Recovery of Worm Theology — Isaiah 41:8-20

Facing Hostility and Weakness with Courage, Strength and Rejoicing —

We are talking this morning about the recovery of Worm Theology. The great theologians and hymn writers of centuries past understood the doctrine of Total Depravity. They could sing with great conviction: “Would you devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” A worm is the lowest of God’s creatures. Certainly not attractive – not powerful – not desirable (unless you need bait for your fishing poles). Yet our modern day advocates of self esteem would have us change the lines of such hymns to try to put a more positive spin on the condition of man.

Piper: Satan has master-minded a phenomenal victory in the American church. By teaching us through a thousand lectures and articles and books that we are too valuable to be called worms, he has made it impossible for us to sing “Amazing Grace” with truly amazed hearts. The more beautiful and valuable man is made to appear, the less amazing it is that God should love him and help him. The gospel of self-esteem is healing our wounds very lightly. The wings of self-worth that carry us briefly out of fear will quickly weary and drop us in despair some day. For, as John Newton said in his hymn, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.” Where the glory of God’s free and sovereign grace pales in the shadow of human self-esteem, there will one day be a great shudder of fear.

DESPITE OPPOSITION AND WEAKNESS, GOD’S COVENANT PEOPLE HAVE NO NEED TO FEAR AND MUCH CAUSE FOR REJOICING

The nation of Israel had much to fear as it faced the prospect of entering into the 70 year Babylonian captivity – talk about oppressive opposition and harsh hostility; nowhere would their weakness be more evident ….

I.  (:8-14) NO NEED TO FEAR (DESPITE OPPRESSIVE OPPOSITION AND APPARENT WEAKNESS) – TAKE COURAGE

How can you effectively deal with Fear apart from the recovery of Worm Theology?

Dennis Davidson: In his first INAUGURAL SPEECH in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the newly elected president of the US, addressed a nation that was still reeling from the Great Depression. Hoping to ignite a more optimistic outlook regarding that economic crisis, he declared, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”

Fear often shows up in our lives when we are at risk of losing something-our wealth, health, reputation, position, safety, family, friends. It reveals our natural desire to protect the things in life that are important to us, rather than super-naturally entrusting them to God’s care and control. When fear takes over, it cripples us emotionally and saps us spiritually. We’re afraid to tell others about Christ, to extend our lives and resources for the benefit of others, or to venture into new territory. A fearful spirit is more vulnerable to the enemy, who tempts us to compromise biblical convictions and to take matters into our own hands.
The remedy for fear, of course, is trust in our Creator. Only when we trust the reality of God’s presence, power, protection, and provision for our lives can we share the joy God intends for us. Trust in the Lord is the cure for a fearful spirit.

A.  (:8-10) SECURITY / STRENGTH — Divine Security and Strength for God’s Servant People to Persevere – Based on Their Privileged Relationship To Their Covenant God

[Last week’s message]

  1. Chosen to Be Secure in God’s Love – Key to Family Identity

 a.  Servant Relationship – Privileged with Great Expectations for Future Blessing

                         “But you, Israel, My servant,

b.  Covenantal Relationship – Completely Unworthy – but Unimaginable Favor

Jacob whom I have chosen,

c.  Friendship Relationship

descendant of Abraham My friend,

  1. Called to Follow God’s Guiding Hand – Key to Discipleship

You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,

And called from its remotest parts

3. Commissioned to Serve God – Key to Purpose in Life

a.  Servant Relationship

                        “And said to you, You are My servant,

b.  Covenantal Relationship

I have chosen you

c.  Friendship Relationship – Additional emphasis here

and not rejected you.

4.  Comforted by the Abiding Presence of God – Key to Experiencing God’s Peace

a.  Antidote for Fear = Presence of God – in the context of a personal relationship

                         “Do not fear, for I am with you” – Believe this

b.  Antidote for Anxiety = Power of God – in the context of personal relationship

Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.” – Take courage

5.  Confirmed by the Enabling Grace of God – Key to Victorious Living

a.  Strength / Power in your weakness – Weakness no excuse

                          “I will strengthen you,

b.  Sufficiency / Enablement to accomplish the will of God – Inability no excuse

                         “surely I will help you,

c.  Sustenance / Support to persevere – Weariness no excuse

Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

B.  (:11-12) SAFETY — Divine Devastation and Judgment Upon the Oppressing Opponents

1.  (:11a) Angry Opponents Dishonored

Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonored;

Parunak: The most general line emphasizes their inner attitude.

2.  (:11b) Contentious Opponents Defeated

Those who contend with you will be as nothing, and will perish.

Parunak: “Striving” is the Hebrew word ??? that refers to a lawsuit, a legal complaint.

3.  (:12a) Fighting Opponents Dispatched

You will seek those who quarrel with you, but will not find them,

Parunak: The noun describing the adversaries appears only here in the OT, but the verb from which it is derived describes a physical brawl, and is used of the two Israelites whom Moses attempted to separate in Egypt (Ex 2:13).

4.  (:12b) Warring Opponents Destroyed

Those who war with you will be as nothing, and non-existent.

