Our Indescribable and Inexplicable God

15 Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. 16 As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. 17 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. 18 And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. 19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. 20 Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21 When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

22 Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. 23 And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each creature had two wings covering its body. 24 And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings. 25 And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.

26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:15-28 ESV

For centuries, artists have attempted to recreate the fantastic scene described in Ezekiel’s vision, and their efforts have resulted in a host of ethereal, otherworldly depictions that almost defy the range of man’s imagination. Their depictions border on the surreal and illustrate man’s incapacity to understand or explain the glory of God. But in their defense, each of them based their artwork on the words of Ezekiel. They simply illustrated what Ezekiel attempted to elucidate. But this young priest was at a great disadvantage because he was trying to describe the indescribable and explain the inexplicable. Hampered by a finite human mind and a limited vocabulary, Ezekiel did his best to recreate his vision with words. But his efforts would prove futile because he was attempting to describe “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:28 ESV).

While Ezekiel appears to be describing a series of different individuals and objects, the scene is meant to illustrate the glory of the Lord. This entire chapter should be viewed as a depiction of the majesty and magnificence of Jehovah, the Creator-God who rules and reigns over all. The all-mighty, transcendent God of the universe was providing Ezekiel with a composite picture of His essence that was intended to engender a response of awe and reverential fear. And it worked, because Ezekiel claims, “When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground” (Ezekiel 1:28 NLT).

Ezekiel got the big picture. He correctly viewed the entire scene as a divine depiction of his God. And, as a priest, Ezekiel would have known that it was impossible for any human being to see God and live to tell about it. He would have been well versed in the words that God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai. The man whom God had chosen to liberate His people from their captivity in Egypt had expressed his desire to see God’s glory. Moses had seen God’s glory displayed in the burning bush and had repeatedly spoken with Him, but he longed for something greater.

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” – Exodus 33:18 ESV

But God let Moses that his request was not only impossible, but it would also be suicidal. So, He provided Moses with a viable alternative.

…and he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” – Ezekiel 33:19-20 ESV

Like Moses, Ezekiel would see God’s glory and live to tell about it. He would see indescribable things and attempt to explain them with words that could never do them justice. The four living creatures, the wheels within wheels, the crystal expanse, and the sapphire thrown were all intended to depict God’s glory. Ezekiel was being given a rare opportunity to see the Almighty but in a way that produced awe and wonder instead of death.

It was the apostle Paul who described Yahweh as “the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords” (1 Timothy 6:15 NLT). And he went on to explain God’s transcendent, unapproachable nature.

He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! – 1 Timothy 6:16 NLT

It is impossible to know exactly what Ezekiel saw but that has not stopped artists from trying to depict it. But no painting, engraving, or illustration will ever be able to capture the glory of God.

Every aspect of Ezekiel’s vision was meant to reinforce the greatness and glory of God. The four different faces of the four living creatures reveal that God is sovereign over all creation. He rules over humanity, the wild beasts, domesticated animals, and the birds of the air – because He made them all. And the wheels within wheels were intended to depict God’s omnipresence; completely unhindered by time or space. According to Ezekiel, the wheels “went in any of their four directions without turning as they went” ( Ezekiel 1:17 ESV). The rims of the wheels were covered with eyes, illustrating the omniscience of God. He knows all because He sees all.

And He accomplishes all this while sitting on His throne above the great expanse. Ezekiel’s focus becomes fixed upon “a figure whose appearance resembled a man” (Ezekiel 1:26 NLT). But He is far from human in nature.

From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. – Ezekiel 1:27-28 NLT

This is no ordinary king seated on a man-made throne. It is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Ezekiel is being given a glimpse of God Almighty, but it is a representation and not the real thing.

“It was a deeply-held tenet of Israelite religion from Moses onwards that God could not be visibly expressed, and for that very reason idolatry was out. But given the possibility of a theophany, no form but the human form could conceivably have been used to represent the Deity. It was, however, no mere human that Ezekiel saw: His radiance was surrounded by the glory of a rainbow, and the prophet could show his awe in no other way than by falling on his face in the dust before his God.” – L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel

It is interesting to note that Ezekiel does not attempt to describe God’s face or countenance. All he writes about is the appearance of gleaming metal, fire, and brightness. According to Paul, God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16 ESV). The psalmist states that God “wraps Himself in light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2 BSB). The prophet Daniel was also given a vision of God and he described it in similar terms.

…the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. – Daniel 7:9 ESV

Both Daniel and Ezekiel were given the privilege of seeing God’s glory, and both found it nearly impossible to put it into words. They were struck by the brightness of His very presence. He emanated light so bright that it could only be described as burning fire. It was intense and virtually unapproachable. This imagery reflects the holiness and purity of God. It was the apostle John who wrote, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV).

This majestic, all-knowing, holy, omnipresent God of the universe was reminding Ezekiel that He was still on His throne and well aware of the fate of the people of Judah. He had not turned His back on them. His power had not diminished and His love for them had not faded. The all-powerful, ever-loving, always-faithful God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was about to deliver a message to His chosen people and He had chosen Ezekiel as His messenger. God had gotten Ezekiel’s attention, and now Ezekiel was ready to listen to what his glorious God had to say.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:28 ESV

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.

Don’t Mess With Jehovah

1 Then the people of Israel set out and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho. And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. And Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” So Balak the son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the people of Amaw, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”

So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand. And they came to Balaam and gave him Balak’s message. And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam. And God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” 10 And Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, 11 ‘Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.’” 12 God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” 13 So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, “Go to your own land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.” 14 So the princes of Moab rose and went to Balak and said, “Balaam refuses to come with us.”

15 Once again Balak sent princes, more in number and more honorable than these. 16 And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: ‘Let nothing hinder you from coming to me, 17 for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.’” 18 But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more. 19 So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.” 20 And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” 21 So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. Numbers 22:1-21 ESV

God was leading the people of Israel ever closer to the borders of Canaan. The day was drawing nearer when they would be expected to cross over the Jordan River and begin their conquest of the land promised to them by God as their rightful inheritance. And all the battles in which they had recently been engaged had been meant to prepare them for the confrontations they would face in the conquest of their new homeland. While God had designated Canaan as their future home, it would not come without a fight or apart from faith in the power and providence of God.

News of the Israelites’ recent victory over the Amorites had begun to spread and the surrounding nations began to grow wary of this new kid on the block. The reputation of the Israelites had begun to change. They were no longer viewed as just a large but seemingly harmless group of former slaves and sheep herders. They had proved themselves to be a formidable fighting force that could easily overwhelm the small nation-states that occupied Canaan and the surrounding lands. With their conquest of the Amorites, the Israelites had become a real and present danger.

The Jordan River formed the eastern border of the land of Canaan, so when the Israelites set up camp on the plains of Moab, they were within “spitting distance” of the promised land. But news of their arrival soon reached the ears of Balak, the king of Moab, and he was not pleased.

Balak son of Zippor, the Moabite king, had seen everything the Israelites did to the Amorites. And when the people of Moab saw how many Israelites there were, they were terrified. The king of Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This mob will devour everything in sight, like an ox devours grass in the field!” – Numbers 22:2-4 NLT

The Israelites had descended upon Moab like a plague of locusts and Balak feared the worst. He realized that a group this large would need a source of food and envisioned them plundering the surrounding farms, orchards, and vineyards in order to fill their stomachs. Motivated by his growing sense of dread, Balak reached out to the elder of nearby Midian in an attempt to form an alliance against their newfound enemy.

