Why can’t we get past the quagmire of distress and despair when we are experiencing life’s great disappointments? Where does hope come from? The short answer is God, but why do we so often settle for gloom and doom? For the vast amount of time, the history of Israel and Judah were threatened or subjugated by foreign kingdoms and empires. The issue for them, as it is for us in any situation, is where we are placing our trust. Where is the place of real security? In Isaiah 8, we discover that Isaiah and his children’s names were to be signs to the nation of God’s faithfulness in delivering His people from the threats around them. Even as the nation of Judah was trying to overcome threats to their sovereignty, they needed to discover that God was their only real hope and refuge. The temptation was to look to alliances with other nations, to trust in their own human ingenuity, but Isaiah was warning them that this was a false hope and would lead to even greater disappointment. What was true for them is equally true for us. We must find our strength and hope in God. When we truly rely on God, we will experience a renewal of hope. God is faithful! Here in this time of great trial we find some of the most amazing verses that speaks to us of the Christmas story. Possibly the most notable verse speaking of what transpired that first Christmas is Isaiah 7:14; “Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” In Matthew’s gospel we discover the significance of this name. “‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’) – Matthew 1:23.” In every crisis in life, we need that assurance that God is with us. Here in Isaiah 8, we discover the incredible challenge that was before the nation. They were once again being threatened by outside forces, which, in turn, was causing internal polarization and division among the people. Isaiah then speaks these amazing words of reassurance that God is with them.
Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us.[i]
What is Isaiah saying? That when people rise up against God’s people, not as an instrument of God’s correction but as a strategy to destroy His people, their plans will fail. Why? Because God is not only for His people, but He is with His people. God will protect and help His people. Do we understand this in our moments of challenge, that if God is for us, who can be against us! God is with us even now in this season of time, despite a pandemic, inflation, and broken supply lines. God is with in illness, financial pressure and relational tensions. God is with us!
It was critical for the people in Isaiah’s hour, just as it is for us, to live in this quiet confidence and hope and not allow what we see happening around us to terrify us and imagine the worse. Isaiah’s voice was certainly a minority. It was a voice that called for faith in God, rather than fear and dread. One of the temptations in crisis is to become paranoid and assume all kinds of things that are not true. God encouraged even Isaiah with these words: Don’t be afraid of what others are afraid of.
This is what the LORD says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:
‘Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.
The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.
He will be a holy place; for both Israel and Judah he will be a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.[ii]
Conspiracy theories abounded, even in Isaiah’s day. Kerry McRoberts in his book, ‘New Age or Old Lie?, warns against making everything a conspiracy.
The elusive They [conspirators] are shrouded with mystery and intrigue as they work behind the scenes of everyday life. They are veiled with obscurity as far as the unsuspecting public is concerned, but conspiracy theorists have taken up the challenge of snapping all of the puzzle parts together and identifying these sinister culprits as:[iii]
communism, the illuminati, Neo-Nazism, the Mafia, the Rothschilds, international bankers, the Masons, the Catholic Church…the Council on foreign relations, the Rockefellers, the Tri-Lateral Commission, occultism, Zionism, the Bildebergers, satanism, etc. Some take the position that all of these are interconnected, highly organized and controlled by one mastermind, a political genius.[iv]
…Some conspiracy theorists are competent, qualified scholars; however, all too often they are also extremists guilty of oversimplifications and broad unfounded generalizations. Far-fetched allegations are so common that the serious scholar of conspiracy theory is greatly handicapped in his efforts to establish a believable case. Competent conspiracy investigation usually deals with isolated historical events whereas the less competent world conspiracy theorists virtually ascribe sovereignty to Them.[v]
What McRoberts is saying is the vast majority of theories are unfounded. May we heed the warning of Isaiah and not allow these unwarranted fears to grip our souls. We need to understand that God is in control of our world and not some evil group or person. So, if what we are experiencing is not a worldwide conspiracy, how do we move forward in this present hour? How should we respond to all that is happening in our world today? We are going to look at three biblical responses to confusing times.
