title and I address you by it."
"Listen, then, Croesus," said he. "I observe that my soldiers have gone through many toils and dangers and now are thinking that they are in possession of the richest city in Asia, next to Babylon; and I think that they deserve some reward. For I know that if they do not reap some fruit of their labours, I shall not be able to keep them in obedience very long. Now, I do not wish to abandon the city to them to plunder; for I believe that then the city would be destroyed, and I am sure that in the pillaging the worst men would get the largest share."
"Well," said Croesus on hearing these words, "permit me to say to any Lydians that I meet that I have secured from you the promise not to permit any pillaging nor to allow the women and children to be carried off, and that I, in return for that, have given you my solemn promise that you should get from the Lydians of their own free will everything there is of beauty or value in Sardis.
· The Cyrus Cylinder on display in the British museum (handout) also confirms several details – the fact that Cyrus was called a “shepherd” (as he is in Isa 44:28), the fact that Cyrus was considered to be “righteous” (Isaiah 45:13), the fact that the gates were not closed to him when he reached Babylon (v.2), and makes abundantly clear the fact that Cyrus did not know God, for although Ezra puts him in the best possible light in his decree to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, Cyrus did not worship Jehovah alone, as God demands. Listen to what he had written on the cylinder:
Marduk, the exalted, the lord of the gods... took a righteous king, his favorite, by the hand, he called out his name: Cyrus, king of Anšan; he pronounced his name to be king all over the world. 13 He made the land of Gutium and all the Umman-manda [i.e., the Medes] bow in submission at his feet. And he [i.e., Cyrus] shepherded with justice and righteousness all the black-headed people, over whom he [i.e., Marduk] had given him victory. Marduk, the great lord, guardian of his people, looked with gladness upon his good deeds and upright heart. 15 He ordered him to go to his city Babylon. He set him on the road to Babylon and like a companion and a friend, he went at his side. 16 His vast army, whose number, like water of the river, cannot be known, marched at his side fully armed. 17 He made him enter his city Babylon without fighting or battle...
20 I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, mighty king... Marduk, the great lord, established as his fate for me a magnanimous heart of one who loves Babylon, and I daily attended to his worship. 24 My vast army marched into Babylon in peace... 32 I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there [i.e., in Babylon], to their places and ... I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings. 33 In addition, at the command of Marduk, the great lord, I settled in their habitations, in pleasing abodes, the gods of Sumer and Akkad, whom Nabonidus, to the anger of the lord of the gods, had brought into Babylon. 34 May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily 35 of Bêl and Nâbu that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare.
Cyrus did not know God. Yet God chose him and raised Cyrus up anyway.
· This corroborates with what the ancient Roman historian Josephus says in chapter 11 of his Antiquities:
God ... stirred up the mind of Cyrus, and made him write this throughout all Asia: "Thus saith Cyrus the king: Since God Almighty hath appointed me to be king of the habitable earth, I believe that he is that God which the nation of the Israelites worship; for indeed he foretold my name by the prophets, and that I should build him a house at Jerusalem, in the country of Judea." (Ezra 1:2)
2. This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of his prophecies; for this prophet said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision: "My will is, that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land, and build my temple." This was foretold by Isaiah one hundred and forty years before the temple was demolished. Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the Divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written; so he called for the most eminent Jews that were in Babylon, and said to them, that he gave them leave to go back to their own country, and to rebuild their city Jerusalem, (2) and the temple of God, for that he would be their assistant, and that he would write to the rulers and governors that were in the neighborhood of their country of Judea, that they should contribute to them gold and silver for the building of the temple, and besides that, beasts for their sacrifices.
The prophecies were all fulfilled in detail, and we have authentic historical records to prove this fact.
So that Cyrus would know (v.3)
that God is in control.
As Josephus reported, Cyrus was indeed impressed. But he was not the only one God wanted to impress.
So that Israel would know (v.4)
“For the sake of my servant Jacob”
God put prophecy on the pages of Scripture so that when the prophecy came true, God’s people would be reassured that God is working out His purposes in history and their faith to trust Him for the future would be strengthened. But God doesn’t stop there.
So that the world would know that
God is unique (v.6)
God’s plan is to be glorified by every ethnic group in the world. He said that through Abraham His blessing would come to all the families on earth – from East to West, sunrise to sunset, all the people under the sun!
– This was not fulfilled under Cyrus, although the news of Israel’s God was spread far and wide. The ultimate fulfillment is found in the gathering of all the Gentile peoples to faith in Jesus Christ as God grows His church throughout history until the climax when He accomplishes His goal of saving individuals from every family on earth!
In v. 7, God claims to be the
creator of both light and darkness, good/peace/well-being and evil/calamity/trouble.
How can this be? Read p. 70-74 from George McDonald’s Back of the North Wind
"I want one arm to take care of you; the other will be quite enough to sink the ship."
"Oh, dear North Wind! how can you talk so?"
"My dear boy, I never talk; I always mean what I say."
"Then you do mean to sink the ship with the other hand?"
"It's not like you."
"How do you know that?"
"Quite easily. Here you are taking care of a poor little boy with one arm, and there you are sinking a ship with the other. It can't be like you."
