False Gods are Powerless to Call the Shots — Isaiah 41:21-29

Our culture loves to try to predict the future. Look at the sports world. Every day there is an entire gambling industry built around the prospect of being able to pick which team will win – and even more importantly – the overall point spread. As if that does not provide enough of a challenge, when it comes to the upcoming Super Bowl there will be all sorts of exotic side bets: Not just the normal under-over in terms of overall point total, but just about anything you can imagine – here is just a sampling from last year’s Super Bowl:

–          Will Richard Sherman get a taunting penalty? (4/1 on yes)

–          Coin toss: Heads or tails?

–          Peyton Manning total passing yards over/under 289

–          Will the player who scores the first touchdown have a jersey number above or below 79.5? (Even)

–          Who will be seen on TV first Pam Oliver (46%) or Erin Andrews (54%)

This lust for predicting extends to many other realms as well:

  • In the field of Economics, the arrival of the New Year means that one must demonstrate their crystal ball proficiency in predicting the performance of the Dow Jones and the stocks that will be the best picks
  • Politics is a never-ending game of using the polls to predict the outcome of every race
  • When it comes to Entertainment, the experts weigh in ahead of time on who will win every imaginable coveted award

There is something magical about demonstrating the wisdom and insight and even gut feel to be able to call the shots ahead of time. And yet nobody but God would claim to be able to control the future to such an extent that they could be right all of the time.

We learned earlier in the chapter that GOD CALLS ALL THE SHOTS. Now the courtroom drama is revisited (after the interlude of verses 8-20) and the corollary truth is driven home:  FALSE GODS / IDOLS ARE POWERLESS TO CALL THE SHOTS.

REQUIRE ANY SO-CALLED GOD TO PROVE HIS WORTH —

God goes on the offensive here against idolatry and false gods – He demands that they man up and prove their claim to be worthy of worship.

 FALSE GODS ON TRIAL

Young: This verse illustrates the true method of Christian apologetics. Falsehood is here placed upon the defensive; it is commanded in the name of the God of Israel to defend its cause and to point out its justification for existence. There are difficulties in the acceptance of Christianity, but the Christian need not be expected to answer every difficulty. Rather, he must challenge the very right of unbelief to a hearing.

Idolatry is not just an OT topic – remember, an idol is anything that would try to rival God in your affections – anything that you would substitute for the worship of the true God as revealed in Scripture

  • Romans 1:22-23
  • I Corinthians 10:6-20

I.  (:21-24) THE CASE FOR IDOL-GODS FALLS FLAT

A.  (:21) Courtroom Call to Present Evidence

“’Present your case,’ the LORD says.

‘Bring forward your strong arguments,’ The King of Jacob says.

Constable: The court case with the nations—begun in verses 1-4, but interrupted with comfort for the Lord’s servant Israel in verses 5-20—now resumes.

All of the false gods are closely associated with specific nations – the rise and fall of that nation’s fortunes are tied to the power of their respective god

Here the Lord God identifies Himself as the King of Jacob – the people of Israel – though they be but worms in terms of their innate wisdom and power, they have become invincible by reason of their sovereign King

Here the idol-gods are challenged to marshal their best arguments – present the strongest case possible for their legitimacy and worthiness; bring forward your witnesses; this is your opportunity to prove your point

Court is in session – not just the Supreme Court … but the Celestial Court

Like a showdown at the OK Corral in the Wild West – the two sides are going to stage a duel; only one will be left standing

B.  (:22-23) 3 Challenges to Demonstrate Supernatural Insight and Sovereign Control

This confrontation will focus around 3 key tests – either you can perform and you are legitimate or you can’t perform and you are a fraud —

  1. Interpret Recent History

As for the former events, declare what they were,

That we may consider them, and know their outcome;

Creation – what is your belief system about Origins … and how that leads to your belief system about where things are headed and the ultimate meaning in life

Parunak: The third person refers to the gods in whom the summoned nations trust. Then he addresses the false gods directly. “Shew the former things” is imperative, not jussive. He presents the false gods with three challenges, each followed by a purpose clause. In fairy tales, an adversary often poses three challenges to the hero. That is what the Lord does to the false gods. . . Before asking for a prediction, he invites an explanation of the true nature of what has already happened. . . Explanation is difficult because men can’t say what would have happened if the past event had not occurred . . . Assessing the true impact of things requires knowing counterfactuals, and without a repetitive experimental environment, these are inaccessible.

