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Monday, September 28, 2009

Isaiah 41 — The LORD has No Rival

These lessons are a spin-off of sessions of the Sunday morning Bible study for the Chancel Choir of College Church in Wheaton, IL. The class is taught on a rotating basis by Harry Hoffner, Wini Hoffner, and Chuck King.

Although this is Harry's blog, he will ask the other two teachers' permission to post their sessions on the blog from time to time, since it hardly makes sense for Harry to do his own study of the chapters that they cover.

This week the teacher was Wini Hoffner. The lesson below is a slightly edited version of her presentation.
Enjoy the study!

In chapter 40 God comforts his people in exile with his word of promise that he will bring them home. He assures them that he is able to do this because of his amazing power - the power by which he created and sustains the universe. He is able to do it because he is sovereign over all the nations.  He alone is God. There is no other like him


In chapter 41, as further proof that he alone is God, he brings a court case against all other nations and their gods.

Is. 41:1-7
Listen to me in silence, O coastlands; let the peoples renew their strength; let them approach, then let them speak; let us together draw near for judgment.  Who stirred up one from the east whom victory meets at every step? He gives up nations before him, so that he tramples kings under foot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow. 3 He pursues them and passes on safely, by paths his feet have not trod. 4 Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am He. 5  The coastlands have seen and are afraid, the ends of the earth tremble; they have drawn near and come. 6 Every one helps his neighbor, and says to his brother, “Take courage!” 7 The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smoothes with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved.

 Verse 1:   “Listen to me in silence”...

    The nations are to be silent and listen to the evidence of the Judge of the universe, and then they are to screw up their courage and testify as to how they have the same power and wisdom as the God of Israel.

    God gives his  evidence in v. 2. The evidence of God’s power is the alarming progress of one from the East, who will be identified in ch. 44 as Cyrus. He is called forth  for God’s twofold purpose of judgment and deliverance. 

To drive home the contrast between the God of Israel and the gods of the nations the prophet poses a question:

“Who has stirred up one from the east?” 

    There are so many “he’s” and “his’s” in vv. 2-4 let me clarify by replacing these pronouns with proper nouns:

Who stirred up one from the east whom victory meets at every step? [God] gives up nations before [Cyrus], so that [Cyrus] tramples kings under foot; [Cyrus] makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow.

Isa. 41:3-4 [Cyrus] pursues them and passes on safely, by paths his feet have not trod. 4 Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am He.

    Remember Isaiah predicted this event 150 years before it happened,  but as we look back on history we see how God used Cyrus to deliver his people. During his reign over Persia Cyrus achieved great victories throughout the ancient NE, marching through Assyria in 547, overthrowing Croesus, King of Lydia, and conquering Babylon in 539. After he conquered Babylon, he issued a decree in 538 which stated that  all the people in the lands he had conquered who were living there as exiles were to be returned to their homes. Furthermore their deities were to be restored to their renovated temples. The Jews had no idols, or images, but their temple had been destroyed, and they were allowed to restore their temple and all its fittings because of this decree.

Who brought all this about?

    V. 4 tells us.

    Let’s delve into this a little bit. This is the Judge of the universe giving his evidence in the court. What is he saying about himself  here?

•    He is the creator.
•    he is the Lord of history
•    all of this has been part of his plan from the beginning of time.

    How can the nations stand up against this?

    The answer is, they can’t. But nonetheless they frantically rush about shouting words of encouragement to each other and urging on their craftsmen to make a more substantial god, even nailing him down so he will stand firm for them!

    They are futilely trying to avoid God’s decreed judgment by depending on useless idols made by their own hands. But they are afraid.

    By contrast, the exiles are not to fear. They have the sovereign Lord of history at their side. Chapter 40 showed that he is powerful enough to do something about their situation. But does want to? We see a resounding “Yes” in vv. 8-10.

Is. 41:8-10  “But you, O Israel, my servant,
        Jacob, whom I have chosen,
        you descendants of Abraham my friend,
       I took you from the ends of the earth,
 from its farthest corners I called you. 
 I said, ‘You are my servant’;
   I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
      So do not fear, for I am with you;
        do not be dismayed, for I am your God.     
        I will strengthen you and help you;
        I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

    “Do not fear,” the Lord says in v. 10
    “Do not fear” occurs many times in this part of Isaiah. Fear is a central issue among the exiles.

What do you think they feared most?

That God had abandoned them. They wondered whether God’s covenant with them had come to an end with the destruction of the Temple in 586.

What assurances does he give them that he has not abandoned them?

  • He chose them.
  • He called them from all the corners of the earth.. beginning with Abraham from Ur and then with Abraham,’s, Isaac’s, and Jacob’s descendants from Egypt.
  • He knows who they are and where they are.
  • He has not rejected, nor abandoned them.

In times of crisis in our own lives, why is it that doubt begins to creep in? What are we doubting?

    Through Isaiah God says to his people in Babylon:

        I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.     
        I will strengthen you and help you;
        I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (v.10)

    The idols could offer no strength to their worshipers. In fact they had to be nailed down so they wouldn’t fall over. The Lord, on the other hand, holds Israel by his powerful, victorious hand.    

    Since they fear that God has abandoned them, they also fear that their enemies will overpower them. But God assures them in the following verses that not only is he present with them, but that he will act on their behalf.
    “All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced;  those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish.  Though you search for your enemies,  you will not find them.  Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all.  For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear;  I will help you. Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff.  You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, and a gale will blow them away.   But you will rejoice in the LORD and glory in the Holy One of Israel.  “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst.   But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.  I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys.  I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it. 

