The promises of God often lose their power in our lives because God himself has become small in our eyes.
We may be able to recite God’s promises by the dozens. But in our hearts, God is no longer the King who conquers armies and cuts a valley in the sea. He is no longer the Shepherd who seeks his sheep and keeps them safe behind his staff. He is no longer the Lord who walks on waves and calls the dead back from the grave. Slowly, subtly, we have forgotten God’s power, God’s wisdom, God’s tenderness.
When the promises of God seem powerless to quiet our fears, soothe our grief, lift our worries, or motivate our obedience, we need to do more than simply hear his promises again. We need to behold the God who gives them.
In Isaiah 40, the prophet speaks to a group of broken Israelites. The nation that once shone like the stars in the sky had been blackened by exile.
As Israel looked back from Babylon, the promises of God seemed buried. How would God give Israel an everlasting kingdom when they were slaves in a foreign land (2 Samuel 7:13)? How would God make Israel a blessing to the world when a curse had fallen on them (Genesis 12:3)? How would God raise up from Israel a serpent-crushing king when they were under Babylon’s heel (Genesis 3:15)?
We can ask similar questions when we remember God’s promises from the wreckage of our circumstances. We can look ahead to a life of unwanted singleness and ask, “How can God satisfy me?” We can look back at a devastating failure and ask, “How can God forgive me?” We can look up from the crater of some loss and ask, “How can God comfort me?”
In those moments, we need God to do for us what he did for Israel. We need him to come alongside us, remind us of his promises, and then say, “Behold your God” (Isaiah 40:9).
Who is the God who gives his promises to us? He is the God of might, who created the world by his word. He is the God of wisdom, who makes a way in the wilderness. He is the God of tenderness, who carries his children home. And he is bigger than all of our problems.
Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him. (Isaiah 40:10)
Behold the God of might, who created the world by his word.
The God who speaks his promises to us is the same God who said, “Let there be light,” and the darkness fled (Genesis 1:3). When he speaks, stars burn and planets lock into orbit; rivers run and oceans fill earth’s floors; valleys sink and mountains race to the sky. The grass in all the world may wither, and the flower on every hillside fade, but the word of him who made them will stay and stand forever (Isaiah 40:8).
Are your troubles as untamed as the ocean? God holds them in the hollow of his hand (Isaiah 40:12). Are your sorrows as vast as the heavens? God measures them like a carpenter at his workbench (Isaiah 40:12). Are your burdens as heavy as the hills? God picks them up and puts them on his scale (Isaiah 40:12).
Your problems may be massive, but your God is mighty. The sun will fail to shine sooner than his word will fall to the ground — no matter how big our problems.
Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? (Isaiah 40:13)
Behold the God of wisdom, who makes a way in the wilderness.
The Israelites thought their future as a nation had fallen with Jerusalem’s walls, and that not even God could raise them up again. “My way is hidden from the Lord,” they said. “My right is disregarded by my God” (Isaiah 40:27).
But Israel’s exile had not taken God by surprise, nor had it cast them out of his sight. “Have you not known?” Isaiah asks. “Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God. . . . His understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28). When Israel was lost in the wilderness of exile, and saw no way of getting back home, God paved a highway right through the desert (Isaiah 40:3).
No trouble is too tangled for God to untie. No path is too twisted for him to straighten. No heart is too shattered for him to gather up and put back together.
Your problems may be bewildering, but your God is wise. He sees you. He knows every detail of your trouble. And he knows how to come alongside you as you wait for him and make you rise up with wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31).
He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11)
Behold the God of tenderness, who carries his children home.
Before God thunders forth his majesty in Isaiah 40, he speaks to Israel with the gentleness of a mother’s hush: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1). God is not eager for his people to be tormented and storm-tossed. He wants us to know him as the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).
If God’s might shows us that he is powerful to fulfill his promises, and if his wisdom convinces us that our circumstances are no exception, then his tenderness assures us that he delights to use all his might and wisdom in love for weak people like us. He is the Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to find his lost and wandering one. And when he finds him, he bends down, gathers him up in his arms, and carries him all the way home (Isaiah 40:11).
Your problems may be agonizing, but your God is tender. Place all your fears and frailty before him, and ask him to quiet you with his love.
Seven hundred years after Isaiah told Israel to behold her God, John the Baptist picked up the prophet’s words and preached them in the Judean wilderness: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low . . . and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:5–6; Isaiah 40:4–5).
Then John stepped aside as a man walked over those valleys and hills and made his way through that wilderness. He was a man of might, who bound hell’s armies and brought heaven’s kingdom. He was a man of wisdom, who silenced the scribes and spoke the very words of God. He was a man of tenderness, who healed the sick and heralded God’s favor.
And then he lay down beneath the biggest of our problems, and allowed them to beat him, bludgeon him, bury him. But only so he could carry our curse to the grave, sink it deep into the ground, and then rise up in the power of an indestructible life. Every promise from God comes to us now through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20), the God with scars on his hands.
Your problems may be big, perhaps even bigger than you know. But your God is bigger, and his promises to you are stronger and surer. So, look up from your problems. Listen again to God’s powerful, wise, and tender voice. And then ask God to help you behold him.
By Scott Hubbard