Does God Favor the Rich, Powerful and Established Or The Poor and Powerless? A Meditation on Isaiah 40. #162
Hello friends, and happy Monday to you! I hope your celebration of the Lord’s Day was joyful, edifying and instructive. Our church read through Jesus’ letter to the church at Ephesus, calling them to return to their first love – a passion for Him. Today’s Bible passages could all stand on their own for a whole episode, and so it was tough to choose what to focus on.
Deuteronomy 12 tells that that because ‘life is in the blood,’ followers of God must not eat blood – they must pour it on the ground, and never consume it. A discussion of this dynamic could be an episode. Most Americans don’t eat blood – no blood puddings, or things like that. Other cultures actually have such things as staples in their culture. While I believe that Christians are no longer under the Old Testament law, but the New Testament covenant, prohibitions like this one in Deuteronomy 12 make me wonder, since this command is based on principle that has not changed.
Psalms 97 contains a very vivid and almost ominous description of God and His surroundings.
Clouds and total darkness surround him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
3 Fire goes before him
and burns up his foes on every side.
4 His lightning lights up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
5 The mountains melt like wax
at the presence of the Lord—
at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
Over and over we have seen God in Scripture – especially in the Old Testament – surrounded by darkness, fire, lightning and power. I believe that this is the real appearance of God to all of those who are sinners – all of humanity. That He is depicted in a somewhat different way in the New Testament is not due to a change in God Himself, but to a change in those who are followers of Jesus. Because Jesus has taken our sins away, we are able to ‘boldly’ enter into His presence and see Him in His beauty.
Revelation 10 is a very short and mystifying chapter, but it does depict what I believe is likely an archangel, or at the very least, an incredibly powerful angel. Consider this incredible description of the unnamed angel:
Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face was like the sun, his legs were like pillars of fire, 2 and he held a little scroll opened in his hand. He put his right foot on the sea, his left on the land, 3 and he called out with a loud voice like a roaring lion.
Revelation 10: 1-3
We could have focused on any of those chapters today, and gotten some rich content out of them, but instead we are focusing on an iconic chapter in Isaiah – chapter 40, the ‘wings like eagles’ passage. Interestingly, as I was typing that sentence, my eyes fell on a small sculpture I have on my desk of a flying eagle, that has the passage from Isaiah inscribed on it. I had forgotten it was there until just this moment.
When I say iconic, I mean that Isaiah 40 has some of the more memorable and powerful Scriptures in the Bible. It stands up there with passages like John 3, Psalms 23, Genesis 1, Philippians 4 and 1 Corinthians 13. There are plaques, posters, pictures, calendars, statues and Bible covers all around christendom that contain verses inscribed on them from these chapters. Sometimes with iconic chapters and verses, we just sort of assume that we know them and then ignore them, but I think that is a mistake. I’ve been reading and rereading Psalms 23 for the last couple of months, for instance, and finding fresh truth and comfort there – not stale bread crumbs. Isaiah 40 might have some familiar passages, but it is so long and rich and deep that it is not familiar to most. Let’s read it as a whole and then discuss our focus question.
First of all, I just want to highlight the deep and profound truth of Isaiah 40:6-8. This is a wonderful passage to meditate on:
A voice was saying, “Cry out!”
Another said, “What should I cry out?”
“All humanity is grass,
and all its goodness is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flowers fade
when the breath of the Lord blows on them;
indeed, the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flowers fade,
but the word of our God remains forever.”
That passage makes you feel small in the same way that being beside the ocean under the canopy of the stars at 1am when nobody else is on the beach makes you feel small. It puts things into perspective, and prepares us to meditate on the love of God for humanity and His gentleness towards us, which, in turn, makes the spirit soar.
See, the Lord God comes with strength,
and his power establishes his rule.
His wages are with him,
and his reward accompanies him.
11 He protects his flock like a shepherd;
he gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them in the fold of his garment.
He gently leads those that are nursing.
Behold the awesome power and majesty and eternality of our God while also marvelling at His gentleness, nearness and watchcare!
And yet, as we continue reading we see that this God of gentleness, who is like a loving shepherd, has a vastness and a level of power and wealth that humanity cannot begin to comprehend:
Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are considered as a speck of dust on the scales;
he lifts up the islands like fine dust.
16 Lebanon’s cedars are not enough for fuel,
or its animals enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him;
they are considered by him
as empty nothingness.
Surely one as powerful as God – one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and literally has more wealth than a thousand earths combined – surely He would favor those who are powerful and mighty – those who are rich and elite, correct? Well, actually…no.
He reduces princes to nothing
and makes judges of the earth like a wasteland.
24 They are barely planted, barely sown,
their stem hardly takes root in the ground
when he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind carries them away like stubble.
25 “To whom will you compare me,
or who is my equal?” asks the Holy One.
Wow – He brings princes and judges to nothing? That’s sort of alarming, right? Surely if God has no regard for the mighty, powerful and wealthy, He barely even notices the poor and powerless, right? Again, the answer is no:
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the whole earth.
He never becomes faint or weary;
there is no limit to his understanding.
29 He gives strength to the faint
and strengthens the powerless.
So – we see yet again that God looks with great favor on the lowly and the powerless – He strengthens them.
6 For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar. Psalm 138:6
Toward the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor. Proverbs 3:34
One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. Proverbs 29:23
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted Matthew 23:12
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate Luke 1:52
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. 1 Peter 5:5
So – does God favor the poor or the rich? I think the best answer is that God favors the lowly and humble – no matter what their bank account says…though it should be noted that there are many warnings throughout Scripture to the rich. Not that they should immediately become poor, or despise themselves, but that they should never look down on others, or be haughty, or trust in their money, etc. As Isaiah tells us, the one who trusts in the Lord will have renewed strength and vigor – soaring like eagles, and running without fatigue. The Just shall live by faith.
Youths may become faint and weary,
and young men stumble and fall,
31 but those who trust in the Lord
will renew their strength;
they will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not become weary,
they will walk and not faint.