When the Israelites had first appeared within the borders of Moab, the Moabites had extended a degree of tolerance, accepting payment in return for food and water. They probably assumed the Israelites would move on to greener pastures. But when Balak heard that the Israelites had set up camp on the plains, he became more than a bit concerned about the long-term implications of this latest report.

Unwilling to take on the Israelites in a head-to-head battle, he came up with a less risky plan. He sent for a diviner named Balaam. This man was some sort of pagan magician or soothsayer, and he had a reputation for being able to issue curses. This led Balak to send emissaries to Balaam with the following message:

“Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.” – Numbers 22:6 NLT

Nowhere in the text does it indicate that Balaam was a worshiper of Yahweh, the God of the Israelites. But he was believed to have supernatural abilities that allowed him to pronounce blessings and curses at will. And Balak wanted this powerful “wizard” to work his magic and call down a curse on the host of Israelites camping on his doorstep.

Balak is not specific regarding the nature of the curse he has in mind, but it seems that he was hoping for some kind of spell that might weaken the Israelite forces and make their defeat easier. In a sense, he was looking for a miracle. And he was willing to pay for it. No doubt, Balak believed that Balaam would invoke the assistance of some kind of deity or supernatural power. He seemed to understand that the defeat of the Israelites would require divine intervention.

When the envoys delivered the money and Balak’s message to Balaam, this so-called diviner agreed to consider the king’s proposition. But first, he asked for time to consult “the Lord” (Numbers 22:8 ESV). What’s interesting about this statement, is that Balaam used the proper name of Israel’s God – יְהֹוָה (Yᵊhōvâ). This doesn’t mean that Balaam was a worshiper of Jehovah, but may simply indicate that he knew the name of Israel’s God and was going to begin by seeking that deity’s permission to issue the curse. Rather than pit one god against another, Balaam was going to attempt to turn Israel’s God against them. But Balaam never got a chance to solicit an opinion from Jehovah because God came calling on him.

That night God came to Balaam and asked him, “Who are these men visiting you?” – Numbers 22:9 NLT

God was already aware of the situation but He went ahead and asked Balaam to summarize what was going on, beginning with the identity and mission of the visitors. This nocturnal encounter must have caught Balaam by surprise. There’s even a question of whether Balaam had ever intended to seek a word from Jehovah. It seems much more likely that Balaam would have returned to the messengers with some story he had concocted overnight. But instead, God showed up and provided this self-proclaimed prophet with a message meant solely for him.

“Do not go with them. You are not to curse these people, for they have been blessed!” – Numbers 22:12 NLT

Balaam was to show these men the door. And God made it crystal clear that the last thing Balaam should consider doing was to issue a curse on the people of Israel. It’s not that God feared Balaam’s curse, but that Balaam needed to know that Israel was under God’s blessing. It was Balaam who needed to be afraid because God had promised to curse anyone who treated Abraham’s descendants with contempt.

I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:3 NLT

Even a fake curse would be met with God’s vengeance. If Balaam had decided to make a quick buck by going with the men and pronouncing a curse on the Israelites, he would have come to regret it. And Balaam didn’t take this word from Jehovah lightly. He may have been a false prophet but he recognized a real prophecy when He heard one. So, the next morning, he delivered to Balak’s messengers some disappointing news.

“Go on home! The Lord will not let me go with you.” – Numbers 22:13 NLT

But when the envoys returned with the bad news, Balak refused to accept. Desperate for divine help, he sent an even larger contingent of dignitaries to persuade Balaam and they were armed with an even greater offer of reward. Yet, Balaam remained adamant and refused to accept their bribe.

“Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord my God. But stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.” – Numbers 22:18-19 NLT

At this point, it appears as if Balaam has had a “come-to-Jesus-moment.” He now refers to Jehovah as “my God.” Something has happened. This pagan prognosticator has suddenly realized that Jehovah is the one true God. Unlike all the other times Balaam had sought divine help, this time he had gotten an actual answer. Jehovah, the God of Israel had spoken, and Balaam was not about to risk angering an actual, bonified deity.

As before, Balaam invites the men to spend the night and agrees to seek additional insight from Jehovah. And during the night, God spoke to Balaam again.

That night God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.” – Numbers 22:20 NLT

And having heard from the Lord, Balaam did just as he was told.

the next morning Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and started off with the Moabite officials. – Numbers 22:21 NLT

Yet, as the next verse will point out, “God was angry that Balaam was going…” (Numbers 22:22 NLT). This pseudo-prophet was about to learn a painful lesson on the sovereignty and omniscience of Jehovah. The God of the Israelites was not some figment of man’s imagination but the all-powerful, all-knowing God of the universe. He had seen into Balaam’s heart and knew exactly what this pride-filled and profit-hungry man was thinking. Balaam was still hoping to cash in on this opportunity and was already formulating a plan to give Balak what he wanted while lining his own pockets.

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.

A Dangerous Loss of Perspective

1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 ESV

In just eight short verses, there are 29 instances of the word “time.” You might conclude that Solomon is trying to make a point about the topic. The Hebrew word he chose to use is ’eth and of the 300 times it appears in the King James Bible, it is most often translated as “time.” And it seems that Solomon is using this particular word to drive home the contrast between life as we know it on this temporal plane, and the timeless dimension of eternity.

Solomon’s dilemma, like every other human being who has ever lived, is that he is restricted in his ability to discern anything beyond what he can see. He makes the very astute observation that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.” In other words, we have an innate awareness that there is something beyond this life, but we can’t perceive it. It lies beyond our limited vision.

As Solomon puts it, man “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT). We are temporal creatures, living our temporary lives on this earth, hamstrung by the limitations of our human senses and incapable of seeing what lies beyond the day we take our last breath.

It is important to remember that Solomon wrote this book sometime near the end of his life after he had veered from the course established for him by God. He had surrounded himself with wealth, women, possessions, and pleasures of all kinds. He had set up idols to false gods all over the kingdom and had become distracted from his faithfulness to the one true God. His ability to see things from a godly perspective had been harmed and hindered by his love affair with material things, worldly pleasures, and his man-made replacements for God.

Solomon’s worldview had become heavily influenced by the secular rather than the sacred. So, 29 times in these verses, he speaks of life in terms of time. And he does so by providing 14 stark contrasts that reveal his rather limited perspective. From Solomon’s vantage point, a life lived on this earthly plane and viewed from a human perspective is nothing more than a series of polar extremes.

The hope and joy of birth are contrasted with the sadness and seeming finality of death. Planting produces an eventual harvest, but then the relentless cycle only repeats itself, season after season. Killing is an inevitable reality in life, and starkly at odds with the need for healing. One takes away life while the other attempts to prolong it.

There are times when tearing down follows a season of building up. Why? Because nothing in this life is meant to last forever. Everything has a life cycle and an expiration date. Even the extravagant palace that Solomon built for himself was eventually destroyed and replaced by another.

