(If this day is the Fourth Sunday in Advent, please refer to that day
in the list of devotions.)
Israel’s Sovereign God
“I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (vss. 5, 18). This is the theme of this chapter. And to back up this claim, God (the God of Israel, that is, the One whose name is the LORD, or Yahweh, or just plain, I Am – who is identified in the New Testament as the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – that God) presents his resume: He creates light and darkness, well-being and calamity, the heavens and the earth, all the peoples and their ways. He speaks the truth and declares what is right. There is nothing He cannot do; indeed, there is nothing that has happened that He has not done. The Lord asks rhetorically: “Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles?’” The Apostle Paul takes up this very verse and topic in Romans 9.
The sovereignty of God is a great mystery of the faith. By “sovereignty,” we mean His dominion and control. God rules over all. He decrees what will take place ahead of time. No, he doesn’t just know what will happen ahead of time; He wills what will happen ahead of time, which makes it certain to come to pass. This is why there were prophets and prophecies: what point would there be in these if God did not decree what He willed to take place? Because God is sovereign, the chapter begins with God’s calling and anointing of Cyrus, the Persian king (a pagan to be sure but God can use anyone He wishes) who would allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Here, Isaiah prophesies the event almost 200 years before it happened.
This doctrine of God’s sovereignty is difficult. Perhaps this is why Isaiah says, “You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” No, God does not violate our freedom of will; He uses our wills to fulfill His will by wooing or turning us this way or that, according to our natures. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but Pharaoh was more than willing to be hardened; Judas must betray Jesus to fulfill the Scriptures, but he was willing to do just that. Though some struggle with it, the purpose of this doctrine is to comfort believers. We are not to pry too deeply into it, but accept it as given. I, for one, cannot live in a world of chance, where we are merely billiard balls bouncing off of one another. This teaching of Scripture lets me know that nothing happens without His will, and as Paul said centuries later: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). And so God can say in v. 23, “To me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear allegiance,” as recorded again in Phil. 2:10.