I, the Lord…I Am He

1 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 underfoot;
he makes them like dust with his sword,
    like driven stubble with his bow.
He pursues them and passes on safely,
    by paths his feet have not trod.
Who has performed and done this,
    calling the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord, the first,
    and with the last; I am he.

The coastlands have seen and are afraid;
    the ends of the earth tremble;
    they have drawn near and come.
Everyone helps his neighbor
    and says to his brother, “Be strong!”
The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith,
    and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, “It is good”;
    and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved.

But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
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 fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

11 Behold, all who are incensed against you
    shall be put to shame and confounded;
those who strive against you
    shall be as nothing and shall perish.
12 You shall seek those who contend with you,
    but you shall not find them;
those who war against you
    shall be as nothing at all.
13 For I, the Lord your God,
    hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
    I am the one who helps you.”

14 Fear not, you worm Jacob,
    you men of Israel!
I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord;
    your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
15 Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge,
    new, sharp, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
    and you shall make the hills like chaff;
16 you shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away,
    and the tempest shall scatter them.
And you shall rejoice in the Lord;
    in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

17 When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
    may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it. – Isaiah 41:1-20 ESV

Judah was in an unenviable position, in both a physical and spiritual sense. It seems that they were located in the very epicenter of a region that attracted conquering nations like honey draws bees.

Assyrian domain.jpgIf you look at any maps that reveal the extent of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, you find Judah positioned precariously in the middle of all the action. The threat of defeat at the hands of more powerful nations was a constant reality. If it weren’t the Assyrians, it would be the Babylonians.

Babylon's domain.jpgAnd God has already warned Hezekiah that Jerusalem would eventually fall to the Babylonians, who weren’t even a major player on the scene at the time.

But even more unenviable than Judah’s geographic location was its position in respect to Yahweh. They had been unfaithful to the Faithful One. They had repeatedly disobeyed Him and dishonored His name by worshiping false gods. And God, by virtue of His holiness and righteousness, was obligated to punish His people for their serial spiritual adultery.

And yet, God has provided His rebellious people with a somewhat surprising message of assurance, saying, “Comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1 ESV). In spite of all that the people of Judah had done to offend a holy God, they would find Him to be compassionate and gracious. He promised to one day restore them.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31 NLT

It would have been easy for the people of Judah to look at their circumstances and lose heart. They were a seemingly insignificant nation surrounded by more powerful enemies who were intent on their destruction. What was Judah when compared to the world-dominating power of Assyria? What hope did they have when the ten tribes of Israel to the north had fallen to Sennacherib and his forces? But in chapter 41, God assures His people that they have nothing to fear from these other nations. They were mere pawns in His hands, and their power was insignificant when compared with His.

God summons as witnesses all the Gentile nations of the world. Like a prosecuting attorney in a court of law, He addresses them, delivering in no uncertain terms a defense of His sovereignty.

“Who has stirred up this king from the east,
    rightly calling him to God’s service?
Who gives this man victory over many nations
    and permits him to trample their kings underfoot?
With his sword, he reduces armies to dust.
    With his bow, he scatters them like chaff before the wind.
He chases them away and goes on safely,
    though he is walking over unfamiliar ground.”– Isaiah 41:2-3 NLT

In response to these questions from God, the Gentile nations would have most likely stated that the pagan gods of the Assyrians and Babylonians were responsible for their victories. But God’s questions are intended to be rhetorical, and He provides the only correct answer: “I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he” (Isaiah 41:4 ESV).

And yet, the pagan nations continue to place all their hopes in their false gods. They attempt to manufacture some semblance of security just as they manufacture the idols they worship.

The idol makers encourage one another,
    saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
    and the molder helps at the anvil.
    “Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
    then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:6-7 NLT

But these man-made totems will prove no match for the Lord of Hosts. They have no power. And any power that the kings of these pagan nations wield has been given to them by God. As God revealed to Daniel in a dream:

“Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” – Daniel 2:20-21 NLT

So, God turns His attention to the people of Judah, reminding them of their unique position as His chosen people. Of all people on the earth, they were to be envied, despite all that was happening around them. The nations beyond the seas had no god to save them. Their idols would prove powerless in the face of the Assyrian and Babylonian armies. But Judah had no reason to fear because they belonged to God.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 NLT

If they looked at their circumstances, they were bound to experience fear and discouragement. But, as God’s people, they were to look to Him. They were to trust in Him. Because He had promised to do what no other god could do: To strengthen them, help them and hold them up. They had nothing to fear, even though they were surrounded by more powerful enemies because God was in control and was on their side.

Those who attack you
    will come to nothing.
For I hold you by your right hand—
    I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you,
    ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.” – Isaiah 41:12-13 NLT

Notice what God tells them. They would be attacked. Their enemies were real, and the prospect of warfare was as well. God didn’t promise them freedom from warfare, but the assurance of His help. And the apostle Paul reminds us that we can expect warfare in our lives as well.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT

God promises the people of Judah that a day is coming when the tables will be turned. They will become the victor rather than the victim. The lowly “worm” will become the aggressor, wreaking havoc on its enemies and gladly glorying in the greatness of God.

