“In God We Trust” is stamped on the back of every coin and dollar bill in my wallet. But it’s the $20 on the front that I often trust in more. “We all have control issues,” said the preacher last Sunday. Amen to that.
Do you struggle to trust God like I do? Sometimes our faith is shaken by personal problems–illness, unemployment, divorce, betrayal. But these days I’m struggling to trust God for our national problems, specifically the coming election.
Two weeks from today we will cast our vote for our next president. By the end of the day, we will probably know the name of the winner. But, the Winner, whoever he may be, can’t guarantee the future of our country. These days our bigger enemy is tribalism. Our country has become so deeply divided, that some folks fear civil war, more than the outcome of the election, and have written convincingly about it. Today’s “Elections 2020” post covers Isaiah 7 & 8.
Isaiah’s God, Ahaz’s Fear
In Isaiah 6, our last post, we met God, Isaiah’s God, who is the True God Who Rules over Everything. We saw this Lord through Isaiah’s words–high and lifted up. Holy beyond our imagination. We were given a glimpse of his utter supremacy and blinding holiness.
It was a vision meant, first of all, to bring us–the readers–to our knees because we are both small and unholy. But after God himself cleanses us and lifts us to our feet, then the vision is meant to fill us with confidence. The God in whom we trust is THIS God, and in his presence we feel confident. He is able to handle any crisis, whether in ancient Judah or in 2020 America.
However, trusting God feels different in real time. When two enemies just north of him (Israel and Syria) threatened the tiny southern kingdom of Judah, King Ahaz (2 kings after Uzziah) was terrified. Two against one isn’t exactly fair play. How would the tiny southern kingdom of Judah be able to stand against the unholy alliance of Israel and her northern neighbor Syria?
King Ahaz wasn’t just afraid, he was tempted. You know how that is. Temptation follows the scent of fear like a hound chasing a rabbit.
In Myself I Trust
When I quit trusting God, where do I turn? To myself, of course, because I’m so awesome. My plans–from Plan A all the way down to Plan Z–seem wiser than God’s because they’re tangible. When they don’t work like I’d hoped, I figure I can always tweak my plan and try again. It takes a lot for us to give up on ourselves.
Knowing that tendency, God sent Isaiah off to reassure King Ahaz. But the king wasn’t in the palace, he was out checking the city water supply. He was making Plan D–what to Do in case of a Disaster–“Doomsday prepping” in the words of our preacher.
Isaiah could see King Ahaz’s actions, but only God knew the temptations of his heart. Fear was the king’s greatest enemy. Israel and Syria would NOT succeed in pressuring Judah into their unholy alliance against Assyria. God would not allow it. But Ahaz must trust him. God calls him to,
“Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint (Isaiah 7:4).”
Why? Because Israel and Syria’s plans won’t work! That’s what God announces beforehand through Isaiah, “Israel and Syria will be defeated. Your only chance is to trust me.”
It won’t work! What a clear and helpful word.
“How’s that working for you?” my counselor friend used to ask me, after I’d told her my personal strategy for fixing my problems. I could only shake my head. Self-help wasn’t helping. Trusting God is the only way forward, because it is the polar opposite of trusting ourselves. God’s word to Isaiah is meant for all his people:
“If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all (Isaiah 7:9b).”
Trusting God Begins with Asking
It may be simple to trust God, but it’s not easy. The hardest part is to turn from trusting yourself. After that it becomes simple. You simply ask God for what you need.
I’m floored when I realized that it’s God himself who invites us to ask him. He initiates all prayer by this gracious invitation, Ask. That’s precisely what the LORD said to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” (Isaiah 7:10).
But I’m really floored by our polite refusal, “Um. Thanks, but no thanks.” We make excuses: I couldn’t. Or I shouldn’t. Or I don’t have time right now.
That’s the answer King Ahaz gives to the Divine invitation. God sends Isaiah to the King to say, “Ask me. Ask me for a sign.” But the king, in some sort of display of false humility says, “Oh, no, I couldn’t. How dare I? I mean, wouldn’t that be testing the LORD??”
Busyness doesn’t find time to pray, but false humility actually talks ourselves out of praying, because who needs to trust God when you’ve still got some plans up your sleeve? When we’re desperate, we ask. When we don’t ask, it means we haven’t run out of options yet.
Self-trust dulls our need to trust God. That’s why Ahaz didn’t say yes to God’s word, and that’s why we don’t too.
God’s Grace to the Prayer-less King
But Isaiah’s answer showcases God’s grace, “You’re wearing God out with your unbelief, but he’s going to give you a sign anyway.” That’s grace. When God withholds what we deserve, and gives us what we don’t deserve, that’s grace.
In rejecting God’s offer of a “sign”, Ahaz deserved to be attacked and defeated by his enemies. But instead God is both gracious and true to his covenant promises. Thus he gives Ahaz a sign even though he refused to ask. It is both sign and promise:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).”
Immanuel. God is with us. God will be with us. We might be unfaithful, but God will be faithful to the end.
This is unquestionably the most famous verse from Isaiah 7-8 for most of us. It’s a refrigerator magnet promise. It sings to us from Handel’s Messiah. Furthermore, when Joseph was seriously considering divorcing Mary because of her pregnancy, the angel reassured him that this was God’s doing, not Mary’s hidden unfaithfulness. Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 to prove this point.
Unfortunately, King Ahaz didn’t respond to this divine promise with an Amen! Instead he still refused to trust God, despite the prophet’s words. Incredibly, he reached out to a bigger ally instead–to the massive superpower Assyria.
Ahaz forfeited peace by not trusting God’s word. Instead of fearing God, he feared his enemies. And his fears came true.
By contrast, Isaiah did place his trust in this word from God, and the result was confidence. Confidence that defied the circumstances; peace that passed understanding.
“And I will wait expectantly for Yahweh, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will wait confidently for him (Isaiah 8:17).”
Will You Trust Me?
Who am I trusting this election season? No matter how we choose to vote, our confidence must not be in the outcome of the election, but in the Sovereign Lord who rules the past, present, and future.
Where do we find such confidence? Through prayer. Instead of letting our fears rule us, we must rule our fears by bringing them to God. In that way his peace will rule our hearts no matter the outcome.
Prayer is key for another need, too. We also need the wisdom of God to make our choice on election day. That’s “the most obvious lesson” Alec Motyer learns from Isaiah 7-8:
“…how concerned we should be to make our elections of our leaders a much more prolonged and committed matter of prayer than we usually do…”
Isaiah By the Day, p. 51
When God says, “Ask me” let’s say YES! And keep asking until he gives us the wisdom and peace we need for Election 2020.