  Their enemies will vanish, (v.12). Not only will Israel’s enemies vanish, but God will empower Israel to be active on their own behalf.

    The nations regard Israel in exile as only a lowly worm (v. 14) but God will turn them into his threshing sledge.

    As John Goldingay states: “Yahweh will see that the worm becomes a more powerful earth mover.”

    A threshing sledge is made of heavy boards studded with flints. When it is dragged over grain stalks on the threshing floor, it rips open the husks separating the grain from the chaff, which the wind will blow away during the winnowing process that follows.

  Just as Cyrus in v. 2 will use his sword to crush Israel’s enemies and turn them into windblown chaff, so God will use Israel as his “threshing sledge” of judgment(v. 15) to winnow the nations. He will use Israel to achieve his own plans. 


As a guarantee of this promise, God uses two names for himself: “Redeemer” and “Holy One of Israel”. (14)

Why does he choose these two names in this instance?

Redeemer. Deliverer. He will deliver them from Babylonia, just as he delivered them from Egypt in the exodus. He will bring them back to himself.  He will redeem their property, restoring it to them.

Holy One of Israel. He is apart from all other Gods. He is Israel’s God. He has always been and always will be true to them. He has the power to bring them back to himself.

The Lord is our Redeemer. The ultimate redemption took place at Calvary. God redeemed us through Jesus’ death on the cross, bringing us back to  himself. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice we can be certain that he will never forsake us.

 The Lord, Israel’s Redeemer, is going to deliver them from Babylon just as he delivered them in the Exodus. This weary, thirsty nation has been looking for water but has been unable to find it because they fear that God has abandoned them. God promises to give them abundant water - enough not only to quench their thirst but also to transform their desolate homeland.
    Just so Jesus promised to give us living water, water that will transform our desolate lives.

    When the nations see the transformation of Israel, “they will consider and understand that the hand of the LORD has done this.” (v. 20)

    Do the people around us see a transformation in us which only God himself could bring about? Or do they see a trembling, fearful “worm”?

    In v. 1 God challenged the nations to give evidence. In the following verses he challenges the gods themselves.

Is. 41:21-29  “Set forth your case,” says the Lord; “Bring your proofs,” says Jacob’s King.   “Let them bring them to tell us  what is going to happen.  Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome.  Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds so we may know that you are gods.  Do something, whether good or bad,  so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.  But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; he who chooses you is detestable.   “I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes—  one from the rising sun who calls on my name. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar,  as if he were a potter treading the clay.  Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and beforetime, that we might say, “He is right”? There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed, none who heard your words.  I first have declared it to Zion, and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good tidings.  But when I look there is no one; among these there is no counselor who, when I ask, gives an answer.  Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their molten images are empty wind.

    “Set forth your case. Bring your proofs.”
    Can these gods predict the future? Can they explain the past? Can they even make sense of what is happening right now? Has anything that has ever happened been ordained by them? Can they do anything at all, right now, to prove that they even exist?
    Verse 24: No. They are utterly worthless. More striking is the last clause of v. 24 “he who chooses you is detestable.”

    Paul shows just how detestable is the one who follows these gods in Romans, chapter one.
    The exiles have been living in Babylonia for 70 years. They have undoubtedly been seduced by this pagan culture. They fear that God has abandoned them. Why not turn to these other gods?
    In his mercy, the Lord shows them how worthless the Baylonian gods are and how foolish it would be to turn to them.
    The Holy One of Israel, by contrast, has raised up Cyrus to defeat Babylonia.
     Verse 25. Cyrus is said in v. 25 to come from the north and east because his conquests covered the whole Babylonian Empire from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian and Black Seas.
    Not one of the worthless gods ever foretold this. But the sovereign Lord of the universe predicted it beforehand.
    Verse 27: He predicted the fall of Israel in prophecies throughout the book of Jeremiah, and now he is predicting her renewal. Because the former prophecy came true, it is certain that the latter will come true as well. The Holy One of Israel is reliable. These are “good tidings” for Israel.
   Verses 28-29: The Babylonian gods are not reliable. They can do nothing, They are worthless. 

    Many scholars say that the second half of Isaiah was written after these events took place and that these messages are mere interpretations of current events. However, the emphasis of this entire chapter on the value of prediction as proof of Deity contradicts such a notion. To say otherwise nullifies all that follows in Isaiah.


    We have seen in these first two chapters, and will continue to see,  that it is the Everlasting God who dominated Isaiah’s thoughts.

•    He is our God, the living God who has revealed himself to us in his Word.
•    He promises to be with us.
•    He promises to help us.
•    He promises to do through us what we cannot do ourselves.
•    He is the First and the Last. On him Isaiah based all his hope and confidence, and he is the one on whom all our hopes must rest.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Isaiah 40 - Comfort for God's Despondent People


(40:1-2) Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

As befits a new beginning, the opening verses of ch. 40 echo terms found in ch. 1. In 1:4 God describes Israel at that time:

Is. 1:4    Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! (NIV).

The same Hebrew word ʿavôn translated "guilt" (NIV) in ch.1 occurs in 40:2 "that her iniquity is pardoned". The sins that sent Isaiah's compatriots into exile have now been amply punished.

The people addressed in chapter 40 are in different circumstances, both physically and spiritually. What are the earmarks here of a new situation?