Constable: The anger of Israel’s enemies against her would prove to shame them. Their claims against Israel would come to nothing, their opponents would vanish, and their enemies would cease to exist. Increasing opposition would become increasingly ineffective. Those nations that would meddle with this servant would have to contend with an all-powerful Master.

Motyer: verses 11-12 consist of four balanced lines, musical Hebrew of true Isaianic quality. In contrast to the surrounding theme of the servant who seems to have every reason to be afraid, it is rather the enemies whose hopes are disappointed (11ab), who come to nothing (11cd, 12cd) and who cannot be found (12ab). . . There is an a-b-a-b arrangement: the opponent’s experience (11a); utter disappearance (11b); the servant’s experience (12a); utter disappearance (12b).

C.  (:13-14) SUPPORT / SUFFICIENCY — Divine Support and Sufficiency for God’s People – Despite Wormlike Weakness

Repetition of comforting promises of vs. 10 — now in chiastic reverse order

1.  Sustenance / Support to persevereDon’t Give Up

For I am the LORD your God, who upholds your right hand,

Beall: The three verbs which have been prominent in this section are all used in this verse: qz;x’, “strengthen,” arey”, “fear,” and rz:[‘, “help.” The nations are afraid: they try to help one another and strengthen one another by strengthening their idols; but God tells Israel not to fear, for He will strengthen their right hand, and He will help them! What a glorious end for those whose hope is in the Lord! (see 40:31)

strengthen‘amats – to be strong, alert, courageous, brave, bold, solid; make firm, assure

help`azar – to help, succour, support

upholdtamak – to grasp, hold, support, lay hold of, hold fast; to hold up

2.  Sufficiency / Enablement to accomplish the will of GodDon’t Fear

Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.

Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,’

declares the LORD,

Beall: God is going to help the lowly worm Jacob (compare Job 25:6 and Ps 22:6 where it is used of the Messiah).

Scott Grant: The Lord now calls Israel a “worm,” another term evoking weakness. Israel itself will feel humiliated, like a worm, in exile. Again, the Lord tells Israel not to fear, because he will help her. Whereas in the first image the Lord was Israel’s righteous king, here he is her redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. A redeemer is one who comes to the aid of next-of-kin. Israel, which feels as if it’s a worm, is nonetheless the next-of-kin of the Lord himself. . .

Motyer: The transformed worm – this picture of comfort is of one essentially feeble who becomes dominant.

Francis Quarles: Feast for Wormes (1620)   [Excerpt from Meditation 2]

Good God! how poor a thing is wretched man?
So frail, that let him strive the best he can,
With every little blast he’s overdone;
If mighty Cedars of great Lebanon
Cannot the danger of the axe withstand,
Lord! how shall we, that are but bushes, stand?
How fond, corrupt, how senseless is mankind?
How feigning deaf is he? how wilful blind?
He stops his ears, and sins; he shuts his eyes,
And, blindfold, in the lap of danger flyes:
He sins, despairs; and then to calm his strife
He chuseth death, to baulk the God of life.
Poor wretched sinner! travel where thou wilt,
Thy travel shall be burthen’d with thy guilt:
Climb tops of hills, that prospects may delight thee,
There will thy sins like wolves and bears affright thee,
Fly to the valleys, that those frights may shun thee,
And there, like mountains, they will fall upon thee:
Or to the raging seas, with Jonah, go;
There will thy sins like stormy Neptune flow.
Poore shiftless man, what shall become of thee?
Where-e’er thou fly’st, thy griping sin will flee.

 

3.  Strength / Power from the Only SaviorDon’t Look Anywhere Else

and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.’

Oswalt: Here the focus changes from defense to offense. Not only will God defend his people against those who trouble them, but he will make them the very tool in his hand to tear down any obstacle that would thwart his plans for them. . .

What these connections serve to indicate is that God is able to carry out the tasks of the redeemer. He is strong enough, creative enough, and compassionate enough that no other being in the universe will be able to prevent him from carrying out his plan.

Redeemer: 43:14; 44:6, 24; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7, 26; 54:5, 8; 59:20; 60:16; 63:16 – one who delivers from bondage by payment of a ransom; also used of kinsman-redeemer

Holy One of Israel: 43:14; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5

II.  (:15-20) MUCH CAUSE FOR REJOICING — BOAST IN THE LORD

A.  (:15-16a) Two Images of Power Over Your Enemies

1.  Image of Threshing

Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges;

You will thresh the mountains, and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff.

Constable: The Lord would transform the helpless worm, a tiny thresher of the soil, into a powerful threshing sledge—by giving her His power. Threshing sledges were heavy wooden platforms fitted with sharp stones and pieces of metal underneath. Farmers dragged them over straw to cut it up in preparation for winnowing. The sledge that Yahweh would make of Israel, however, would be so good that it could chop down mountains and hills, not just straw. The modern equivalent would be giant earth-moving equipment.

Scott Grant: A threshing sledge was used to drag fields to chop straw in preparation for being separated from the grain by the winnowing process. The chopped straw, or chaff, and the grain would be tossed into the air with a winnowing fork, and the chaff would be blown away, leaving the grain. Israel, transformed from a worm into a threshing sledge by the Lord, will thresh not just fields but mountains, pulverizing them, and the hills will be like chaff-effects that could be achieved by no normal threshing sledge.