Constable: Can they explain history? Are they able to explain how past events will unfold in the future? Can they predict the future and bring it to pass? In a word, are they transcendent? This would prove that they were really gods.

Motyer: Can they look with discernment at an event and say where it will lead? Can they foretell the future by understanding the past?

Oswalt: What separates God from the gods is this concept of absolute transcendence that allows him to act independently of the system and to predict what the system will do in new and as yet unexperienced situations.

  1. Predict the Future Accurately

Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place . . .

Or announce to us what is coming. Declare the things that are going to come afterward,

That we may know that you are gods;

Parunak: Many false gods pretend to make prophecies, but their prophecies are ambiguous riddles. Croesus, king of Lydia (western Turkey), consulted the oracle at Delhi in Greece about whether he should make war with Cyrus of Persia. The Delphi replied with a prophecy: “If you attack, you will destroy a mighty kingdom.” Croesus did attack, but the kingdom that was destroyed was his own, not that of Cyrus. Pagan prophecies are nothing like God’s promise that a deliverer named Cyrus will set free captive Israel and send them home from Babylon. That is a specific, testable prediction, so much so that humanistic scholars are forced to conclude that it was given after the event.

Are you familiar with the modern day error of Open Theism?

Definition from CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry): Open Theism is a theological position dealing with human free will and its relationship to God and the nature of the future. It is the teaching that God has granted to humanity free will and that in order for the free will to be truly free, the future free will choices of individuals cannot be known ahead of time by God. They hold that if God knows what we are going to choose, then how can we be truly free when it is time to make those choices–since a counter choice cannot then be made by us, because it is already “known” what we are going to do.

So God is in a position of reacting to the free will choices of man … God might have Plan A … but then He is quick on His feet to adjust to man’s decisions and go with Plan B or Plan C, etc. These theologians still want to maintain that somehow God could inspire the Old Testament writers to prophesy certain events, and then He could simply ensure that those events occurred at the right time. But if God is not in control of every detail … how can He be in control of any detail?? The bottom line is that this movement undermines the sovereignty, majesty, infinitude, knowledge, existence, and glory of God and exalts the nature and condition of man’s own free will.

Passages like this one in Isaiah are the clear refutation of this position of Open Theism.

  1. Initiate Activity That Demonstrates Sovereign Control

Indeed, do good or evil,

That we may anxiously look about us and fear together.

Put forth your best effort to strike terror in my heart – make me fear you.

So works of either deliverance or judgment that demonstrate your deity

Oswalt: here Isaiah is alluding to the argument that the true God can do something that is a radical break with what has happened before (e.g. 42:9). He is not locked into endless repetition of what he has done before. He is free. Are the so-called gods free?

Illustration:

– Numbers 16:30 — example of how the true God does something completely new and dynamic;

– 1 Kings 18:27 – Elijah mocking the prophets of Baal

C.  (:24) Conclusion \ Verdict – Idols are Worthless / Worshippers are Detestable

Behold, you are of no account, And your work amounts to nothing;

He who chooses you is an abomination.

Behold” ends this section and ends next section as well (:29)

Parunak: “Abomination” is an extremely strong word for the things that the Lord hates. It’s used in the OT to describe such activities as idolatry, witchcraft, and sexual perversion, and reflects a deep emotional revulsion. Those who follow after idols make themselves detestable to him.

Deut. 7:25-26 What does the Lord find to be an abomination?

1 Cor. 8:4-6 – Idols are nothing says the Apostle Paul

Not a very politically correct evaluation – Can you imagine how that would go over in today’s world if you described any other religion in those terms … not exactly showing respect to Islam or Judaism or …

[Quotes about showing respect for the religion of others]

II.  (:25) THE CASE FOR THE KING OF JACOB RINGS TRUE –

THE DEMONSTRATION OF SUPERNATURAL INSIGHT AND SOVEREIGN CONTROL – THE TRUE GOD MEETS THE 3 CHALLENGES

A.  Interpret Recent History

I have aroused one from the north, and he has come;

Parunak: In vv. 2-3, Cyrus is said to be “from the east,” but here he is also “from the north.” Cyrus was head of the Medio- Persian empire, which extended from eastern Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) to Afghanistan. It thus lay both to the north and to the east of Israel.