First, the morale and mood of the people addressed. While those addressed in chapters 1-39  needed warnings of judgment, not comfort, those addressed in chapter 40 do need comfort and assurance of pardon.
Secondly, in Isaiah's own day, Israel was a long way from having served her term (as the RSV wording gives it here): the term of her real punishment — the exile predicted by Moses in the final chapters of Deuteronomy—was yet ahead of her. In those days she did not need tenderness, but sternness from God. Her sin had not been paid for. But in the future era that Isaiah here addresses the people need God's comfort and reassurance of his love and faithfulness.

When a parent has to discipline his or her child, it is important that the child still know that he or she is loved. The comfort accompanies the stern discipline. The 70-year exile was God's discipline, but Israel was still his beloved child.Notice here how God calls her "my people".

The verbs "comfort" and "speak tenderly" are plural. Who are the ones addressed here? Who are supposed to speak comfort to God's people Israel? Some think that God here addresses his heavenly council. Is God asking angels to comfort Israel in exile? Is he asking prophets or priests or scribes? Is he asking the faithful remnant—the Daniel’s, Mordecai’s and Esther’s of the exiled community?

Perhaps the plural is addressed to the words or sentences in Isaiah's own prophecy to follow. The comfort will come to Israel, not by persons with a message different from what is written here. Possible also is that the plural entities addressed are the two voices to follow in vv. 3 and 6, in which case one should look for comfort and speaking to the heart in those two messages in particular. Support for this interpretation might also come from the twofold command "Comfort ye, comfort ye".

Who then is to be comforted? Verse 1 identifies the group to receive words of comfort as "my (i.e., Yahweh's) people" and "Jerusalem". Identifying the entire people of Israel—or at least the Judeans— as "Jerusalem" is not without parallel among the earlier prophecies. But if comfort is to be given both to the exiles and to the small remnant that remains in Judea, this dual reference— "my people" for the exiles coming home, and "Jerusalem" for those the Babylonians had left in the land— may be intentional.

In 40:2b we again see poetic parallelism: "her term of service is over, … her iniquity is expiated; … she has received at the hand of the LORD double for all her sins". Each of these is the equivalent of the others.

Her "hard service" (NIV; JPS "term of service"; ESV alt. "time of service") was living in exile. The "iniquity" of the pre-exilic period was now punished. That punishment was "from the LORD's hand". It is important that the Israelites understand that what happened to them was not the triumph of Babylonian kings and their "gods", but loving discipline "from the LORD's hand" (v. 2). The Babylonians only triumphed because the LORD allowed them to.

The punishment received was "double"—or perhaps "twofold".  Jeremiah had prophesied (16:18): “And I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations".

A double reparation was due in the law of Sinai for cases of theft (Ex 22:4, 7, 9).

Ex. 22:4 When the animal, whether ox or donkey or sheep, is found alive in the thief’s possession, the thief shall pay double. 

Ex. 22:7   When someone delivers to a neighbor money or goods for safekeeping, and they are stolen from the neighbor’s house, then the thief, if caught, shall pay double. 

Ex. 22:9   In any case of disputed ownership involving ox, donkey, sheep, clothing, or any other loss, of which one party says, “This is mine,” the case of both parties shall come before God; the one whom God condemns shall pay double to the other.

The connection with the theft laws seems appropriate here, since the sin Jeremiah mentions is that Israel has polluted the LORD's land with idols. The land did not belong to them: it belonged to the LORD. Worshiping foreign gods in it was tantamount to trying to steal it from the LORD. It denied the fact that the LORD was the true owner of the land: his people were merely tenants. The punishment was to take away Israel's right to tenancy of that land for 70 years.

How was this punishment twofold? Perhaps: (1) loss of temple, and (2) loss of land, both for 70 years.

(40:3-4) A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, because the mouth of the LORD has predicted (and done) it!”

40:3 Who speaks here? In verses 3 and 6 Isaiah refers to words which are uttered by a disembodied “voice”. Who is the voice? It cannot be Isaiah’s own voice, crying to his people over the interval of the centuries, because in verse 6 the voice asks Isaiah himself to cry out, and he asks “What shall I cry?” It is surely likely that the “voice” referred to in both places is the same. Is there anywhere else in scripture where a disembodied voice calls to a prophet? Yes, of course. A voice came to the boy Samuel as he slept in the tabernacle with the old priest Eli (1 Sam 3:4-14). A voice came to the prophet Elijah at Mt. Sinai after he had fled from the wrath of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and was discouraged to the point of wanting to die. And one several occasions a voice came from the sky to those standing around Jesus of Nazareth during his earthly ministry.1 Who is the Voice? Of course, it is God Himself!

Why does Isaiah refer to God here as the “voice” instead of just saying that God spoke to him? Because when God speaks as the Voice, only those who are his own hear him; the others hear only an unintelligible Sound (Jn 10:16; 12:28-32). Those who were not God’s true sheep did not hear Him in the voice of John the Baptist or in the voice of Jesus. Neither have they ever heard more than frightening thunder, when he spoke. But this is the voice of comfort, like the bat ḳol that spoke comfort to Elijah at Mt. Sinai.

40:3b-5  To whom does this Voice cry out? Who is addressed here? If the voices of vv. 3 and 6 are the ones addressed in v. 1 "comfort ye, comfort yet my people", then this voice is now doing just that, and Israel is being addressed.  Certainly, that was how John the Baptist applied this verse centuries later. But was it originally so intended?