Then you will rejoice in the Lord.
    You will glory in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 41:16 NLT

God tells them that, just when things are looking like they couldn’t get any worse, He will show up.

“When the poor and needy search for water and there is none,
    and their tongues are parched from thirst,
then I, the Lord, will answer them.
    I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them.” – Isaiah 41:17 NLT

At their greatest moment of need, their great God will show up. And He will provide for them in ways that are beyond their imaginations. He will work a miracle that leaves no doubt that their salvation was divinely ordained and orchestrated. And God tells them why He is going to act on their behalf.

“I am doing this so all who see this miracle
    will understand what it means—
that it is the Lord who has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel who created it.” – Isiah 41:20 NLT

God’s greatest works always appear at our greatest moments of need. It is in our periods of most intense crisis that God reveals His power and proves His faithfulness to us. It is when we need Him most that God tends to show up best. It is in those times that He intervenes and says, “I, the Lord…I am He.”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Joshua’s Secret Weapon.

1 When Jabin, king of Hazor, heard of this, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings who were in the northern hill country, and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in Naphoth-dor on the west, to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.

And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” So Joshua and all his warriors came suddenly against them by the waters of Merom and fell upon them. And the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining. And Joshua did to them just as the Lord said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire. Joshua 11:1-9 ESV

Battle at MemorChapter 10 ends with the summary statement: “And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel. Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.” God had given Joshua and the people of Israel a series of lopsided victories over the five-nation confederation from southern Canaan that had aligned themselves against the Gibeonites. Because of an alliance Joshua and the elders had made with the people of Gibeon, Israel was forced to come to their rescue. And because the Israelites had sealed their treaty with the Gibeonites with an oath made in God’s name, God protected the honor of His name by providing Joshua and the Israelite forces with success. They routed the combined forces of the enemy, executed the five kings, and then completed a campaign that captured and destroyed their cities. But this kind of massive military action didn’t go unnoticed, even in the days before mass media. Word got out and before long, the kings of northern Canaan began to fear the presence and power of the Israelites. Jabin, king of Hazor, located in far northern Canaan, decided to prepare for the worst, and called on his fellow kings of the north to form an alliance against the Israelites. This would prove to be a multinational effort, with troops representing the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Hivites coming together in a massive show of force. The text describes them as “a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (Joshua 11:4 ESV). According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, this multinational force was made up of 300,000 armed footmen, 10,000 horsemen, and 20,000 chariots (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews).

Before Joshua and the people of Israel could enjoy a well-earned rest from the victory over the kings of the south, they found themselves facing an even greater threat from the north. The longer Israel remained in the land and the further they ventured into the interior, the more difficult the obstacles seemed to become. Each successive victory, while enjoyable for the moment, was followed by even greater resistance on the part of the remaining inhabitants of the land. No one was surrendering. The various people groups who occupied the land of Canaan were not giving up without a fight. And this time, the Israelites found themselves facing their most difficult test to date. These troops were well-trained and armed with chariots. The Israelites were outnumbered and out-gunned. They had no chariots or sophisticated, state-of-the-art weaponry. But they had God, and He had promised to go before them and fight their battles for them. He had already shown Himself true to His word, bringing down the walls of Jericho in a miraculous display of His power. He had also sent hail to destroy a large portion of the southern Canaanite forces. God was on their side and it didn’t really matter who or how many lined up on the other side. On paper, the northern alliance was the odds-on favorite to win this battle. They had everything going for them, except that they didn’t have God on their side. You might say that the Israelites had a secret weapon. They had a power at their disposal that no nation on earth could match. And, in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, God provided Joshua with the assurance, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire” (Joshua 11:6 ESV).

But it’s one thing to hear the words of God and another thing to believe them. What God told Joshua didn’t make the enemy go away. They were still camped at the waters of Merom, and they were still intent on doing battle with the Israelites. Their numbers had not diminished and their chariots had not gone anywhere. God didn’t eliminate the threat, He simply guaranteed the victory. And Joshua had to take God at His word and lead his forces into a battle that, by all accounts, looked like a recipe for disaster. But Joshua did as the Lord commanded and led his inferior force into battle, taking the enemy by surprise. And the text tells us, “the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining” (Joshua 11:8 ESV).

Long before the Israelites arrived in the land of Canaan, God had promised to give them victory over their enemies, and He had told them that it would be accomplished in surprising fashion.

You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. – Leviticus 26:7-8 NLT

God doesn’t require superior forces to accomplish His will. He simply needs obedient servants who will trust His word and who will rely upon His strength instead of their own. Joshua knew he was out-manned. He was well aware that the odds were against him. But he also knew that God was for him. He was slowly learning to trust God and to step out in faith, knowing that the circumstances he faced were a lousy predictor of the outcome God intended.