Matthew Henry: Cyrus’ father considered a Mede and his mother a Persian

B.  Predict the Future Accurately – Carrying out Specific Prophecies that Proclaim the Name of the Lord

From the rising of the sun he will call on My name;

Grogan: From the standpoint of Palestine, Cyrus originated in the east and carried out major conquests in the north

It was from the North that invaders would enter the land of Israel and attempt to conquer them

Parunak: “shall he call upon my name” — At first glance this statement seems peculiar. It seems to say that Cyrus relies on the Lord for help, though in Isa 45:4, 5 God twice says to Cyrus, “thou hast not known me.

The action, “call upon the name of the Lord,” is elsewhere done by godly people: Abraham (Gen 12:8), Isaac (Gen 26:25), Elijah (1 Kings 18:24), and the restored nation in Isa 12:4. We naturally take it to indicate trust in the Lord. But that’s not its primary meaning. When we studied this expression in Gen 4, we saw that its distinctive meaning is “making proclamation with the name of the Lord,” uttering the Lord’s name in a loud and public way. In fact, Cyrus did this.

Ezr 1:1-2 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

This is clearly a public proclamation, and he clearly names YHWH, the God of Israel. The Lord’s prediction is not that Cyrus himself will consciously rely on the Lord for help, but that he will magnify and exalt the God of Israel. . .

The point of the image combines the lowly nature of the conquered (nothing more than mud or clay) and the absolute superiority of the coming conqueror (bringing them completely underfoot).

Beall: Cyrus will “call on My name” in the sense that he will do the Lord’s will, in essence authenticating the Lord’s prediction and in such a way to proclaim the Lord’s name (so Motyer, 317; there is no evidence that Cyrus was a believer, and 45:4 seems to indicate that he did not know the Lord).

Motyer: because the rise and career of the conqueror matches foregoing predictions, he will by his actions proclaim the name of the Lord

C.  Initiate Activity That Demonstrates Sovereign Control

And he will come upon rulers as upon mortar,

Even as the potter treads clay.”

Young: Just as the potter is able to trample upon the clay with which he works, so will this conqueror trample under foot his enemies.

Characteristics of this Conqueror:

  • Ruthless
  • Taking advantage of every vulnerability – what if your whole wall was composed of mortar?? It would not be very strong – the mortar just fills in the cracks and makes the connection between the blocks or stones or bricks
  • Dominating
  • Invincible

Constable: The Lord, in contrast to the idols, claimed that He would do something in the future and predicted what it would be. He would arouse a conqueror from the north, one who was presently dormant, as if sleeping. This individual proved to be Cyrus the Persian (44:28; 45:1), who originated in the East and the North in reference to Palestine. He would call on the Lord’s name in that he would proclaim the reputation of the Lord by fulfilling His prophecy (cf. Ezra 1:2-4), not by worshipping Yahweh exclusively. He would thoroughly defeat his enemies.

III. (:26-29) THE FINAL ANALYSIS = THE BRIEF OF THE COURT

Similar to a Supreme Court brief – a written legal document used in various legal adversarial systems that is presented to a court arguing why one party to a particular case should prevail.

A.  (:26) Only God Predicts the Future

  1. Where is the One Predicting the Future?

Who has declared this from the beginning, that we might know?

Or from former times, that we may say, ‘He is right!’?

  1. Nowhere to Be Found

Surely there was no one who declared,

Surely there was no one who proclaimed,

Surely there was no one who heard your words.

Cf. vague prophecies like Chinese fortune cookies

B.  (:27-28) Only God Can Interpret the Events of History

  1. (:27) Where is the One Interpreting the Events of History

Formerly I said to Zion, ‘Behold, here they are.’

And to Jerusalem, ‘I will give a messenger of good news.’

Liberal scholars approach to dating of Daniel and Isaiah:

Presupposition: It is predictive and specific so it can’t have been written ahead of time

  1. (:28) Nowhere to Be Found

But when I look, there is no one,

And there is no counselor among them Who, if I ask, can give an answer.

C.  (:29) Conclusion / Verdict – Idols are Useless

  1. False vs. Genuine

Behold, all of them are false;

  1. Worthless vs. Productive

Their works are worthless,

  1. Lacking Substance vs. Substantive

Their molten images are wind and emptiness.

Constable: Cyrus would be a messenger of good news in two senses: his coming would validate the truthfulness of Isaiah’s prediction of his coming, and his coming would mean return from captivity for the Jewish exiles (cf. Ezra 1:2-4).

CONCLUSION:

One of last NT books = John’s first letter ends: “My little children keep from idols

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1 Comment

  1. william cary

    excellent resources