THE FIRST RESPONSE TO CONFUSING TIMES IS A CALL FOR PATIENCE AND TRUST IN GOD
The most difficult thing to do in times of difficulty is to wait patiently for God to act. The human response is that we want to do something. Waiting patiently for God is very difficult. That requires that we are trusting God to act. We see God showing us that this is the right response to danger, fear, and darkness. When the Israelites were leaving Egypt, God directed them to the Red Sea. When they saw the armies of Egypt ready to swallow them up, they panicked. Moses, speaking on behalf of God, relates God’s message to them.
Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.
The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.[vi]
Now in this new context, the nation of Judah was looking to Assyria to deliver them from the northern tribes of Israel and a Syrian alliance, rather than trusting God as Isaiah was challenging them to do. We can never control what others do to us, but we can respond in the right way, by trusting God for help.
Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore the Lord is about to bring against them, the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates— the king of Assyria with all his pomp. It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck. Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, Immanuel![vii]
That which they were trusting in would ultimately turn on them, which is exactly what happened in the days of Hezekiah where Assyria invaded the land and was able to conquer all of it except Jerusalem.
What about us? How do we respond to the various threats that come against our wellbeing?
Do we entrust ourselves to God? Do we find strength in the Lord? Listen to the apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians and to us as believers.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.[viii]
What is the everything he is talking about here? We have put on the whole armor of God. We are putting our faith in God’s word rather than in human ingenuity. Listen to what Isaiah tells his generation.
Bind up this testimony of warning and seal up God’s instruction among my disciples.
I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my trust [qawa] in him.[ix]
We are to put our confidence in what God has to say and what He will do. We are to allow God to work. Alec Motyer relates: “Just as learning from the word (16) is a disciple’s hallmark, so is patient faith. Wait (qawa, 40:31) combines patient waiting with confident expecting.”[x]
Here we read that God was hiding his face, which is an expression of His disfavor. We must realize that God’s correction upon people affects even the lives of his faithful servants.
Ahaz [King of Judah who forged the alliance against God’s warning] alienated the favor of the Lord, and Isaiah and his group were not immune from the ensuing darkness, but within that darkness they had the light of ‘waiting for the Lord.’[xi]
Isaiah reminds all of us that there is no one who is equal to our God. Regardless of the general correction in our land, which we are all impacted by, we have the hope of God’s favor coming upon us.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.[xii]
The word that the NIV translates as ‘hope’ and the KJV translates as ‘wait’ is that Hebrew word qawa. It is waiting for God to act. It is an active faith, not a passive resignation. It is that patient waiting with confident expectation because we are trusting in God.
THE SECOND RESPONSE TO CONFUSING TIMES IS TO EMBRACE GOD’S MESSAGE RATHER THAN THE FALSE MESSAGING
We hear so much today about fake news. People are saying it is difficult to know what to believe. We need to return to God’s word. We need to find wisdom, comfort and grace from the Scriptures. God has a word for every season of life and for every generation. We need to return to Him and seek His face and hear His voice. Isaiah was trying to compete with all kinds of voices in his hour, but he was God’s spokesperson.
Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.[xiii]
The prophet Isaiah was speaking God’s message both in word and in his life’s activity. Yet, rather than listening to the sure word of the Lord, people were being deceived by turning aside to false messengers.
When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?[xiv]
Just like in Isaiah’s day, people today are turning away from God to false messages. Mediums are people who are channels between the earthly realm and the world of spirits. These behaviors were forbidden by God and would defile the land with the ensuing result of judgment. It was because of these practices that the Canaanites and ultimately the nation of Israel were displaced from the promised land. God had warned His people that the nations that they were dispossessing in the land ‘listened to those who practiced sorcery and divination, and these things were forbidden by God.