What are the Israelites in Babylonia and in Canaan being asked to do in v. 3? This verse contains a poetic couplet, showing typical synonymous parallelism. "In the wilderness" = "in the desert", and "prepare" = "make straight", and "the way of the LORD" = "a highway for our God".

This command was not intended to be taken literally. The Jewish exiles were not to become physical road-builders. Ancient international roads in Isaiah's day were worn paths but not like later Roman roads with crushed stone bases. They didn't need to be built, but they did need to be cleared periodically of obstructions and debris.

The geographical terms used in vv. 3-4 are all appropriate to the land of Israel: deserts in southern Judah and along the Jordan valley, the valleys of the Jordan River and of Jezreel, and many mountains and hills. This description is not so appropriate to the terrain around Babylon, in southern Iraq. The land of ancient Babylonia was quite flat. There were deserts bordering it, but no mountains, or valleys—only moving sand dunes. Isaiah uses here terminology appropriate to his own land, and applies it metaphorically to the task before the faithful Israelites in exile.

The road described is to be located in the desert, like the road the Israelites followed from Egypt to the Promised Land. On that road they were led by the glory of God in the form of the pillar of cloud and fire. On that road they learned what it was to sin, repent and find the LORD's forgiveness.  But here we aren’t told that the people too will travel on this road, only God himself and in his glorious form. The purpose of God’s traveling that prepared road is not revealed here. There is —as yet—no mention of reaching a Promised Land on it. But one goal is clear: that as a result of that road being built and God's traveling on it to his people, all humanity (“all flesh”, ḳol bāśār, not just Israel) will together see the glory of God.

What was this "glory of the LORD [Yahweh]" that all peoples living at that time in the Near East would see? Not the pillar of cloud and fire. But just as in Joshua's time the pagan peoples were aware that Israel's God Yahweh had done the unthinkable—the impossible, by bringing his people out of bondage to the mightiest nation on earth and leading them to a home of their own in Canaan, with the result that it brought Yahweh glory among the nations, so now the nations of the Middle East would all witness a second exodus: Yahweh would rescue his people from exile and return them to their ancestral land—something that had never happened before in human history. And this too would show Yahweh's "glory".

If the road on which Yahweh comes is not literal but metaphorical, what were the people being asked to do?  The exiles were to make a path through the desert of human hearts that leads to a true comprehension of the Creator? God expects all people to prepare for his coming to them by faith in his word. And the result of their faith in his redeeming promise, there will be a spiritual "exodus" from the penalty and power of sin, and a dramatic change in those rescued that will bring incredible glory to the Redeeming God! How can we know that this what is meant here? Some clues may be found in the text that follows.

(40:6-8) A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All human beings are like grass, their dependability is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; without doubt human beings are like grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Now the voice has a similar message addressed just to the prophet. In v. 3, where many people are addressed, the Voice must “cry out” loud. But in v. 6, where the Voice addresses Isaiah personally and intimately, he merely “says”. but while the Voice merely speaks to Isaiah, Isaiah himself is to “cry out”, for his message is for the whole earth.

The message is that "all flesh [all humanity] is grass"! It is about the weakness and ignorance of humans when compared with the power and wisdom of God.  The frailty spoken of in Isaiah 40:6-8 ("all flesh is grass") is not that of God's exiled people, but all of humanity.

Isaiah's purpose in emphasizing this frailty of humanity is to warn Israel not to be discouraged by what appears to be the irresistible power of the pagan empires surrounding her. For like the tender grass on the fringes of the desert, they will wither away and die when the breath of Yahweh—in the form of his declared purposes in history—blows upon them. This was the message of God to the Jewish exiles.

Here two things are contrasted: "all flesh" (= human beings characterized as undependable and powerless) and "the breath/word of Yahweh" (vv. 7-8). Human resourcefulness and pride is like grass in the arid lands of Israel, Babylonia and Egypt—it flourishes for a short season, when there is water, and it dries up when that brief season is over, when the hot winds of the desert ("the breath of Yahweh") blow upon it.

The listening exiles are to learn from this that neither they nor their Babylonian masters with their showy "gods" are in control of their destinies. It is the Mighty Creator God, Yahweh, who decrees what will happen (Jeremiah and Isaiah's predictions of exile and return), and breathes into his people new life and hope.
So also today, many people boast of humanity's scientific and technological prowess (interplanetary travel, genetic engineering, imaging of electrons, iPhones, satellite radio, solar power for a"green" future, etc.) and in their social and intellectual sophistication (moral and cultural relativism, permissive sexual behavior, censoring of Christian claims to a unique way to God). But their boasts are idle and ridiculous to our sovereign God.

(40:9-11) Get you up to a high mountain, you who bring good news to Zion; lift up your voice with strength, you who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Lord Yahweh comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

There are two possible translations of the Hebrew text of verse 9: (1) "Get you up to a high mountain, you herald of good tidings to Zion; lift up your voice with strength, you herald of good tidings to Jerusalem" and (2) "Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings" How are we to interpret each of the alternatives, so as to make good sense within our context? (1) If good news is to be brought to Jerusalem, Zion and the cities of Judah, and in the context of chapter 40 the good news is the LORD's return to his people manifested by his restoring of the Jewish exiles from Babylonia to Judea, the unnamed herald ought to be the exiles returning from Babylonia. (2) If Jerusalem (whose other name is Zion) is the herald bringing good news to the cities of Judah, then "Jerusalem" and "Zion" must be poetic labels for the exiles themselves who announce to the Jews still living in the rural cities of Judah that the LORD is here again! All in all, I like the first interpretation, because it is simpler, requiring the fewest assumptions.
In either case, the good news that they bring to the cities of Judah is of the LORD's miracle of restoring the exiles and giving Israel a second chance in her own land.