If Josephus was right, the Israelites completely destroyed 300,000 armed footmen and 10,000 horsemen, and they set fire to 20,000 chariots. Any way you look at it, that is a remarkable accomplishment. It’s an act of God. The odds were against them, but God was for them. The enemy was superior in number, but God was superior in strength. Israelite lacked chariots and horses, but they had God on their side.

It was the future king of Israel, David, who would later write of secret weapon that is God Almighty.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
    but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:7-8 ESV

And Moses had told the people of Israel to keep their eyes focused on the strength of their God, not the size of their enemy.

“When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you!” – Deuteronomy 20:1 NLT

Joshua was learning to trust God. The enemies were not going away, they were actually increasing in number and growing in strength. But the power of God is best displayed against a backdrop of impossibility. It is when all looks lost and the odds are completely stacked against us that we find the power of God not only necessary, but most vividly displayed. The psalmist knew what it was like to be surrounded, outnumbered, and out-manned, but victorious in spite of the odds.

10 Though hostile nations surrounded me,
    I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.
11 Yes, they surrounded and attacked me,
    but I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.
12 They swarmed around me like bees;
    they blazed against me like a crackling fire.
    But I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.
13 My enemies did their best to kill me,
    but the Lord rescued me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has given me victory. – Psalm 118:10-14 NLT

Nothing is too difficult for God. No enemy is too powerful or circumstance too impossible for Him. In God, we have a secret weapon that no force in heaven or on earth can stand against.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Don’t Fear. He Hears.

I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, “Do not close your ear to my cry for help!” You came near when I called on you; you said, “Do not fear!” – Lamentations 3:55-57 ESV

This prayer, recorded in the book of Lamentations is found in the midst of a lengthy section that recounts the faithfulness of God. The book was more than likely written by Jeremiah and is a post-captivity record of his reflections on all that had happened to Judah as a result of their refusal to return to the Lord. Their stubborn rebellion had brought about the fall of the city of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the exile of the people of Judah to the land of Babylon. Jeremiah remained behind and the book of Lamentations contains his thoughts on all that had happened. The book opens with the following statement: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave” (Lamentations 1:1 ESV). The first chapter paints a bleak and depressing scene as Jeremiah, sitting in the abandoned city of Jerusalem, recalls the cause of the nation’s fall from grace. He pulls no punches when he writes, “the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (Lamentations 1:5 ESV). “Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy” (Lamentations 1:8 ESV). “Her uncleanness was in her skirts; she took no thought of her future” (Lamentations 1:9 ESV). All that had happened was the result of their sin and the work of God. “The Lord has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word, which he commanded long ago; he has thrown down without pity; he has made the enemy rejoice over you and exalted the might of your foes” (Lamentations 2:17 ESV).

In chapter three, Jeremiah recounts his own suffering during his days as the prophet of God. He had spent years attempting to call the people of Judah to repentance, but with no success. He endured rejection, ridicule and even physical abuse as a result of his ministry. There had been days when he felt all alone and it seemed as if God had abandoned him. He had gotten so low that it led him to say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord” (Lamentations 3:18 ESV). But in the midst of all his sorrow, he kept going back to the one thing he knew about God. He was loving and faithful. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:21-24 ESV). Even while sitting in the middle of a burned out, broken down, and abandoned city, Jeremiah could think about the love and mercy of God. Even though he knew that the destruction of Judah had been the work of God, it did not change his view of God. He was able to say, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:25-27 ESV). He knew that God’s punishment had been justified and had been done out of love. He also knew that, “though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Lamentations 3:32 ESV).

For Jeremiah it was pretty simple. The people of Judah had gotten what they had deserved. They had no right to shake their fists at God in anger or accuse Him of injustice. “Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” (Lamentations 3:39-40 ESV). Their circumstances called for a time of reflection and self-examination. They needed to focus on and own up to their own sinfulness. They desperately needed to come to the point where they could confess, “We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven” (Lamentations 3:42 ESV). But Jeremiah knew that no matter how bad things got or how deep their pit of despair may feel, their God would hear them when they called out. He knew it from personal experience. “I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea.” He had known what it is like to have God come near when called. He had heard God say, “Do not fear!” There is no sin too great for God to forgive. There is no pit so deep that God cannot reach down His hand and rescue. There is no cry He can’t hear. All He asks is that we acknowledge our sin, admit our need for Him, and return to Him in humility and dependence.

Too often, our cries to God are based solely on what we want Him to do for us. We want His deliverance from pain and suffering more than we want Him. We want Him to rescue us from our predicament, but we don’t necessarily want to submit to His lordship over our life. We want Him to fix our problem, but don’t want to admit that we were the cause of it. One of the hardest things for us to do is to test and examine our ways. We don’t want to take ownership for our sin. We don’t want to admit guilt. We would rather justify our actions. It is difficult for us to say, “We have transgressed and rebelled.” But confession is essential if we want to experience God’s forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). We don’t need to fear, because He hears. But he wants to hear us call with repentant hearts, openly confessing our sins and humbly submitting to His will for our lives.