"Ah! but which is me? I can't be two me's, you know."
"No. Nobody can be two me's."
"Well, which me is me?"
"Now I must think. There looks to be two."
"Yes. That's the very point—You can't be knowing the thing you don't know, can you?"
"Which me do you know?"
"The kindest, goodest, best me in the world," answered Diamond, clinging to North Wind.
"Why am I good to you?"
"I don't know."
"Have you ever done anything for me?"
"Then I must be good to you because I choose to be good to you."
"Why should I choose?"
"Because—because—because you like."
"Why should I like to be good to you?"
"I don't know, except it be because it's good to be good to me."
"That's just it; I am good to you because I like to be good."
" Then why shouldn't you be good to other people as well as to me?"
"That's just what I don't know. Why shouldn't I?"
"I don't know either. Then why shouldn't you?"
"Because I am."
"There it is again," said Diamond. "I don't see that you are. It looks quite the other thing."
"Well, but listen to me, Diamond. You know the one me, you say, and that is good."
"Do you know the other me as well?"
"No. I can't. I shouldn't like to."
"There it is. You don't know the other me. You are sure of one of them?"
"And you are sure there can't be two me's?"
"Then the me you don't know must be the same as the me you do know,—else there would be two me's?"
"Then the other me you don't know must be as kind as the me you do know?"
"Besides, / tell you that it is so, only it doesn't look like it. That I confess freely. Have you anything more to object?"
"No, no, dear North Wind; I am quite satisfied."
"Then I will tell you something you might object. You might say that the me you know is like the other me, and that I am cruel all through."
"I know that can't be, because you are so kind."
"But that kindness might be only a pretence for the sake of being more cruel afterwards."
Diamond clung to her tighter than ever, crying— "No, no, dear North Wind; I can't believe that. I don't believe it. I won't believe it. That would kill me. I love you, and you must love me, else how did I come to love you? How could you know how to put on such a beautiful face if you did not love me and the rest? No. You may sink as many ships as you like, and I won't say another word. I can't say I shall like to see it, you know."
"That's quite another thing," said North Wind
2. Notice that God does not take credit for sin and moral evil. As Calvin points out,, this evil is contrasted with “peace” not with “righteousness” God is not the author of the evil of guilt but of the evil of punishment. James (1:14) tells us that God cannot be tempted by evil and He does not tempt anyone. Sin and suffering is our own fault for our rebellion against God.
3. In V. 8 God claims sponsorship of the entire process that brings about salvation and righteousness, using the picture of growing crops, spanning control over the rain, over the ground receiving the rain, over the sprouting of seeds, and over the fruit-bearing of the mature plants.
4. This process is also reminiscent of the incarnation of Jesus from heaven, his death and being received into the earth, and the sprouting of salvation from our state of rebellion against God which He accomplished by suffering for our rebellion on the cross and rising from the dead, and the fruitfulness of His kingdom in the spread of the Gospel throughout the world.
Do you struggle with this? Do you have difficulty accepting a God who can
· decree both blessing and calamity,
· who allows husbands to beat their wives,
· who allows people to die of cancer,
· who puts people in office like the judges in the New Jersey Supreme Court,
· who allows powerful press coverage of lies,
· who allows anti-Christian deans to control what is taught in our institutions of higher learning
· who allows men like Cyrus to take over the world?
9. Woe to the one who strives with his Potter – ceramic of earthen ceramics.
Does clay say to its potter, “What will you make?” or “Your work – there are no hands for it!”
10. Woe to one who says to a father, “What will you beget?” or to a woman, “What will you deliver?”
11. Thus says Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, and its Potter,
“Ask me of the things to come, y’all!
Concerning my children and concerning the work of my hand, commit them unto me.
12. I myself made earth and I created man upon it.
My own hands stretched the heavens, and all their host I commanded.
13. I myself stirred him up in righteousness, and all his ways I level.
It is he who will build my city, and my exiled he will send forth,
not for payment and not for reward,” says Jehovah of Hosts.
How should we respond to a God who chides us for determining for ourselves what is right and wrong - who chides us for questioning Him?
v. 9 Clay and potter –
you’re not in a position to critique His work.
- “No Hands/handles” - clumsy, inept, incomplete
- Don’t worry about how God will fulfill His promises. You wouldn’t understand anyway.
- Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" … 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.
v.10 Asking father and mother
what will you have? A boy or a girl? Yes.
- Don’t ask God what He’s doing – it’s already obvious! He lays it out in the Bible. He is saving a people for Himself to give Him glory.
v.11 – Don’t go anywhere else
to gain an understanding. “Me” emphasized
– Delitzsch rather than command, “commit” my children and work to me
– Calvin “There is no better remedy in adversity than to ask at the mouth of God, so as not to fix our eyes on the present condition of things, but to embrace with the heart that future salvation God promises.”
· Job 40:1-14 And the LORD said to Job: 2 "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it." 3 Then Job answered the LORD and said: 4 "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. 5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further." 6 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 7 "Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 8 Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? 9 Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? 10 "Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. 11 Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and abase him. 12 Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. 13 Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. 14 Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you. (Don’t criticize.)