40:9 The returning exiles are to be unafraid of declaring the glory of God in this miracle. Presumably, they might be afraid to do so, lest their former captors become angry with them. But by the time God acted to bring them back, the Persians had defeated the Babylonians and become the new masters of the vast empire. And the Persian emperor Cyrus who had issued his decree allowing exiles to return to their lands and worship their gods, had done so only because Yahweh had raised him up and given him the victory over the Babylonians (Isaiah 41:2; 46:11), whether he was aware of that or not. So the Jewish returnees must not be timid in spreading the news of Yahweh's glorious redemption of his people.

40:9-10 The bringer of good news tells the cities of Judah "Here is your God" (notice: not "our God"). The people left in the land (the "cities of Judah") needed to know that He who was bringing the exiles back was also their God. The new community of returnees and remainers needed to be one.

These were comforting and encouraging words to the Jewish exiles. Yahweh, their God, had not abandoned them, nor was he unable to overcome what had happened to them. He meted out vengeance on the Babylonians by using the Persians to conquer them and to decree the release of the Jewish exiles. God's power was evident in those two events. God's forgiveness, faithfulness and enduring commitment to Israel was also shown by these same two events. He could have had the power to do them, but might not have wished to do so. He did so because he still loved them and wanted them back in the land he had given them long ago.

40:12-17 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? 14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding? 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. (Isaiah 40:12-17 NIV)

In verses 12-17 Isaiah reminds his hearers that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is incomparable in power and wisdom. As the Creator of the universe, nothing is too difficult for him, certainly not restoring his people to his land and blessing them again. His mind is inscrutable. His plans cannot be predicted, but only learned by his own revelation. Nor can he be outwitted. The nations of the world are valued by him as his own creation, but they have no worth apart from their relationship to their Creator. Alone, they are mere dust on the scales he uses to weigh his plans. They are insignificant.

40:18-26 To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to? 19 As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. 20 A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple. 21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? 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. 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. 25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:18-26 NIV)

Contrast with Israel's God the pale imitations of the Babylonian and Persian idols. They did not create the universe (as Yahweh did, v. 22), but must themselves be "made", from a block of wood, and prettied up with gold and silver plating! Nor are the pagan rulers who worship them of any account (v. 23), for God is able to raise them up or send them sprawling, all according to his plans. In fact, all people are like grasshoppers to him who sits enthroned "above the circle of the earth" (v. 22).

40:27-31  Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:27-31 NIV)

In these verses Isaiah returns to his primary message of comfort to Israel. Their just "cause" is not disregarded by God (v. 27). Nor need they worry that their ancestral God, Yahweh, is too feeble to redeem them. He is the all-powerful Creator. Furthermore, not only is he powerful, but he makes those who trust in him able to do the impossible. Although even young men grow weary when they work long and hard, even old people who trust in the Lord God of Israel can "renew their strength" — like runners who get a "second wind" they will amaze even themselves with the power that God will give them to fulfill what he has called them to do.

What a wonderful message all this is for you and me today! As individuals and as a worldwide church we are confronted with all sorts of seemingly daunting challenges. As individuals we may be faced with health issues, financial issues, family problems, job problems. Can God overcome these? And if he can, is he willing to?

As a worldwide church we are confronted by the resurgence of aggressive Islam, using the present situation in the world to expand its missionary efforts inside western countries that have lost their confidence in Christianity (including the US). And their task is made easier because America and Europe have essentially reverted to pre-Christian paganism.  Is God able to turn the tide and evangelize the Muslims living among us? And if he is able, is he willing to do so through you and me?

How does the God of the Bible compare with Allah, the god of Islam. Both claim to be powerful. Both claim to be merciful. But Allah has no sovereign control over history. He does not make predictions of dramatically fulfilled events in the remote future. He has given his followers no assurance of salvation, and no sacrifice for their sins. He demands good works as a condition of final salvation. His mercy imposes no sacrifice on himself. In the end he is no better than the gods of Babylonia. He cannot and will not save those who trust in him.

How does the God of the Bible compare with the idols of pagan Europe and pagan America?  We idolize authors like Dan Brown whose novels propagate the false idea that the gospel accounts of Jesus, his message, his identity, and his death and resurrection, were falsified, and that in reality no such events every took place!  We idolize rock stars who sodomize children. We glorify athletes who brutalize their wives. We make the earth that God created into a goddess ("Mother Earth"), and turn moderate and sensible conservation into a "green" philosophy that is pagan in its roots. We want to improve upon the Creator's work by changing people's gender. We deny to the Creator his title "Father" because it seems too patriarchal. Are the "gods" of the pagan West any better than Baal, Marduk, or Allah? They are all worthless, and can bring nothing but deception and misery to their worshipers.Isaiah would say, "Those who worship them are like them"!

But God's good news in Isaiah 40 is that he is both willing and able to empower those who believe in him to do great exploits of faith and love: to overcome falsehoods and distortions with the truth of God's word and the truth of our transformed lives.  Can we not derive encouragement and motivation from passages such as these in Isaiah 40, so that we lift up our voices without fear? Can we not become "bringers of good news" to a lost world?

God bless you as you take God at his word this week and let him work through you to bring the Good News to a needy world!

