Sunday, June 16, 2013

Isaiah 45 God's Sovereign Rule over the Nations

Isa 45:4-7 "For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you (Cyrus) by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things." 

Isa 45:11-13 "This is what the Lord says — the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty." 

Isa 45:22-25 "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, 'In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.'" All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the Lord all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult."

Cyrus was the Persian king who gave the edict to release the dispora Jews dwelling in his kingdom to return to Jerusalem as recorded in 2 Chron 36:22-23, "In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you — may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up.'" Cyrus explicitly affirmed the God of the Jews as "the God of heaven", even though he was not a Jew himself. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that it was the "God of heaven" who "has given me all the kingdoms of the earth." 

This reminds me of how ancient Chinese kings and emperors have always acknowledged that it was the "God of heaven" (上天) who has appointed them as rulers. Though biblical records (especially the OT) focus on Israel and Judah, the God of Jacob is by no means Israel's tribal god. He is the Lord God over the nations, wherever there are people who acknowledge the existence of the "God of heaven". Ancient Chinese rulers acknowledged their rule as "mandate of heaven" () -- a concept first espoused in writing as early as 1,000 years before Christ, about the time of David's reign in the Old Testament. Like Cyrus, the Chinese rulers do not know this "God of heaven" by name but they do acknowledge that they rule by His mandate. The concept implies the sovereign power of God to appoint rulers and also to dispose of them if they no longer had the mandate of heaven.

If applied to contemporary history, we would say that all current heads of states (even those who are opposed to Israel) are there because God has appointed them: "I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things" (Isa 45:7). We may think such  concept of God's overwhelming sovereignty makes us feel like humans are just puppets on the strings and undermine human power of self-determination, it is nevertheless the fact: "This is what the Lord says — the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts" (Isa 45:11-12). In other words, the clay cannot say to the Potter: "What are you making?" nor can children says to their parents, "What have you brought to birth?" Even at the human level, we don't have full autonomy--we have no control over the date of our birth, the family in which we are born into and the place where we are born.  This revelation of God's sovereignty is calculated to deflate the human ego and undermine our humanistic ideas about the autonomy and freedom of the human person. This revelation calls us back to God who alone holds our destiny in His hands: "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other" (Isa 45:22). 

The God of Jacob is also the God of the nations.

Father, You are the Sovereign God above all nations, not just Israel. As much as You are not just the God of Jews, so You are also not just the God of Christians. You are the God of the nations. May we not confine You to within the four walls of the church premise on weekends but release Your presence and power into the marketplaces and the nations. Amen.

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