When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination, or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD; because of these same detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the LORD your God. The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.[xv]
John Oswalt points out:
…the temptation was strong to turn to spiritism. Having lost the only real source of confidence, belief in an all-wise and all-loving creator, they turned to more limited but supposedly less-demanding sources. [John] Mauchline is undoubtedly correct when he points out that the revival of superstition is concomitant [something that happening as a result of] with the loss of faith. Our own age confirms this. We have proclaimed ourselves as being of age and thus no longer in need of the supernatural. But in fact the cosmos cannot be explained in purely physical or natural terms. Thus if we will not have the Spirit who asks for our commitment to him, we must sooner or later have the spirits, who appear to ask for nothing, but in fact intend to make us slaves.[xvi]
When people turn from God they turn to idols which are simply the demonic world. In my recent series on the ‘Spirit of Truth and Error, I pointed out the dramatic increase we see today in the occult inspired spirituality. In 2014, while working on a postgraduate course on the book of Hebrews we were given an intriguing assignment. To help us understand of how popular the study of angels had become, we were to visit at least two bookstores and see what they carried in this field of interest. I was shocked at how large the New Age sections of bookstores have grown and the obvious interest in our current culture as it relates to a spirituality which includes angels, spirit guides and other occultic practices. What was also eye-opening for me was that one of the groups espousing their legitimacy are practitioners in the field of psychology. One author has a PhD in counseling psychology. She is the founder of Angel Therapy; a type of New Age therapy based on the idea that “communicating” with angels is the key to healing.” Her web page even promotes the names of ‘certified mediums.’ There is no question in my mind that many people in our culture are obsessed with angels, the supernatural, and are looking for spiritual answers in an environment that denies the centrality of Jesus Christ, the Church and the Scriptures. Notice how Isaiah points us back to God and His word.
Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.
Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged, and looking upward, will curse their king and their God.
Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.[xvii]
When we listen to the voices of darkness it will only produce distress, darkness and fearful gloom. The result of turning away from God is a state of rebellion in the human heart. Here we see in verse 21 they are ultimately cursing God.
THE FINAL RESPONSE TO CONFUSING TIMES IS TO EMBRACE GOD’S PROMISED KING AND KINGDOM
God is about to do a new thing. God’s promise is that where once gloom and darkness overshadowed the land and people, where oppression and defeat had come, there now would come a new age and a new realm.
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.[xviii]
What is the prophetic word pointing toward?
Waiting in faith and hope (8:17), the remnant is sustained by the forecast of the great light that shines beyond the darkness. It is a sure hope – so sure that, according to Hebrew idiom, it is even written in past tenses as though it had happened already. Because of this confidence Isaiah can place the light of 9:1ff. In immediate proximity to the darkness of 8:22, not because it will immediately happen, but because it is immediately evident to the eye of faith. Believers walking in darkness can already see the great light and are sustained by hope.[xix]
A. The humbled with be honored.
What we see is that these two most northern tribes were the first to be defeated and assimilated by the Assyrian Empire. In that hour of great trial, there are only two responses that we can embrace. We will either wallow in despair or find hope that sustains us in the trial.
The darkness and distress are real but they are neither the only reality nor the fundamental reality. In any given situation we can either sink into despair or rise to faith and hope. Isaiah insists that hope is part of the constitution of the here and now.[xx]
Matthew picks up on this text to describe that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Isaiah texts found in 9:1-7.
Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.[xxi]
Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s words. No wonder Jesus challenged the Pharisees.
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.[xxii]
Eternal life is found not in the Scriptures themselves but in the person that the Scriptures point to the Lord Jesus Christ. We move from darkness to light, from despair to hope when we put our trust in Jesus Christ. Since these verses speak of Jesus how did Jesus go about shining that light.
From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near (Matthew 4:17).’”
Jesus, the king is calling us to himself and His kingdom. We will either respond to His call or turn away from sin and self and submit to Him. When we respond to Christ’s call, it fills us with hope, light and joy; but when we rebel against His call, we struggle with despair, darkness and defeat.
B. God promises to defeat the enemies of His people.
You have enlarged the nation; and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.[xxiii]
Here Isaiah points back to another time of great despair in the history of Israel. God’s people had rebelled against God, and were under the Midianite scourge. God heard their cry for relief and raised up Gideon and a small remnant, who defeated that incredible army because God fought for His people. God broke the rod of their oppressor. God is looking for the few who will trust Him and obey Him in this hour.