Monday, September 14, 2009

An Introduction to the Prophecy of Isaiah

Welcome to our new study in the Yom Yom blog. We have had a lengthy summer hiatus between the end of our Romans study and this new one. As I think many of you know, I try to correlate these blog studies with the adult Bible study which my wife and I conduct for our church choir. And since that runs from early September through the end of the following May, this tends also to be the period of each study unit. In our church class we try to alternate years of the study of a New Testament book with years studying an Old testament one. Hence, last year Romans, this year Isaiah.
You may be wondering why we are not starting at chapter 1 of this wonderful book. If this were a regular course in a school or college, we certainly would. But pragmatic factors involved in squeezing everything into about 20 class sessions and the difficulty of deciding where to break each week's session—all this is much more complicated with Isaiah than with Paul's letter to the Romans, which we studied last year. We decided that, if we were to study Isaiah at all this year, we should limit  the material to be covered to the second half of the book, where the prophet focuses most on God's promises of redemption through his Servant the Messiah. So I will provide you in this opening session with a brief overview of Isaiah's life and career, and the contents of the first 39 chapters of his prophecy—an unbelievably ambitious task, but for that very reason forgivable if it is very superficial! (I like that!)

Isaiah's Life and Career

Isaiah, the son of Amoz, was born, raised and served God as a prophet for his entire life in the southern kingdom of Judah. According to Jewish tradition, he was of royal blood, the brother of Amaziah king of Judah. Modern scholars have inferred from the easy access to the king that he enjoyed that he was, at any rate, of noble descent; but prophets throughout the ancient Near East regularly addressed their kings. Apparently, kings had to respect anyone who was widely believed to have direct access to a god.
Like many of the prophets, Isaiah was married and had children. He lived all his life in Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah.
Isaiah received his call to become a prophet in the year that King Uzziah of Judah died, which was 740 BC.  About two years later Micah, who also lived in the southern kingdom of Judah, was called by God to serve as a prophet. The two young men prophesied in the name of Yahweh contemporaneously for the rest of their lives. In the northern kingdom at this time another true prophet of God named Hosea prophesied to the last 7 kings of Israel.
Since there was no requirement of retirement from service as a prophet—unlike the priests and Levites—and since the book of Isaiah says he prophesied into—perhaps even through— the 30-year reign of Hezekiah (716-686), we should assume that he did not live long after Hezekiah's death. Jewish tradition claims that he was killed during the persecution of the loyal prophets of Yahweh during the reign of wicked King Manasseh, who followed Hezekiah. If he was around 20 when called to be a prophet in 740 BC, this would put his birth around 760, and make him 75 years old at his death in 685.
Until Isaiah was about 40 years old (and 19 years into his prophetic ministry, in 721), there was also a northern kingdom of Israel, officially worshiping the God of Abraham and Moses—whose name was Yahweh—but which in practice was very unfaithful to God and tolerated widespread idolatrous worship of Canaanite and Phoenician gods and goddesses. You probably remember that one notorious king from a generation before Isaiah, whose name was Ahab, was married to the daughter of Ethbaal, the king of Sidon. Her infamous name was Jezebel, and she encouraged her husband not only to worship pagan gods, but also to hunt down and kill the prophets of Yahweh. One of the prophets whom she sought to kill was Elijah. Internal spiritual conditions had not improved in the northern kingdom during the 100 years since the death of Ahab in 850 BC. In addition to idolatry, there was the abuse of power and wealth by the nobles and verdicts in the courts could be bought and sold. The laws of Moses which enjoined charity to the poor were trampled underfoot. People who called themselves after the name of Yahweh, the God of Israel, were a moral embarrassment. The time for God's judgment had come. And it came in the year 721, when the mighty Assyrian army from the northeast swept into Israel, besieged and captured Samaria, and deported most of her leading citizens far to the east to Assyria and neighboring lands. Isaiah himself prophesied this in the famous Immanuel prophecy (Isaiah 7:15-17), saying of the child to be born as a sign to King Ahaz:
 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.  16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.  17 The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.
Judah was spared the same fate at that time, but 20 years later, c. 701, the army of a later Assyrian king named Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem and demanded surrender. Isaiah encouraged King Hezekiah to trust in Yahweh and not look to the help of political allies such as the Egyptian pharaoh. In fact, by a miracle, which the Bible describes as an angel killing off Assyrian troops, the enemy was forced to break off the siege and retreat in humiliation. But shortly after this marvelous victory, Hezekiah entertained ambassadors from the court of the king of Babylonia and showed them his treasures. Isaiah warned him that this was unwise, and predicted that the Babylonians would eventually do to Jerusalem what God had kept the Assyrians from doing.
The moral basis for this judgment was provided by the kings of Judah following Hezekiah, who had been a relatively upright ruler. The worst of these was Manasseh, who introduced paganism into the very temple of God in Jerusalem, and under whose persecution of true prophets, such as Jeremiah and Isaiah, Isaiah is thought to have died.
But in his final years Isaiah was given by God visions and prophecies intended for a remote generation of Israelites living in the Babylonian exile and for the generation that returned from the exile. These prophecies are found in the second half of the book, chaps. 40-66, and served during the years to come as Isaiah's ministry by proxy to Jews who long outlived him.

The Book as a Whole

John Oswalt has suggested that the book of Isaiah is like the Bible in miniature. Like the Bible, it has two major divisions, like the Bible the main theme of the first is judgment and that of the second is hope. Its sweep is from Creation to the New Heavens and Earth. It contains all the themes of the Bible: the Sinai covenant is the moral and ethical basis for the many criticisms of Israel's lifestyle, the charges of rebellion, and the specific relationship between God and Israel. Yahweh's covenant with David is the foundation of the promises of a messiah from David's line. The dual picture of the messiah as Suffering Servant and glorious Divine King makes God's plan for the salvation of mankind understandable for the first time in Scripture. 

