Isaiah 41:1-10 (NIVUK)
The helper of Israel
1 ‘Be silent before me, you islands! Let the nations renew their strength! Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment. 2 ‘Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to his service? He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to wind-blown chaff with his bow. 3 He pursues them and moves on unscathed, by a path his feet have not travelled before. 4 Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord – with the first of them and with the last – I am he.’
5 The islands have seen it and fear; the ends of the earth tremble.
They approach and come forward; 6 they help each other and say to their companions, ‘Be strong!’ 7 The metalworker encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer spurs on the one who strikes the anvil. One says of the welding, ‘It is good.’ The other nails down the idol so that it will not topple. 8 ‘But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, 9 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. 10 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.
Under Joshua Israel possessed the land but because they were disobedient did not subdue it as intended and Israel continued to be troubled politically and spiritually by the peoples and nations around them. Israel as a nation reached the peak of its power under David and Solomon but after that it was a downward path with Israel becoming increasingly disobedient and the people wayward in their faith. Politically the kingdoms of Israel, north and south were caught between the superpowers of the day, and both fell into captivity and suffered deportation, the northern kingdom passing forever into history but the exiles of the southern kingdom eventually returning to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah.
It is very easy for any of us to look around us and believe that we are caught in series of random events and sometimes the schemes of men and nations. These may be events personal to us, perhaps the result of international tensions or for example worldwide pandemics over which we have little control. Israel in her disobedience faced such a situation yet Isaiah 41 serves as a reminder that God is in control of history and that he has called out a people for himself. Look at the tenderness of verses 8-10. Israel may be descending into the furnace but is not forgotten by God, nor has his purpose failed even if the nation has, and he will be with them in day of trouble, note the promise of verse 10, he is the one who will uphold them.
The people called by God today form the church of Jesus Christ. Still, in the face of world events we seem at times to be at the mercy of the schemes of man or the uncertainties of nature. Not so! It is God who holds the nations to account (verse 1 above) and who calls rulers as instruments of his judgement and discipline (verse 2) and who is sovereign in everything be it the course of history, outcomes for the church or our lives.
Isn’t it the case that at times we need to remind ourselves that we are not caught up in a world which is at the mercy of blind forces? True, a spiritual battle is going on behind the scenes but God is in control and victory is never in doubt. Jesus has conquered the grave, sin has been atoned for, hope is secure in him and we, despite all we may face and all we may feel in our darker moments are not forgotten. “So do not be afraid, I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God.” Is 41:10