Grogan: The hills are not now the location of the threshing floor but are themselves threshed! In this way the prophet stresses the powerful instrument God would make of this apparently insignificant people.

2.  Image of Winnowing

You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away,

And the storm will scatter them;

Elimination of Israel’s enemies

B.  (:16b-20) Central Image of the Lord’s Abundant Provision of Water and Shade in Parched Desert Conditions – Boast in the Lord

1.  (:16b) Mindset of Victorious Rejoicing

But you will rejoice in the LORD,

You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.

Is this our mindset this morning?

2.  (:17) Mercy of the Lord to Provide Relief from Affliction

a.  Seeking Relief

The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none,

And their tongue is parched with thirst;

b.  Providing Relief

I, the LORD, will answer them Myself,

As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.

Oswalt: Perhaps, the greatest curse of well-being, whether physical, material, emotional, or spiritual, is that it lures us into believing we are self-sufficient, especially in matters of the spirit. . . It is when our neediness, in whatever realm, has taught us that the cosmic Lord, on whom we depend absolutely, longs to bless those who bring their needs to him, that we have learned the greatest lesson of life.

3.  (:18-19) Miracle of Transforming the Desert Into a Lush Paradise

a.  Miraculous Transformation by Providing Water

     1) On the Hills and Valleys

I will open rivers on the bare heights,

And springs in the midst of the valleys;

 2) On the Dry Desert Plains

I will make the wilderness a pool of water,

And the dry land fountains of water.

Grogan: It may be understood as three different but connected fulfillments. In relation to the return from exile, it will be figurative, indicating simply that God would supply all that his people needed. In relation to the eschatological future, it may represent a literal transformation of the environment of God’s people (cf. Rom 8:18-22). In the light of the NT, it may also relate symbolically to the complete fulfillment of very spiritual need in Christ.

b.  Miraculous Transformation by Providing Shade Trees

I will put the cedar in the wilderness,

The acacia, and the myrtle, and the olive tree;

I will place the juniper in the desert,

Together with the box tree and the cypress,

Constable: He would also provide the other necessity in the wilderness of life’s experiences beside water, namely: shade. All the trees mentioned (seven in all) were shade trees, but they did not normally grow together. This enhances the picture of God working wonders to provide for His people. Seven may symbolize the complete perfection of God’s work in this connection. The emphasis on water and trees also marks Genesis 2:10- 17, suggesting a return to Edenic conditions.

4.  (:20) Message of God’s Power and Character Communicated

a.  Enhanced Perception

That they may see and recognize, and consider and gain insight as well,

Parunak: Note the sequence of awareness that they experience:

see.–First, they will sense the change. Their thirst will make them all the more aware of what God is doing. Sometimes he lets us suffer so that when his blessings come, we will notice them. Isa 26:9 when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.

know.–Their experience of the change will lead to the knowledge that God is in control.

consider.–The single word ??????? is an abbreviation for the full phrase ???? ?? , which means literally “set one’s heart on,” and thus “pay attention.” We don’t think deeply about all the knowledge that we have, but through the experience that God gives them, his people are led to such meditation on the fact of his deliverance.

understand.–The verb describes insight that leads to success. In Gen 3:6, this is what the woman saw that the tree was able to do: “a tree to be desired to make one wise.”

Scott Grant: The supernatural provision is designed so that the people may “see,” “recognize,” “consider” and “gain insight” into something. For different words are used to convey the exercise of perceptive faculties. The people are supposed to understand that “the hand of the Lord has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it.” What the Lord will have done is created an entirely different kind of land, transforming an uninhabitable desert into a lush paradise. The description of the land is reminiscent of the garden in Eden (Genesis 2:8-14) and the promised land (Exodus 3:8). This imagery promises that the Lord will continue providing for Israel as its journey continues.

Young: Those who see will not be like the blind and ignorant who seek to explain the regenerating work of God upon naturalistic presuppositions of one kind or another. Rather, their own blindness and ignorance will be removed, and they will understand this supernatural regeneration for what it actually is, a manifestation of the power of Israel’s God.

b.  Effectual Providence – Revealing Power and Character of God

That the hand of the LORD has done this,

And the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Oswalt: Here God’s purpose in electing and delivering his people is stated as directly as it is anywhere in the book. It is in order that people may recognize who God is by reflecting on his creative, miracle-working power in Israel.

CONCLUSION:

We are worms indeed – make no mistake. We have demonstrated the sinful nature passed down to us since Adam by our willful rebellion and selfish choices. We have experienced the weakness of being unable to redeem ourselves or live a victorious life on our own. We understand our lowly condition. We have no merit or ability of our own to commend ourselves.

But we have no need to fear because God in His sovereign grace has chosen to deliver us and redeem us so that we now experience His strength and security and safety and support and sustaining power. We face the future with Confidence … not Fear. We make our boast in the God who wants to demonstrate His power and character to the world by making us trophies of His grace. Let’s embrace with thankful hearts the biblical theology of worms.

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