Even weeping and laughter, as disparate and dissimilar as they may be, share a strange coexistence, equally impacting the lives of men for good or bad. There are times when frivolity is the appropriate reaction, but there are other times when tears are the proper response. They are aspects of human existence that, without a God-focused perspective, create a dissonance in the heart of man that can’t be understood or explained. Without an eternal perspective, we can’t comprehend or appreciate the necessity for times of sorrow. We long for full-time happiness and see sorrow as a setback to our personal agenda. And Solomon uses these two extremes as just another example of the cyclical, repetitive, and meaningless nature of human existence “under the sun” when God’s eternal viewpoint is left out of the equation.

Solomon acknowledges that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” There are those moments in life when we can enjoy the birth of a baby, the joy of laughter and dancing, the blessings of the harvest, the experience of loving and being loved, and the presence of peace in our lives and in the world. But that doesn’t keep him from asking the question: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” In other words, what benefit does a man enjoy from all the effort and energy he puts into his life?

Whether he likes it or not, there will come a time when he has to replace the harvest he reaped. His wheat will run out. His wine vats will run dry. And he will be forced to sow yet again. He may one day be forced to watch the death of the child whose birth he witnessed and rejoiced over. He will experience the pain that comes when love turns to hate and gain turns to loss.

And Solomon summarizes all these things as “the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with” (Ecclesiastes 3:10 ESV). So, based on his secular-based viewpoint, Solomon concludes that the best outcome human beings can hope for is “to be joyful and to do good as long as they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:12 ESV). In light of the inevitability and futility of life, the most logical response is that of resignation. Since you can’t do anything about it, just give in and do your best to enjoy it.

So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor – Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 NLT

And while this approach may seem a tad pessimistic, Solomon explains how he reached this conclusion.  

…this is God’s gift to man. – Ecclesiastes 3:13 NLT

What Solomon really seems to be saying is that if anyone can experience any semblance of joy and pleasure in the midst of all the meaninglessness of life, they should consider it a gift from God, and enjoy it while they can.

Solomon displays a strong belief in the sovereignty of God. He readily acknowledges that God is in control of all things, but his admission is tinged with a hint of sarcasm and resentment. Look closely at how he describes God’s preeminence and power.

…whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. – Ecclesiastes 3:14 ESV

While this speaks of God’s sovereignty and providential control over all things, Solomon’s tone is far from positive. He doesn’t exude a spirit of peace and solace at the thought of God’s omnipotence and omniscience but instead, he displays a hopeless resignation. He further qualifies his view by saying, That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away” (Ecclesiastes 3:15 ESV).

Here is yet another reference to the repetitive and futile essence of life lived under the sun. No sense of eternity. No expression of hope in what is to come. It is almost as if Solomon is painting God as some kind of cosmic puppet master in the sky who toys with man, determining his destiny, and relegating him to a hopeless existence featuring equal parts toil, trouble, joy, and pleasure.

But Solomon had a warped perspective. He had lost his ability to see life through the lens of God’s love and faithfulness. His abandonment of the eternal God had left him with nothing but a temporal view of life. He had become blinded to the sovereign will of God that is always accompanied by the loving mercy of God. His sense of purposelessness was the direct byproduct of his lack of faithfulness. God was not the one who had changed. God was not the one who had moved. Solomon’s loss of hope was due to this loss of his trust in God.

The Lord God had become a distant deity to Solomon, but it was not because He had abandoned His servant. No, Solomon had been the one who walked away from the relationship. He had failed to remember and take seriously the promise that God had made to him years earlier.

“…if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 9:4-5 ESV

Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of eternity and had become fixated on the here-and-now. It had become all about him – his kingdom, his pleasure, his reputation, his own life “under the sun.” But God is eternal and His focus is always on the future. He had great things in store for Solomon but His real emphasis was on the One who would come and sit on the throne of David and rule in righteousness “forever.”

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.

Dreams, Nightmares, and Visions

1 Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody.

And one night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.”

So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, 10 and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” 12 Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. 13 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. 14 Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. 15 For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.” – Genesis 40:1-15 ESV

To understand the events recorded in this chapter, it’s essential to remember that Joseph was imprisoned in “the place where the king’s prisoners were confined” (Genesis 39:20 ESV). In a sense, this was a prison reserved for those whom we might consider guilty of committing “white-collar” crimes. This doesn’t mean their offenses were minor in nature, but that they were not petty criminals. As an official member of Pharaoh’s administration, Potiphar had been able to have Joseph confined to this minimum-security prison where he was surrounded by others who had been charged with crimes against the state.

And it was in this environment that Joseph would come into contact with two additional “officers” from Pharaoh’s court. One had served as Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer while the other had held the title of chief baker. Both of these men had committed offenses against Pharaoh that landed them in prison, where they awaited notification of their fate. Like Joseph, they had no way of knowing how long they would remain imprisoned or whether they would ever see the light of day again. And neither of these men had any way of knowing that God was going to use them as part of His sovereign plan for Joseph’s eventual release and meteoric change in social status.

Moses ended the previous chapter with a revealing statement regarding Joseph: “the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed” (Genesis 39:23 ESV). While it would be easy to view Joseph’s presence in prison in a negative light, Moses wants his readers to know that Joseph was under the gracious and all-powerful care of the sovereign God of the universe. This young man, who had been falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned, was right where God wanted him to be. And God was providentially overseeing every aspect of Joseph’s life, pouring out His unmerited favor and ensuring Joseph’s ultimate success. 

So, it should come as no surprise that God had preordained for the cupbearer and baker to be incarcerated in the very same prison as Joseph. And, not only that, but He had arranged for both of these men, on the very same night, to have their sleep disturbed by a dream. And when Joseph saw them the following morning, he could sense that something was wrong. Their countenance revealed that something had greatly disturbed them and he inquired as to the nature of their distress. When they revealed their desire to know the meaning of their dreams, Joseph offered to act as their interpreter.

“Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Go ahead and tell me your dreams.”  Genesis 40:8 NLT

Joseph was familiar with dreams. After all, he had experienced a few of his own. And he knew from personal experience that the meaning behind a dream could produce some pretty serious consequences.In one of his own dreams, Joseph had envisioned he and his brothers as bundles of grain. And in the dream, all of the other “bundles” had bowed down before his. It was his brothers who had assessed the meaning of the dream, stating, “So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” (Genesis 37:8 NLT).

And this dream had been followed by a second one that Joseph eagerly shared with his brothers, and with his father and mother.

“The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!” – Genesis 37:9 NLT

And as before, Joseph was given the interpretation, along with a stern rebuke from his father.

“What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” – Genesis 37:10 NLT

So, for Joseph, discovering the interpretation of a dream didn’t seem to pose a big problem. If God was behind the dream, He could easily provide its meaning. Joseph wasn’t claiming to have the gift of dream interpretation. He simply believed that if God was behind the dream, its meaning would not remain obscure or hidden. After all, his father and brothers had managed to interpret his dreams without a problem.

Anxious to discover the meaning behind his dream, the chief cupbearer spoke first.