C. A Royal Son will rule righteously.
For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.[xxiv]
God’s rule comes according to Isaiah and fulfilled according to Matthew in the Son. What a powerful description of the person and work of Jesus.
Wonderful Counselor” combines the idea of doing something “wonderful, extraordinary, miraculous with the skill of “giving wise advice, making plans, counsel.” This suggests that this son’s life will somehow exhibit “miraculous acts of God.[xxv]
2. Mighty God speaks of God as a Mighty Warrior who defeats all of His enemies.
3. Everlasting Father is often confusing because God, the Father is distinct from the Son. The idea here is that father should be understood as the source of ‘eternal life.’ [Just like Satan is the father or source of all lies], So Jesus is the source or father of eternal life.
As John writes, He that has the Son has eternal life (cf. John 17:3).
4. Prince of Peace: Jesus not only reconciles us to God and brings peace with God, but we also have the peace of God in our hearts. God’s kingdom brings peace, Then when Jesus returns again, all the enemies of God, from Satan, sin and death will be defeated and we will enter into a glorious age of peace.
We are invited to leave the gloom and darkness behind and begin to anticipate God’s glorious kingdom of grace, hope and light. In his book, 90 minutes in Heaven, pastor Don Piper, shares how he was in a severe car accident and pronounced dead by the EMT’s on the scene and was neglected for 90 minutes. In those moments, Don reached the gates of heaven and was interacting with those believers he knew who had died, and were overjoyed to welcome him home. Then, just as he was about to enter through the gates of Heaven itself, he came back to life in his shattered body, trapped in his car. The road to recovery was very painful and difficult. He had just experienced a joy and bliss, he had never known to return to 13 grueling months of physical, emotionally and spiritual recovery. He battled with depression. He wanted to return to heaven. Then one day as he was listening to some worship music, the lyrics hit him. It was a song recorded by The Imperials entitled: ‘Praise the Lord.’ When you’re up against a struggle that shatters all your dreams, And your hopes have been cruelly crushed by Satan’s manifested schemes. And you feel the urge within you to submit to earthly fears, don’t let the faith you’re standing on seem to disappear – Praise the Lord, He can work through those who praise Him, Praise the Lord, for our God inhabits praise. Praise the Lord, for the chains that seems to bind you, Serve only to remind you that they drop powerless behind you. When you praise Him, Now Satan is a liar and he wants to make us think, That we are paupers when he knows himself we’re children of the King. So lift up the mighty shield of faith for the battle must be won, We know that Jesus Christ has risen so the work’s already done.
God wants to move us beyond gloominess to living in anticipated hope. When we surrender to Christ, we can have a song in our heart, and live with a quiet confidence that God will see us through whatever adversity we are currently experiencing.
[i] Isaiah 8:9-10, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[ii] Isaiah 8:11-14.
[iii] Kerry McRoberts, ‘New Age or Old Lie?, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989), 101.
[iv] D. Hicks and D. Lewis, The Todd Phenomenon (Harrison, AR: New Leaf Press, 1979), 17-18 As quoted by Kerry McRoberts, ‘New Age or Old Lie?, 100.
[v] Kerry McRoberts, ‘New Age or Old Lie?, 100-101.
[vi] Exodus 14:13-14.
[vii] Isaiah 8:6-8.
[viii] Ephesians 6:10, 13.
[ix] Isaiah 8:16-17.
[x] J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 18, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1999), 85-86.
[xi] Ibid, 86.
[xii] Isaiah 40:28, 31.
[xiii] Isaiah 8:18.
[xiv] Isaiah 8:19.
[xv] Deuteronomy 18:9-14.
[xvi] John Oswalt, The Book Of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 236.
[xvii] Isaiah 8:20-22.
[xviii] Isaiah 9:1-2.
[xix] J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, 87.
[xxi] Matthew 4:13-16.
[xxii] John 5:39-40.
[xxiii] Isaiah 9:3-5.
[xxiv] Isaiah 9:6-7.
[xxv] Gary Smith, Isaiah, New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2007), 240.