Isaiah's prophecy has an overall unity that cannot be denied. It is not a mosaic of disconnected oracles, organized only randomly. Nor is the style of its parts inconsistent with its being the product of a single human author. Yet without question, in its three main subdivisions God through his prophet addresses readers in three distinct historical settings. In chapters 1-39 the hearers/readers live in Judah during the lifetime of Isaiah (c. 720-685 BC). In chapters 40-55 the readers addressed seem to have been living during the final years (c. 570-525 BC) of the Babylonian captivity (c. 595-525). And in chapters 56-66 he appears to address Jews living again in Judah after the return from captivity.

Yet, in spite of the belief in non-Bible-believing circles that chapters 40-66 were not written by Isaiah, but by a whole school of later prophets who passed their prophecies off as Isaiah's work by appending them to his (which constituted most but not all of chapters 1-39), the evidence against this theory is simply overwhelming. Not only is there no manuscript evidence from as far back as we can trace the book (100 years before Jesus was born) that it was anything but a unit, not only did our Lord Jesus refer to passages in all three sections as the words of Isaiah, but it is unbelievable that later prophets did not refer to more specific historical events and conditions of their times in the last half of the book.  Early chapters in the book addressed to Isaiah's contemporaries are replete with historical details, while those later parts addressed to subsequent generations contain only one such detail, the prediction of Cyrus the Great's role in Israel's return from exile.  The very vagueness of the historical and sociological description of those times argues that they could not have been composed then, but were seen only in general outline ahead of time by a prophet endowed with God-given foresight.

And why would these later prophets have tried to give the misleading impression that their prophecies were those of Isaiah? They were entitled to their own books, just as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea and the others were. It is no good arguing that they did this because their viewpoints were those of Isaiah, because the viewpoints of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others also shared Isaiah's theology. After all, the same God was giving these prophecies!

Furthermore, chapters 1-39 as they stand are clearly incomplete. It is unthinkable that Isaiah would have left off the book at the end of chapter 39. Many hints in the first 39 chapters indicate that the prophet intended to elaborate on what might happen after Judah was sent into exile. Surely Isaiah was familiar with Deuteronomy, whose final chapters predict not only an exile, but a repentance and return. And he even named his son Shear-jashub (Isaiah 7), which means "A remnant will return [from exile]".

Also in chapter 6, which records his prophetic calling, God orders him to prophesy to the people in spite of the fact that they will not understand or heed him (6:8-12). When Isaiah then asks: "How long [will the people's blindness to my message last], O Lord?" The answer is until Judah's cities lie in rubble, and I have sent everyone far away into exile. It also might mean "for how long [shall I prophesy to them]?" In fact since Isaiah died before the fall of Jerusalem, this would have been before the described conditions occurred. After the city fell, the people would naturally understand that God's warnings and predictions of judgment through Isaiah were true. Their eyes would be opened, but too late to avoid the exile. But then God added (v. 13): Although a tenth of the people will remain in the land, it will again be laid waste. But the chopped down tree leaves a stump which can sprout again and regrow the tree. This was a clear indication of God's intention to restore Israel to her land. They are the ones called here "the holy seed". So it stands to reason that Isaiah would be given predictions also of the restoration, what we in fact have in chapters 40-66. And just as the people of his day would fail to believe or understand the predictions of the exile, so also chapters 40-66 would have been incomprehensible to them.

There is a parallel to this in the Book of Daniel. For there the prophet is given visions of the remote future and told to "seal up the prophetic vision, for it refers to the far future.
Dan. 8:26 The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true. As for you, seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.”
No, to divide this majestic book among three authors is to do a grave injustice to its structure and the fabric of every chapter. It is also to fail to understand what Isaiah says in each of the passages of the book as a whole. For each chapter and paragraph have their roles in the great message of the book.

The tripartite structure of the book was not dictated by multiple authors, or even by multiple audiences. Rather there is a tripartite theme, reminding us of the tripartite structure of Paul's letter to the Romans that we studied last year.
  •  chapters 1-39 Why Israel (and all mankind) must be judged for their sins (Romans 1-2)
  •  chapters  40-55 How God will save them by redeeming them through his Suffering Servant (Romans 3-11)
  •  chapters  56-66 The new life of the redeemed under the Kingship of the Suffering Servant (Romans 12-16)

Themes of Isaiah 1-39

The first half of the book, chapters 1-39 are mostly occupied with calling the nation to repentance for their sins. Chapter 1 is typical: the people are loaded with guilt and have forsaken God. They aren't even as smart as an ox or an ass that knows its own master. They are described as a body full of bruises from punishments received. Their cities have been burned by invaders (v. 7) , their fields stripped of crops. Yet they have not learned from the judgments God has sent upon them. Their leaders—king, priests, false prophets—are described as "rulers of Sodom" (v. 10). They seem to think that God can be pacified by a multitude of sacrifices and gifts, rather than by genuine repentance and obedience (v. 11). It is a pitiful situation, but there is yet hope.

Many oracles of judgment also on the surrounding nations.