“In my dream,” he said, “I saw a grapevine in front of me. The vine had three branches that began to bud and blossom, and soon it produced clusters of ripe grapes. I was holding Pharaoh’s wine cup in my hand, so I took a cluster of grapes and squeezed the juice into the cup. Then I placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”  – Genesis 40:9-11 NLT

And almost as if he had done this a thousand times, Joseph boldly and confidently declared, “This is what the dream means…” (Genesis 40:12 NLT). Then he promptly shared his interpretation of the rather cryptic and surprisingly disturbing dream. Without batting an eye, Joseph stated, “The three branches represent three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift you up and restore you to your position as his chief cup-bearer” (Genesis 40:12-13 NLT). And that news was like music to the cupbearer’s ears. Much to his relief, whatever he had done to deserve imprisonment was not going to  result in his death or further confinement. In fact, within three days time, he would be released and restored to his former position.

Having delivered the good news, Joseph took the opportunity to appeal to the cupbearer’s sense of fair play. Since Joseph had given the cupbearer a new lease on life, he asked that the man show his gratitude by putting in a positive word for him to Pharaoh. Joseph explained that he was an innocent victim, having been sold tin slavery by his own brothers and then unjustly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Joseph was hoping that a good word from the cupbearer might prompt Pharaoh to intervene on his behalf. He desperately wanted to get out of prison but it’s unlikely that Joseph believed he could be released from his status as a slave. Perhaps Pharaoh could find him a place to serve in the royal court. ”

But Joseph’s interpretation skills were still required. The baker, having witnessed the positive outcome of the cupbearer’s dream, eagerly divulged the content of his own personal nightmare. But his high hopes would soon come crashing to the ground as Joseph shared the less-than-promising interpretation of his dream.

But through it all, God was speaking, leading, working, and orchestrating every facet of Joseph’s complicated and highly conflicted and life. Nothing escaped His attention. No one was outside His range of influence. Even the dreams of men were subject to His sovereign authority. The cupbearer and the baker were in the prison because of their own crimes, but the timing and the place of their captivity had been completely up to God. The slowly unfolding story of Joseph’s life continues to point to the faithfulness and omnipotence of God.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Our All-Powerful-All-the-Time God

1 Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do anything,
    and no one can stop you. ” – Job 42:1-2 NLT

The Lord merely spoke,
    and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word,
    and all the stars were born.
He assigned the sea its boundaries
    and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs.
Let the whole world fear the Lord,
    and let everyone stand in awe of him.
For when he spoke, the world began!
    It appeared at his command. Psalm 33:6-9 NLT

36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” – Luke 1:36-37 ESV

When we, as humans, attempt to discuss the power of God, we are at a distinct disadvantage. We are finite creatures who are well acquainted with personal limitations. It is impossible for us to consider something being all-anything. That little three-letter word “all” conveys the idea of wholeness or completeness. And while we might say that a glass or bowl is all full, we know that it will not remain full permanently. Upon completion of a task, we might proclaim, “All done.” But we will do so knowing that the finished task will likely need to be repeated at some point.

Someone who claims to be all-in regarding a project or endeavor will likely have his commitment tested somewhere along the way. His assurance of whole-hearted engagement will likely waver, given enough time or the lack of his expectations being met.

We live in a world full of limitations. No one is truly all-knowing. They may know a lot, but there will always be more to know. Someone may appear to have “all the money in the world,” but logic precludes the veracity of that statement. No one can literally have all the money. And while someone might wield a great deal of power, there is no one who is truly all-powerful. Even the world’s most powerful people experience limitations to that power. And the sad reality of life is that no one can ever seem to get enough power. And the same can be said of fame, money, or time.

Which brings us back to our all-powerful-all-the-time God. Theologians refer to this as God’s omnipotence. The word omnipotent comes from omni- meaning “all” and potent meaning “power.” And when used of God’s power, that word “all” is meant to convey the complete and wholly undiminished nature of that power. His power is without limits. It never diminishes in intensity. God does not grow tired. In fact, the psalmist states, “he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps” (Psalm 121:4 NLT).

God isn’t just more powerful, extremely powerful, or simply powerful. He is all-powerful.

The power of God is that ability and strength whereby He can bring to pass whatsoever He pleases, whatsoever His infinite wisdom may direct, and whatsoever the infinite purity of His will may resolve…  – Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volumes 1-2

Notice what Charnock says. God can bring to pass whatever He pleases. God’s power is directly tied to His will. Unlike man, God’s will is never a case of wishful thinking. There is never a case when God desires something, but finds Himself lacking the power to make it happen. God has never had to say, “If I only I could….” He has never had to sit back and watch His will go unfulfilled because of a lack of strength.

A. W. Pink states, “He who cannot do what he will and perform all his pleasure cannot be God. As God hath a will to resolve what He deems good, so has He power to execute His will” (A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God). This is essential if we are to understand and fully appreciate the transcendent nature of God. He is not a slightly improved version of man. He is not a human on steroids, but He is the infinite Almighty God who spoke the universe into existence.

And God’s power was not acquired, developed over time, and is not running out. C. H. Spurgeon put it this way: “God’s power is like Himself, self-existent, self-sustained. The mightiest of men cannot add so much as a shadow of increased power to the Omnipotent One.” The greatest earthly examples of power we can think of are all limited. Niagara Falls, while impressive, is not self-existent or self-sustaining. It has a source, or it would not exist. And it will one day cease to exist. Simply divert the headwater that provides the source of its power, and the falls will become nothing more than exposed rocks and a dry river bed.

But because God’s power is self-existent, it cannot be diminished or diverted in any way. His power is unmatched in its intensity and irrepressible in its intent.

All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He does as he pleases among the angels of heaven and among the people of the earth. No one can stop him or say to him, “What do you mean by doing these things?” – Daniel 4:35 NLT

The LORD does whatever pleases him throughout all heaven and earth… – Psalm 135:5 NLT

It was Job who confessed to God, “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you” (Job 42:2 NLT). And Job argued with his well-meaning, but misinformed friends, “who can turn him back? Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” (Job 9:12 ESV).

It was Lord Acton who wrote the oft-quoted line, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” But that truism does not apply to God. Because He is holy, just, and righteous in all He does, God’s power cannot be corrupted – even though it is absolute. God is deity, not humanity. He is nothing like us, and cannot be measured according to our standards or evaluated based on our limited and sin-influenced perspective.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
 – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God’s undiminished and non-constrainable power always accomplishes what He intends. God, Himself stated, “My word that proceeds from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and it will prosper where I send it” (Isaiah 55:11 BSB).

While we may not fully comprehend or appreciate the extent of God’s power, we all relish the idea that it might be at our disposal when needed. We love the thought of the all-powerful God putting all that power at our beck and call. But God’s power, while accessible by us, is not answerable to us. He is not our cosmic Genie-in-a-bottle or personal valet. God’s power exists to accomplish God’s will, not ours. And A. W. Pink would have us maintain a delicate balance when it comes to our reaction to and relationship with God’s power.

Well may all tremble before such a God! To treat with impudence One who can crush us more easily than we can a moth, is a suicidal policy. To openly defy Him who is clothed with omnipotence, who can rend us in pieces or cast us into Hell any moment He pleases, is the very height of insanity.