· Genesis 45:4-5 So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, please." And they came near. And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life... 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Look for God’s purpose of salvation.)
· Acts 4:8-12 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
· Exodus 4:10-11 But Moses said to the LORD, "Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue." 11 Then the LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? (Do what God calls you to do without question or complaining.)
· 1 Kings 11:1-39 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, "You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods." ... when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods... after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites... Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites... 9 And the LORD was angry with Solomon... Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, "Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from the hand of your son... 14 And the LORD raised up an adversary against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite, of the royal house in Edom... 23 God also raised up as an adversary to him, Rezon the son of Eliada... he loathed Israel and reigned over Syria. 26 Jeroboam the son of Nebat, an Ephraimite of Zeredah, a servant of Solomon, whose mother's name was Zeruah, a widow, also lifted up his hand against the king... 29 And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite said to Jeroboam, "Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes... 39 And I will afflict the offspring of David because of this, but not forever.'" (Evil may be a call to Repent)
Habakkuk 1 “How long, O Lord...
why do you make me see iniquity and cause me to look on wickedness?... Justice
comes out perverted.”
“Be astonished; wonder, for I am doing something in your day you would not believe if you were told. Look, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places not their own... all of them come for violence...”
“Why do you look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?”
Then Habakkuk says in ch. 3 “I will wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines... Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation...” (Trust and praise God.)
· Philippians 1:12-18 [Paul] I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice... Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Trust that God will fulfill His purpose and rejoice.)
· 1Pe 5:6-10 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (Humbly accept God’s sovereignty, resist the evil one, and hope in God’s promises for the future.)
John Calvin wrote:
“When everything appears to be driven about at random and tossed up and down, God never forgets His church, whose salvation He promotes by hidden methods, so that it is at length seen that He is her guardian and defender....
Whenever God holds us in suspense, the flesh prompts us to grumble. “Why does He not do more quickly what He intends to do? Of what benefit is it to Him to torture us by His delay?” …in order to chastise this insolence [he] says, “Does the potsherd dispute with the potter? Do sons debate with their fathers?” Has not God a right to treat us as He sees fit? What remains but that we shall bear patiently the punishments which He inflicts on us? We must therefore allow God to do what belongs to Him, and must not take anything from His power and authority.”
God raised up Cyrus to preserve His people and set them up for the coming of Jesus. God uses terrible people to achieve His purposes. God did it again two hundred years later when He raised up Alexander the Great. Listen to how Josephus describes God turning that situation for good:
11.8.4 “Alexander, when he had taken Gaza, made haste to go up to Jerusalem; and Jaddua the high priest, when he heard that, was in an agony, and under terror, as not knowing how he should meet the Macedonians... He therefore ordained that the people should make supplications, and should join with him in offering sacrifice to God, whom he besought to protect that nation, and to deliver them from the perils that were coming upon them; whereupon God warned him in a dream, which came upon him after he had offered sacrifice, that he should take courage, and adorn the city, and open the gates; that the rest should appear in white garments, but that he and the priests should meet the king in the habits proper to their order, without the dread of any ill consequences, which the providence of God would prevent. Upon which, when he rose from his sleep, he greatly rejoiced, and declared to all the warning he had received from God. According to which dream he acted entirely, and so waited for the coming of the king.
And when the Phoenicians and the Chaldeans that followed him thought they should have liberty to plunder the city, and torment the high priest to death... the very reverse of it happened; for Alexander, when he saw the multitude at a distance, in white garments, while the priests stood clothed with fine linen, and the high priest in purple and scarlet clothing, with his mitre on his head, having the golden plate whereon the name of God was engraved, he approached by himself, and adored that name, and first saluted the high priest... Parmenio alone went up to him, and asked him how it came to pass that, when all others adored him, he should adore the high priest of the Jews? To whom he replied, "I did not adore him, but that God who hath honored him with his high priesthood; for I saw this very person in a dream, in this very costume, when I was at Dios in Macedonia, who, when I was considering with myself how I might obtain the dominion of Asia, exhorted me to make no delay, but boldly to pass over the sea thither, for that he would conduct my army, and would give me the dominion over the Persians; whence it is that, having seen no other in that costume, and now seeing this person in it, and remembering that vision, and the exhortation which I had in my dream, I believe that I bring this army under the Divine conduct, and shall therewith conquer Darius, and destroy the power of the Persians, and that all things will succeed according to what is in my own mind." And when he had said this to Parmenio, and had given the high priest his right hand, the priests ran along by him, and he came into the city. And when he went up into the temple, he offered sacrifice to God, according to the high priest's direction, and magnificently treated both the high priest and the priests. And when the Book of Daniel was showed him wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended. And as he was then glad, he dismissed the multitude for the present; but the next day he called them to him, and bid them ask what favors they pleased of him; whereupon the high priest desired that they might enjoy the laws of their forefathers, and might pay no tribute on the seventh year. He granted all they desired...
You never know what God will do with the next “Alexander” – don’t be so quick to complain when threats appear. Humbly accept God’s sovereignty, resist the evil one, and hope in God’s promises for the future.