Some predictions of ultimate glory, but rather few and always interspersed with warnings of judgment. Chapter 2 is typical here. 2:1-5 is a beautiful picture of the coming kingdom of God. The Lord's temple mount will be the center of earth's nations' pilgrimages (v. 2). They will come to Jerusalem in order for God to teach them his ways and his law (v. 3). God himself will adjudicate the disputes of nations, so that there will be no need for wars to settle them (v. 4). The prediction closes with a beautiful invitation to Israel, as the nations' teacher, to "walk in the light of the Lord" (v. 5).  But the warnings begin in v. 6.  God's people are described as full of superstitions from the lands to the east of Israel (i.e., Assyria, Babylonian, and Persia). They consult pagan gods like the Philistines do (v. 6).  They are rich and well equipped with luxuries like horse-drawn chariots. But their cities are full of idols, for idolatry is a worship that promises riches, and the worship of the god of Israel never guarantees that.  In vv. 10-21 a time of intense judgment and national disaster is described in the bleakest of terms. Although God's own people will go through it, the description seems to imply that all peoples will experience it. It will be a time of worldwide humbling of the arrogant and the godless (v. 17-18). It will be a time of overwhelming fear of God and his judgment (v. 19-21). The lesson God (through Isaiah) wants Israel to learn from this prophecy is to stop trusting in human ability (v. 22) and glorying in it, and begin to trust in God. The New Testament gospel equivalent of this lesson is that no one can save himself or herself by good works (Romans 1-2).

Among all the passages warning of judgment and predicting an ultimate triumph of God and his kingdom, there are a few passages that focus on a future ruler. He is not given the title "messiah", but these prophecies are quoted in the NT as fulfilled in Jesus. the best known ones are in ch. 7 (the sign of the virgin-born child named Immanuel), ch. 9 (9:1-7).  These are some of the best-loved parts of the book. But in these early sections of Isaiah's prophecy God has not yet made clear how this God-Man ruler's rule will be able to take place, if the people of Israel are still beset with sin. The answer to this riddle will await the prophecies in the last half of the book, those given to Isaiah in his last years, when he was given visions of his people returning from Babylonia and from exile to a new life in the land of Promise.

Themes of Isaiah 40-66

Unlike his prophecies recorded in chapters 1-39, the visions for future generations in exile and later are by an large messages of hope and encouragement. They answered twin questions in the minds of the exiles: (1) Is Yahweh only the God of Canaan who is now powerless to help them almost 1,000 miles to the east in Babylonia and Persia, and (2) if he is able, is he willing? Does he have any desire to help them, or has he abandoned them forever? God's answer through Isaiah was (1) that he is the mighty Creator of all nations on earth and has unlimited power to save and restore them (40:15-27).
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. 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. 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.
His answer to the second question is that he has not discarded the ancient covenant obligation to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, even though their ancestors violated it and brought judgment on themselves. The passagew we werejust readig continues:
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.
We will find in these chapters lofty poetry, celebrating the most soaring truths imaginable, describing the one true God in terms that were rarely used previously in the Bible. Yahweh, the God of Israel and the Creator of the world is contrasted with the weak and inept "gods" of the nations: Marduk, Nabu, and Ishtar of Babylonia, and Ashur of the Assyrians.
Also for the first time in Isaiah's writing, there is introduced the concept of the Servant of Yahweh, a role that is initially ascribed to Israel herself (41:8-10),

8 But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham, my friend; 9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; 10 do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Israel was the true seed of Abraham, for the Hebrew word "seed', like our equivalent word "offspring", can refer to a group as well as to a single individual. They were intended to bring God's blessing to the nations. But since they failed initially, the "seed" concept first began to be restricted to the remnant of faithful Israelites, and eventually focused on a single individual who epitomizes all that other Israelites could never attain to. 
This individual is predicted to bring justice to the nations of earth, to make known the glory of God, and to suffer for the sins of the nation and the world. Isaiah doesn't use the term "Messiah" for this person, but it is clear that those prophecies were fulfilled by one person only, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah/Christ, the true king of Israel, and the Son of God. This is the One whom Isaiah described in the early part of his career as Immanuel and Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. In those early parts of Isaiah's prophecies he was not called the "Servant" of Yahweh. In those chapters the focus is on the messiah as a might king.

But we must remember that kings too occasionally carried the title "Servant of the god X or Y". Anyone who carries out the will of God is his servant. But in biblical terms it is reserved for those who in a special way implemented Gods's plan to redeem his people. So Moses led Israel out of Egypt and is called the "servant of Yahweh". And Jesus suffered for the sins not only of Israel but of all humanity, and is called "the Servant of Yahweh".
Finally, what should you and I look for, as we study Isaiah chapters 40-66? I want to suggest that the following as samples:
When we feel that life is getting too much for us, pressures as work, conflict in our families, set backs our own health or of those we love, we should meditate on the passages that show that God is able to sustain us and bring about blessing for us and those we love.
3 “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. 4 Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.  (Isaiah 46:3-4 NIV)
When we feel that our failures are merely the inevitable result of our own sinfulness and we despair that we can ever live in a manner that brings honor to the God whom we love, we should meditate on the passages in Isaiah that declare God's forgiveness
Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet,   they shall be as white as snow;  though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
and those that express his desire to make us to triumph in our conflict with sin.
28 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  (Isaiah 40:29-31 NIV)
Surely there is no book in the Bible better fitted to encourage you and me, to reassure us that the God who died for our sins and rose again, so dearly loves us that what he has now begun in our lives he will personally carry it through to completion. As Paul also wrote centuries later to some gentile belivers in the Greek city of Philippi,
3  I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 1:3-6 NIV)