Well may the enlightened soul adore such a God! The wondrous and infinite perfections of such a Being call for fervent worship. If men of might and renown claim the admiration of the world, how much more should the power of the Almighty fill us with wonderment and homage. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God

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

Our Supremely Sovereign God

10 “Only I can tell you the future
    before it even happens.
Everything I plan will come to pass,
    for I do whatever I wish.”
Isaiah 46:10 NLT

34 His rule is everlasting,
    and his kingdom is eternal.
35 All the people of the earth
    are nothing compared to him.
He does as he pleases
    among the angels of heaven
    and among the people of the earth.
No one can stop him or say to him,
    “What do you mean by doing these things?” – Daniel 4:34-35 NLT

According to Dictionary.com, sovereignty is “the quality or state of being sovereign, or of having supreme power or authority.” And a “sovereign” is “a person who has supreme power or authority.” So, when we talk about the sovereignty of God, we’re referring to His absolute rule, control, and authority over everything He has created, including the affairs of men. A. W. Pink describes it as “the exercise of His supremacy.”

He is the Most High, Lord of heaven and earth. Subject to none, influence by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. None can thwart Him, none can hinder Him. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God

The word “sovereignty” is not commonly used today. But when we hear it, we tend to think of kings and queens, those royal personages from ancient history who wielded great power and influence over nation-states and the citizens who comprised them. These privileged potentates enjoyed tremendous influence, reigning over vast kingdoms. Unlike Britain’s modern-day royal family, these ancient heads of state were much more than mere figureheads. They were the supreme rulers over their domains, with the authority to demand unwavering allegiance from their subjects. And it didn’t matter whether they were a good king or a bad one. Even an evil queen fully expected the citizens of her kingdom to submit to her will and obey her decrees. To fail to do so would be considered a display of insubordination at best or, at worst, an act of outright insurrection.

One of the things we must understand when considering the character of God is His sovereignty. The Scriptures often refer to Him as “God Almighty” or El Shaddai in Hebrew. It most likely means “God, the All-powerful One,” and refers to His ultimate power over anything and everything. In other words, He is all-powerful. And yet, that power is not limited to His physical capacity to accomplish great feats of strength. Yes, He is able to perform acts of unparalleled might, but His sovereignty includes the authority by which He does what He does.

As the sovereign King of the universe, God is in complete control of all things. And that authority has not been granted to Him by some outside or greater force. There is nothing greater than God. In the book of Isaiah, He declares His unchallenged authority in no uncertain terms.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God…” – Isaiah 45:5 ESV

God answers to no one. He has no board of directors or parliament to whom He must report or from whom He must seek permission or approval. “Divine sovereignty means that God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the Throne of the universe, directing all things, working all things ‘after the counsel of His own will’ (Ephesians 1:11)” (A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God).

…we proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own, to dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter; then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on His throne is not the God they love. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon His throne whom we trust. – Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Vol. 2, 1856

God does what He pleases. That phrase can either encourage or enrage us. It can create in us a sense of peace and calm as we consider the unstoppable nature of His divine will. Yet, for some, the thought of God’s will going unchallenged creates a sense of fear or infuriation as we consider what we believe to be the loss of our own rights. As Tony Evans puts it: “The sovereignty of God means that He exercises His prerogative to do whatever He pleases with His creation. Why? Because, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it’ (Psalm 24:1)” (Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On).

For some of us, that last line by Tony Evans paints a picture of God that we find to be disturbing rather than comforting. And it’s most likely because we want to be the master of our own fate and the captain of our soul. We don’t mind God getting His way as long as it doesn’t interfere with our own. We like the idea of God being all-powerful, but only as long as that power is at our disposal to do as we see fit. But that’s not how it works. The apostle Paul wrote the believers in Corinth, reminding them that we exist for God’s glory, not the other way around. Contrary to popular opinion, God isn’t our personal valet or servant. He made us. But sometimes we act as if we made Him.

…yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. – 1 Corinthians 8:6 ESV

We exist because God chose it to be so. And we exist for Him. All of creation was intended to bring glory to God as it evidenced “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20 ESV). Even fallen humanity brings glory to God as He exercises His sovereign will over their lives. There is nothing that happens outside His purview or without His permission. And that should bring His children a sense of peace, confidence, and security.

…when you have a sovereign God, it means that the negative and the positive do not come by chance. The flat tire that made you miss the interview you were banking on to get that job was part of God’s sovereign plan. The situation you thought was going to work out a certain way, the job you were sure was yours which was given to someone else, was all a part of God’ sovereign plan. – Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On

The sovereignty of God is a very deep subject. But its application is quite simple. We have a God who is all-powerful and in full control, no matter how things may appear. Circumstances may give the appearance that all is lost, the future is bleak, there is no hope, and there is nothing you can do. But the apostle Paul would beg to differ. He once wrote, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV). And right before Paul wrote these words, he prefaced them with the very real nature of his life on this planet.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. – Philippians 4:11-12 ESV

It didn’t matter what Paul faced, he was content because he knew his God was sovereign over all. And Paul encouraged the believers in Rome to hang onto the sovereignty of God, no matter what they encountered in this life.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 ESV

The sovereignty of God is meant to encourage us. And the fact that our God is holy, just, righteous, and true in all that He does is what makes His sovereign will not only acceptable but preferable.

There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that sovereignty overrules them, and that sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation—the kingship of God over all the works of His own hands—the throne of God and His right to sit upon that throne. – Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Vol. 2, 1856

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

Getting to Know God

18 To whom then will you liken God,
    or what likeness compare with him? Isaiah 40:18 ESV

5 “To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?” – Isaiah 46:5 ESV

11 Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? – Exodus 15:11 ESV

18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? – Micah 7:18 ESV

For those of us who claim to know God, there is a great deal of information concerning Him about which we are ignorant and even indifferent. Some of us have known Him for decades but, if put to the test, there would be little we could share that could give evidence that we knew Him intimately. So much of what we know about God is academic, a compilation of disconnected bits of information that bear little resemblance to the one true God.

If I asked you if you knew the president of the United States, you would probably respond by telling me his name. If pressed, you could probably tell me the year he was elected, his political party affiliation, the name of his wife, and your personal assessment of his administration’s policies and programs. But the truth would be that you do not know him at all. Your knowledge of him would have been gleaned from news reports, the op-ed section of the local paper, and from the opinions of others.

Sadly, the average Christian probably has more familiarity with the president of the United States than they do with God. Some of us spend far more time keeping up with the Kardashians than we do with the Creator God. We live in the information age, a time when access to knowledge about virtually any topic or individual is at our fingertips. And yet, we suffer from a lack of intimacy with and intelligence about God.

The goal of this series of blog posts is to help us get to know our God better. To do so, we will be exploring the attributes that God alone possesses. As the verses above so clearly state, our God is without equal. He is incomparable. He is not one among many, but He stands as the solitary and sovereign God of the universe whose power, knowledge, and all-pervading presence is unparalleled and non-reproducible. God can be mimicked, but never matched. He is, to put it mildly, one of a kind. And yet, how easy it is to treat Him with a familiarity that borders on contempt.

To know God. That was the divinely-ordained objective when God created Adam and Eve. They were made so that they might enjoy unbroken fellowship and undiminished intimacy with Him. But sin changed all that. Because the first man and woman chose to disobey God, they were banned from His presence. They found themselves cast from the garden and operating in isolation from the one who had made them. And with each succeeding generation, humanity moved further and further away from the garden and, at the same time, far from the presence of God.

