Another Installment from R. C. Ortlund’s Commentary on Isaiah 45

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Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
Greetings beloved of God,

The text below is from this morning's devotions. I thought it well worth sharing.

The strategies of God are surprising. No one less than Isaiah himself marveled at how God pursues his plan.

Truly, you are a God who hides himself,[4]​
O God of Israel, the Savior. (Isaiah 45:15)

No one watching the Jews struggling to rebuild Jerusalem back then and no one watching Christians struggling to serve God today would think that the future lies with the gospel. Do people look at the church and think, “If only those Christians were running the world”? But God hides his greatness in our commonness. He hides his wisdom and power in the foolishness and weakness of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18–2:16). Frederick William Faber, the nineteenth-century hymn-writer, understood how God works:

Workman of God, O lose not heart,
But learn what God is like,
And in the darkest battlefield
Thou shalt know where to strike.
Thrice blest is he to whom is given
The instinct that can tell
That God is on the field when He
Is most invisible.
He hides himself so wondrously,
As though there were no God;
He is least seen when all the powers
Of ill are most abroad.
Ah, God is other than we think;
His ways are far above,
Far beyond reason’s height and reached
Only by childlike love.
Then learn to scorn the praise of men
And learn to lose with God,
For Jesus won the world through shame,
And beckons thee his road.[5]​

It’s hard to see the beginning of the new heavens and the new earth in Christian believers today. But it’s here, because God has put the power of the resurrection of Christ within us (Ephesians 1:15–23). The truth hidden from natural eyes is, “Israel is saved by the Lord with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity” (Isaiah 45:17).

If you have difficulty believing this gospel, Martin Luther might be able to help. He used to speak of “the hidden God” versus “the revealed God.” His counsel was this: “If you accept the God who is revealed, the hidden God will be given to you at the same time.”[6] In other words, if you accept what is clear to you from the gospel, God will give you more understanding of what is unclear. Accept as much of the offense as you can, and in his mercy God will help you take the next step into fuller assurance. No one has ever trusted God without benefiting from it.

“Assemble yourselves and come;
draw near together,
you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge
who carry about their wooden idols,
and keep on praying to a god that cannot save.…
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:20, 22)

Look how God reasons with us. Look at the way he invites us to rethink our lives. The problem with our idols is not that they break down now and then, like home appliances. The problem is, they’re completely useless. When they seem to be helping us, we are in fact experiencing the goodness of God, but without thanking him (Romans 1:21). There is no life, no salvation, no hope at all except in God alone. Our part is to turn away from our worthless idols and turn to the living God. If we will, we can’t help but experience salvation because God cannot fail to be God to us. The whole point of creation and history is for God to glorify himself by saving us. Your salvation is not ultimately about you; it’s about God. He is both perplexing and faithful because he is God, and we should accept that.

“By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;
to him shall come and be ashamed
all who were incensed against him.
In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
shall be justified and shall glory.” (vv. 23–25)

Don’t be incensed against God. He is glorifying himself by being himself. And his being God is our salvation—if we’ll have him. Someday each one of us will bow before Jesus Christ crucified as God’s Ultimate Surprise (Philippians 2:9–11). If you’ll look past his unimpressive followers now, if you’ll trust him enough to join him in the way of his cross, you will bow then in the deepest joy forever. But if you cling to your hurt feelings and dashed expectations and broken dreams and stubborn pride, and if you insist on sulking and having things your own way, you will bow unwillingly then, to your eternal exclusion and regret. And the saddest part will be, you will deserve it. This is his ultimatum, and the moment to decide is now.

C. S. Lewis wrote a series of children’s stories in which the Christ figure is a lion. In one scene a girl named Jill bursts into an opening in a forest. She’s thirsty. She spies a stream not far away, but she doesn’t rush forward to throw her face into its refreshing current. Instead she freezes in fear because a lion is resting in the sun right beside the stream.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.​
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.​
“Then drink,” said the Lion.​
“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.​
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.​
“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.​
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.​
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.​
Do you eat girls?” she said.​
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.​
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.​
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.​
“Oh, dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer.​
“I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”​
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.[7]​

[4] The ESV reads, “yourself,” but the literal rending is “himself.”
[5]The Church Hymnary: Revised Edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1927), #520.
[6] Theodore G. Tappert, ed., Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1955), p. 133; cf. Blaise Pascal, Pensées (Franklin Center, WI: The Franklin Library, 1979), #194; J. I. Packer, “Mystery,” in Concise Theology (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), pp. 51–53.
[7] C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair (New York: Collier Books, 1970 reprint), pp. 16, 17. Italics his.

Ortlund, R. C., Jr., & Hughes, R. K. (2005). Isaiah: God saves sinners (pp. 301–304). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
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