Elijah is still depressed. His declaration of the situation to God focuses on what’s wrong with his ministry. Has he forgotten about Obadiah, the burned-up sacrifice on the Mt. Carmel, or the deluge of rain that came at God’s command? Not to mention the miracles Elijah had done for the widow and her son!
Even after the “theophany,” or encounter with God through a storm, earthquake, and fire, Elijah’s view of his situation remains unchanged. His response was identical. Then Elijah heard the “sound of a gentle whisper,” also known as the “still small voice” in other translations. It was then that Elijah came out from the cave where he had been hiding.
I’m not sure I would want a god that I had to carry around. That doesn’t sound all that appealing. Certainly not very powerful! Our God, on the other hand, is powerful and very much involved in our lives. “I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age.”
I think, too, of the beautiful image created in the poem “Footprints.” If you’re not familiar with that, imagine your life as a stroll on the beach. You see two sets of footprints in the sand as you are walking with God. Then, during the challenging times of your life, you see only one set of footprints and wonder why God would abandon you. He was carrying you, the one set of footprints belonged to the Lord. That’s the kind of God I want!
Chapters 34 and 35 are considered a match set. In our last reading we had judgment, and in this reading comes the hope. I’m also learning a lot about the literary style of Isaiah. I didn’t realize that scholars see a distinction between First Isaiah (Chapters 1-39) and Second Isaiah (Chapters 40-66). We’ve just read Chapters 34 and 35 which are usually considered a bridge between the two, and Chapters 36-39 are like a snapshot in history that we have yet to cover. I’m always fascinated to learn cool facts about the Bible and how it has been designed with such intention.
We have an intentional God. He has been known to allow certain things for those who love him, as we have seen, that have been less than enjoyable. We can look around our world today and see plenty of examples of that! The important thing for us to keep in mind is there is always hope on the other side of any trial or judgment. “There the Lord will display his glory, the splendor of our God.” We see that time and again in Scripture. It just makes sense that it is a pattern we can trust as well.
Then at last, those who are left remaining after all is said and done, “will faithfully trust the Lord, the Holy One of Israel.” That was God’s hope at least. He didn’t want them to depend on the Assyrians or other powers. God wanted the people to trust him. God is also making a statement by allowing, if not orchestrating, the oppression that is to befall them. It is a definite “wake-up call” to see who is going to stay the course and represent the remnant.
Isaiah has done a great job of painting the picture of the destruction coming their way. As a result of their actions and behaviors, “the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, has already decided to destroy the entire land.” There was nothing that could be done to stop it. The people would see terror like their ancestors had at the hands of Egyptians. Those memories were no doubt kept alive and remembered each time Passover was celebrated. For those that listened to Isaiah, God had given them a hope to cling to.
What was the first thing that went through your head when you read today’s text? For me, it was singing Handel’s Messiah with several different choirs over the years. The song “For Unto Us A Child is Born” is now running through my head. But before this glorious promise of a child, there is a time of darkness and despair. Isaiah’s words are meant to give the people a glimmer of hope, or a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. The promise, when fulfilled, will be bigger than anyone could have imagined.
Don’t you love these words, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” I don’t know about you, but I feel like we, too, are living in a world full of darkness. There are many people who are feeling oppressed, unheard, and stifled in sharing their faith in Jesus. It seems like the darkness is taking over the land. My confidence is in Jesus, and I stand firm knowing Jesus is the light of my salvation (and yours, too). The apostle John referred to Jesus as the “light” in John 1:9, “The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” I love who John is inclusive here of “everyone.” Jesus came for all the world.