But God still desires for men to know Him, and not just cognitively. He longs that mankind might know Him intimately and personally. And, as the apostle Paul points out, God has revealed Himself in the universe He created. He has placed signs of His presence and proofs of His character all around us. And yet, most of humanity has remained blind to the evidence and oblivious concerning the God to whom it points.

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:19-23 NLT

Yet, as the prophet Jeremiah points out, God still longs for mankind to know Him. And He intimates that it is not only possible but preferable.

This is what the Lord says:
“Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom,
    or the powerful boast in their power,
    or the rich boast in their riches.
But those who wish to boast
    should boast in this alone:
that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord
    who demonstrates unfailing love
    and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth,
and that I delight in these things.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 9:23-24 NLT

God is knowable. But He is also irreplicable. There is nothing in all creation that remotely resembles God Almighty. Even in His thought processes, God remains distinctly different from humanity.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

Yet, we tend to view God as little more than a more powerful version of ourselves. The psalmist alludes to this common misconception when he quotes God as saying, “you thought that I was one like yourself” (Psalm 50:21 ESV). The French agnostic Voltaire said, “God created man in His own image, and man returned the favor.”

Psalm 97:9 describes God as “most high over all the earth” and as “exalted far above all gods.” He is transcendent. That simply means that He is totally distinct from all that He has made. He cannot be reproduced and there is nothing that remotely mirrors His likeness. Psalm 99:2 adds that God “is exalted over all the peoples.” Men are not mini-gods. Being made in His image does not infer that we resemble God. That is why Isaiah 40:18 asks the rhetorical question: “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” The answer is “No one and nothing!” God alone is God.

And God is in need of nothing. He has no lack or insufficiencies. He requires no complement or counterpart to complete Himself. He did not create humanity because He was lonely or in need of fellowship. There is nothing missing in God’s character. His being is whole and holy. The apostle John would have us remember that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). Timothy adds, “He alone is immortal and dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16 BSB).

And yet, God has made Himself known to men. He has displayed His divine attributes through the universe He has made. All around us, we have evidence of His power, glory, wisdom, creativity, grace, mercy, and love. Our very existence is proof that He exists. Despite man’s wisdom, no one has been able to come up with an explanation for the existence of the universe. Our most educated and well-reasoned theories are little more than shots in the dark.

In the book of Job, we have recorded the words of God as He confronts the arrogance and audacity of mere humans who question His will and His work.

“Who is this that questions my wisdom
    with such ignorant words?
Brace yourself like a man,
    because I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know so much.
Who determined its dimensions
    and stretched out the surveying line?
What supports its foundations,
    and who laid its cornerstone
as the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

“Who kept the sea inside its boundaries
    as it burst from the womb,
and as I clothed it with clouds
    and wrapped it in thick darkness?
For I locked it behind barred gates,
    limiting its shores.
I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come.
    Here your proud waves must stop!’” – Job 38:2-11 NLT

Man has no business questioning God or trying to explain the existence of the universe apart from God. All that exists, does so by the expressed will of God. He spoke and it came into being. And within all that He made God has revealed Himself. But that is the most important point regarding the solitary nature of God. He must reveal Himself to man in order to be known by man. Man cannot find God on His own. In fact, according to the apostle Paul, “no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:11 ESV). And Paul was simply echoing the sentiments of David.

God looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt. – Psalm 53:2-3 NLT

Amazingly enough, this transcendent, invisible, and unfathomable God has chosen to reveal Himself to man. And we will see more of His divine attributes on display as we continue our quest to know God better.

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

Their Works Are Nothing

21 Set forth your case, says the Lord;
    bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
22 Let them bring them, and tell us
    what is to happen.
Tell us the former things, what they are,
    that we may consider them,
that we may know their outcome;
    or declare to us the things to come.
23 Tell us what is to come hereafter,
    that we may know that you are gods;
do good, or do harm,
    that we may be dismayed and terrified.

24 Behold, you are nothing,
    and your work is less than nothing;
    an abomination is he who chooses you.

25 I stirred up one from the north, and he has come,
    from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name;
he shall trample on rulers as on mortar,
    as the potter treads clay.
26 Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know,
    and beforehand, that we might say, “He is right”?
There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed,
    none who heard your words.
27 I was the first to say to Zion, “Behold, here they are!”
    and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news.
28 But when I look, there is no one;
    among these there is no counselor
    who, when I ask, gives an answer.
29 Behold, they are all a delusion;
    their works are nothing;
    their metal images are empty wind. – Isaiah 41:21-29 ESV

This chapter opened with God calling all the nations of the earth to appear in court in order to bring their case against Him.

“Listen in silence before me, you lands beyond the sea.
    Bring your strongest arguments.
Come now and speak.
    The court is ready for your case. – Isaiah 41:1 NLT

That courtroom scene is picked up again in verses 21-29, with God standing in judgment against the false gods of the pagan nations. With a hint of sarcasm, God calls on all the idolaters to bring their so-called gods into the courtroom. Incapable of physical movement on their own, these false gods must rely upon human assistance just to appear before God Almighty. And to make matters worse, God demands that they speak up, defending themselves by providing proof for their own existence.

“Present the case for your idols,”
    says the Lord.
“Let them show what they can do,”
    says the King of Israel.
“Let them try to tell us what happened long ago
    so that we may consider the evidence.
Or let them tell us what the future holds,
    so we can know what’s going to happen.”
– Isaiah 41:21-22 NLT

God wants these non-existent gods to explain all that has happened in the world since the beginning of time. This should have been easy – except that false gods can’t actually speak. Anyone can provide a plausible explanation of the past, as long as they have the faculty of speech. But idols are speechless because they are lifeless. And if they are incapable of explaining the past, they have no hope of predicting the future. They have no idea of what is to come because they are mindless.

God demands that they predict the future as proof of their divinity. In essence, God is simply challenging them to do as He does. He demands that they measure up to His standard of divinity. But they can’t because they don’t exist. And, with ever-increasing sarcasm, God calls on them to do anything that might give evidence of their existence.

In fact, do anything—good or bad!
    Do something that will amaze and frighten us. – Isaiah 41:23 NLT

God is throwing down the gauntlet. But He expects no reply because the gods of the nations are nothing more than the figment of man’s imagination and the work of man’s hands. All of this is intended to remind the people of Judah that their God, Yahweh, is the only true God. They have nothing to fear from the gods of the Assyrians or Babylonians. And they have no reason to prostitute themselves in worship of these false gods. And God makes His point painfully clear, addressing the non-existent gods and all those who worship them.

But no! You are less than nothing and can do nothing at all.
    Those who choose you pollute themselves. – Isaiah 41:24 NLT

Later on, in this very same book, Isaiah provides an in-your-face assessment of the stupidity of idols.

How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit?
All who worship idols will be disgraced
    along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—
    who claim they can make a god.
They may all stand together,
    but they will stand in terror and shame. – Isaiah 44:9-11 NLT

Yet God, who is all-knowing and all-powerful, reveals that He will do what the false gods are incapable of doing. He will predict the future and then fulfill it.

“But I have stirred up a leader who will approach from the north.
    From the east he will call on my name.
I will give him victory over kings and princes.
    He will trample them as a potter treads on clay.” – Isaiah 41:25 NLT

God boldly claims that He will raise up a powerful leader from the north who will act as His divine instrument, accomplishing God’s will on earth. As will be revealed later in the book of Isaiah, this leader will prove to be King Cyrus of the Persians.

“When I say of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,’
    he will certainly do as I say.
He will command, ‘Rebuild Jerusalem’;
    he will say, ‘Restore the Temple.’” – Isaiah 44:28 NLT

God was going to use Cyrus, an idolatrous, pagan king, to bring about the future restoration of Jerusalem and the temple. God has already decreed that Jerusalem would fall at the hands of the Babylonians and the people of Judah would end up as captives in Babylon. But He would one day restore them, and Cyrus would be His chosen instrument.

This is what the Lord says to Cyrus, his anointed one,
    whose right hand he will empower.
Before him, mighty kings will be paralyzed with fear.
    Their fortress gates will be opened,
    never to shut again.
This is what the Lord says:

“I will go before you, Cyrus,
    and level the mountains.
I will smash down gates of bronze
    and cut through bars of iron.
And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—
    secret riches.
I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord,
    the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.” – Isaiah 45:1-3 NLT

Unlike the false gods of the nations, Yahweh could predict the future because He is the one who sovereignly controls the future. Everything happens under His watchful eye and according to His divine will. And God challenges anyone to speak up who could claim to have known about any of these things.

“Who told you from the beginning
    that this would happen?
Who predicted this,
    making you admit that he was right? – Isaiah 41:26 NLT

No one speaks up, because no one knew that any of these things were going to happen. There was not a single human being or false god who was aware of God’s future plans. And yet, all along, God had been telling His people what He was going to do.

“I was the first to tell Zion,
    ‘Look! Help is on the way!’
    I will send Jerusalem a messenger with good news.
Not one of your idols told you this.” – Isaiah 41:27-28 NLT

The idols are speechless because they are lifeless. These false gods are defenseless because they are powerless. They can’t explain the past. They can’t predict the future. They can’t provide wisdom. They can’t offer help or hope. But God can, and He does. Because He is sovereign over all.

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

Prayer Changes Us, Not God

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.

“This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised: Behold, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined. – Isaiah 38:1-8 ESV

A key to understanding chapters 38-39 and their place in the chronology of the book of Isaiah is the first three words of verse one of chapter 38: “In those days…” This is a clear reference to the events surrounding the siege of Jerusalem as described in chapters 36-37. Isaiah is providing additional information that will help shed light on all that took place in those dark days, but he is also prefacing the remaining chapters of his book.

During the height of the Assyrian invasion of Judah, King Hezekiah became deathly ill. We are not told the extent of his condition, but the prophet Isaiah delivered a divine prognosis that was anything but good news.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.’” – Isaiah 38:1 NLT

So, along with the pending invasion of the Assyrian forces and the likely fall of Jerusalem, Hezekiah had to deal with the threat of a terminal illness. All of this had to have weighed heavily on Hezekiah’s heart. He must have been confused by this unrelenting wave of bad news. After all, he had been one of the few kings of Judah who had tried to do the right thing, instituting a series of drastic religious reforms in an effort to restore the peoples’ worship of Yahweh.

Hezekiah had ascended to the throne of Judah after the death of King Ahaz, who was the poster-boy for unfaithfulness and apostasy. The book of 2 Chronicles gives a summary of some of his exploits.

The king took the various articles from the Temple of God and broke them into pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s Temple so that no one could worship there, and he set up altars to pagan gods in every corner of Jerusalem. He made pagan shrines in all the towns of Judah for offering sacrifices to other gods. In this way, he aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors. – 2 Chronicles 28:24-25 NLT

But when Hezekiah took the throne at the age of 25, “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Chronicles 29:2 NLT). One of the first things he did was to reopen the temple and recommission the Levites so that the sacrifices to Yahweh could begin again. He also revived the celebration of Passover and called the people to worship Yahweh alone. As a result, “they smashed all the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherah poles, and removed the pagan shrines and altars” (2 Chronicles 31:1 NLT). 

Yet, in spite of all his reforms and his efforts to restore the worship of Yahweh in Judah, God sent the Assyrians.

After Hezekiah had faithfully carried out this work, King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified towns, giving orders for his army to break through their walls. – 2 Chronicles 32:1 NLT

And to make matters even worse, Hezekiah was told he was going to die. If anyone had the right to ask God, “Why?” it was Hezekiah. But rather than questioning God’s actions or doubting His love, Hezekiah simply asked that his acts of faithfulness be remembered.

“Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” – Isaiah 38:3 NLT

Hezekiah was not bragging or boasting, but merely expressing his confusion over this latest bit of bad news. Isaiah describes the king as weeping bitterly. He was devastated by all that was happening to him and around him. The nation of Judah was under siege. It was just a matter of time before the Assyrians arrived outside the walls of Jerusalem. And now, he was facing imminent death. It was all more than he could handle. So, he took his hurt, confusion, and despair to God. And his prayer was heard. God gave Isaiah a second message for Hezekiah.

“This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. Yes, I will defend this city.” – Isaiah 38:5-6 NLT

This raises the often-debated question: “Can the prayers of men change the mind of God?” Was God’s prescribed will somehow altered by the prayer of Hezekiah? The text is clear that, as a result of Hezekiah’s prayer, God extended his life by 15 years. So, it would appear that Hezekiah’s death date was postponed because he prayed. But at the heart of the question lies the sovereignty of God. There is also the issue of God’s omniscience. He knows all. There is nothing that escapes His notice or that lies outside His awareness. While there are many occasions recorded in Scripture where it appears that God “changed His mind” because of the prayers of men like Moses, Abraham, David, and others, it is essential that we understand that God’s will is never altered by anyone. In fact, the book of Numbers tells us that God never changes His mind.

God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

So, what is going on here? Why did God determine to extend Hezekiah’s life? One of the things we need to always bear in mind is God’s complete and unwavering knowledge of all things. God knew Hezekiah’s heart. He was fully aware of how Hezekiah would respond to the news of his pending death. Hezekiah’s prayer didn’t change the heart of God, it changed the heart of Hezekiah. The king, faced with the news of his terminal illness, unknowingly prayed within the will of God, revealing his desire that his life be extended because he cared for the glory of God and the good of the people of Judah. God, because He is all-knowing, knew exactly how Hezekiah was going to respond and His “decision” to extend the king’s life had been part of His will all along.

God used the announcement of Hezekiah’s death to bring the king to the point of total dependence upon Him. The terminal prognosis was meant to get Hezekiah’s attention, not God’s. It was intended to bring the king to a place of total reliance upon the will of God and to remind the king of his own faithfulness. So much of this is about perspective. We see things from our limited vantage point as human beings. From our earth-bound, time-controlled view, we are incapable of seeing into the future. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. But God does. He knew all along that Hezekiah was going to live an additional 15 years because He knew how Hezekiah was going to respond to the news of his illness. Hezekiah didn’t change the mind of God, but Hezekiah’s mindfulness of God was dramatically altered. God wanted Hezekiah to know and not forget that faithfulness was the key to God’s graciousness. In a time when it could have been easy for Hezekiah to turn away from God and restore the former alters to the false gods, he remained faithful to Yahweh. He did not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.

Even during this time of trouble, King Ahaz continued to reject the Lord. He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus who had defeated him, for he said, “Since these gods helped the kings of Aram, they will help me, too, if I sacrifice to them.” – 2 Chronicles 28:22-23 NLT

In a sense, the news of Hezekiah’s terminal illness had been a test. Not of God, but of Hezekiah. And God knew that Hezekiah would pass the test with flying colors. Hezekiah’s death date did not really change. But his view of God did. And in the remaining verses of this chapter, Hezekiah will reveal the profound impact this situation had on his life and his heart. He was drawn closer to God. His reliance upon and love for God deepened. And this enhanced understanding of God’s love and faithfulness was going to be needed in the days ahead.

One of the more interesting aspects of this story is the proof that God gave Hezekiah to assure that all He had said was true.

“‘And this is the sign from the Lord to prove that he will do as he promised: I will cause the sun’s shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz!’” So the shadow on the sundial moved backward ten steps. – Isaiah 38:7-8 NLT

We know from the parallel story found in 2 Kings, that Hezekiah had asked God for a sign.

“What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me?” – 2 Kings 20:8 ESV

This was not necessarily an expression of doubt on Hezekiah’s part, but a request for some form of reassurance on God’s part. The news was almost too good to be true. So, Hezekiah asked God to provide him with a tangible sign that what He had promised would indeed take place. And God graciously and miraculously obliged.

What’s truly interesting is that God used something built by and named after wicked King Ahaz to provide faithful King Hezekiah with proof of His word. God caused the shadow of the sun to reverse itself. In a sense, time reversed itself. We are not told whether the sun itself moved backward in the sky or whether the shadow moved contrary to the position of the sun. In either case, God provided a miracle, a supernatural sign that provided Hezekiah with all the proof he required. And again, the impact of all of this on Hezekiah was profound, resulting in his penning of a poem of praise to God.

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

 

The Potter and the Clay.

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
10 For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

11 And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” 12 And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

13 And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
14 therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

15 Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”? – Isaiah 29:9-16 ESV

The people of Judah were spiritually dull and complacent. Isaiah compares them to a man stumbling around under the influence of alcohol. But he makes it clear that their stupor and instability is spiritual in nature, and it has been brought on them by God.

For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:10 NLT

Part of the punishment He has brought against them is their inability to discern the right thing to do. In spite of all their pride and arrogance, they were incapable of understanding what it was that God was doing. The signs were obvious, but their eyes were blinded to the reality of what was going on around them and to them.

All the future events in this vision are like a sealed book to them. When you give it to those who can read, they will say, “We can’t read it because it is sealed.” When you give it to those who cannot read, they will say, “We don’t know how to read.” – Isaiah 29:11-12 NLT

Isaiah, as the prophet of God, had been pleading with them to trust God. He had exposed their misplaced trust in Egypt and other pagan nations. He had warned them of God’s pending judgment. And he had made it clear that repentance was the solution to their problem. But they had remained stubbornly unwilling to listen to a word he said. And he delivers a stinging indictment from God.

“These people say they are loyal to me;
they say wonderful things about me,
but they are not really loyal to me.
Their worship consists of
nothing but man-made ritual. – Isaiah 29:13 NET

There were guilty of giving God lip-service. They claimed to be His loyal subjects, but they were simply going through the motions. Their words were not backed by appropriate actions. And what they alleged to be worship was nothing more than a set of man-made rules and rituals they performed by rote. Their hearts were not in it.

Not only that, they suffered from the mistaken impression that God Almighty was unable to see what it was that they were doing. In their warped and twisted minds, they fully believed that they could hide what it was they were doing from the penetrating gaze of God. And Isaiah gave verbal expression to their thoughts.

“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!” – Isaiah 29:15 NLT

And why did they have this remarkably naive outlook? Because they somehow believed that they had done a good job of hiding their actions from Yahweh. But Isaiah delivered the sobering news that their impressions were wrong. Deadly wrong.

What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord,
    who do their evil deeds in the dark!
– Isaiah 29:15 NLT

Of all people, the Jews should have known that their God was omniscient. Nothing was hidden from His sight. And their own Scriptures were filled with reminders of this very fact.

For the Lord sees clearly what a man does,
    examining every path he takes. – Proverbs 5:21 NLT

“Doesn’t he see everything I do
    and every step I take?” – Job 31:4 NLT

The Lord is watching everywhere,
    keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. – Proverbs 15:3 NLT

“I am watching them closely, and I see every sin. They cannot hope to hide from me.” – Jeremiah 16:17 NLT

And that same understanding of God’s all-knowing, all-seeing capacity is carried over into the New Testament. The author of Hebrews states:

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. – Hebrews 4:13 NLT

And yet, we seem to believe that we can hide our actions from God. Not only thought, we sometimes have the false impression that we can keep God from knowing what we are thinking. But David, the great king of Israel, throws a wet blanket on that perception.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:1-4 NLT

Think closely about that last line. God knows what you are going to say even before you say it. A thought, unexpressed, is not hidden from God. He knows our inner thoughts. He even knows the motivations that flow from the condition of our hearts. He can tell the difference between an act of charity done out of selflessness and kindness and one done for the self-centered reward of recognition.

But Isaiah exposes the lunacy behind their false perception of God.

“Your thinking is perverse!” – Isaiah 29:16 NET

The Hebrew word Isaiah used is hophek, and it literally means “to turn things upside down.” The people of God were guilty of twisting the truth and perverting the reality of God’s omniscience. In a sense, they were guilty of wishful thinking. They could only hope that God was blind to what they were doing. But He wasn’t. And to press home his point, Isaiah uses a metaphor that compares God to a potter and Judah to clay.

He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
“He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
“The potter who made me is stupid”? –
Isaiah 29:16 NLT

God wasn’t like a lifeless lump of clay. They were. The Creator-God who made each and every one of the people of Judah was not the one who was ignorant, blind and clueless. They were. And they had no right to question what God was doing around them or to them. They were like clay in the hands of the Potter, and He would do with them as He wished. Their compliance was not needed. Their submission was not necessary. And their denial of God’s omniscience or omnipotence did not diminish His knowledge or power one iota.

God had sent His prophet, Jeremiah, with a similar word of warning to the people of Israel. He too used the metaphor of the potter and the clay.

“O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.

“Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’” – Jeremiah 18:6-11 NLT

But the people of Israel suffered from the same problem as the people of Judah. They were too stubborn and incapable of grasping the significance of the prophet’s words. So, they responded:

“Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.” – Jeremiah 18:12 NLT

How ridiculous their words sound. How arrogant and ignorant can they be? And yet, as the people of God, we far too often exhibit the same characteristics. We boldly reject the words of God, demanding that we be allowed to live our lives the way we want to. We stubbornly determine to do things our way, rather than obeying God’s will for our lives. And we ignorantly assume we can hide our thoughts and actions from God. But He knows. He sees. And, as the Potter, He does what He has to do to mold His children into the vessels of glory.

Centuries later, the apostle Paul picked up on Isaiah’s metaphor of the potter and the clay and used it to address to believers in Rome.

But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special occasions and another for common use? – Romans 9:20-21 Berean Bible

God will do what He has to do to bring about the transformation He has planned. His will is never thwarted. His design is never altered. In our arrogance and pride, we may believe that are the ones in control. But Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul would have us understand that God alone controls our destinies. And it is far better to submit to His will than to resist it.

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