By Paul Koch –
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling, and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses;”
therefore you shall flee away;
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds;”
therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
A thousand shall flee at the threat of one;
at the threat of five you shall flee,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
like a signal on a hill.
So here we stand on the threshold of a new year. It is without a doubt a time where we reflect on our past and ponder our future. Looking back, we try and decipher the events that had taken place wondering if in them we might find clues as to what the future year might bring. This text from Isaiah 30 is fitting for a country that will be going through another election cycle in the midst of threats from ISIS, worries about financial stability, and unpredictable weather patterns. As we face a world of instability, worry about how to protect our way of life or what parts of our routine we are willing to change for security, this ancient text stands as a bold reminder of where our hope truly lies.
It is all too easy, especially in the politics of our day, to get caught up in believing that if your guy or gal wins then we will be victorious. We believe that victory, and with it our confidence and security and hope, is tied into having the rights political party in charge or getting the legislature to go a particular way, or having the right bureaucrats on our side. The context of Isaiah 30 runs along similar lines. Here Israel is afraid and vulnerable. She is looking for security and strength, and so she begins to chase after the alliances of men. She turns to Egypt. They look to Egypt for there they find the military strength and shelter they need to protect themselves. Egypt! I mean our Lord’s great gift to his people was delivering them from that place and now they want to team up. Along the way they stop trusting that God will deliver them. They don’t believe that He will be their strength and comfort. They become guilty of a form of idolatry where the governments and bureaucracies of men become their hope.
Now instead of the activity and schemes of men, listen to what our Lord says, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Salvation and strength isn’t found in the activity and political movements of men but in resting in our Lord. Victory will never be found in man. Oh sure, our party may win. Our agenda may be forwarded along to some sort of conclusion, but we will never attain real victory by it. There will always be sin and corruption in the efforts of the most well intentioned political movers. But the real shame is that we don’t heed the call of our Lord to rest in Him. Our Lord himself says, “You were unwilling, and you said, ‘No! we will flee upon horses; therefore you shall flee away.”
To rest in the Lord seems the most unnatural thing to do. It’s sounds like playing dead to prevent the bear from eating you. To just lie there, to rest, to do nothing means that you have no control, no ability to affect the outcome. So we balk at the idea. We get up from the ground and plan our strategy to survive the bear attack even if that strategy is to simply run. Anything is better than inactivity. Anything is better than being passive. So when it comes to our security we passionately listen to the political pundits and argue back to the radio the best course of action. When it comes to our confidence we look to the alliances of men, the works of the government, and the best use of force. And such things busy our hearts and minds. They fill us with great activity. But that activity has a habit of hiding the one thing they cannot provide. They cannot give us hope. Not a lasting hope, not an eternal hope.
Our Lord says through His prophet that those who run, those who flee, those who busy themselves believing that the works of men will give them the strength and security to bring about hope will end up being eaten by the bear. Actually what He says is that, “they will be left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill.” That is, they will be left alone and exposed, like a huge pole on a mountaintop. In the end there is nowhere left to hide. Nowhere we can safely run, apart from our Lord.
Who knows what this coming year will hold for us. There will be an election, there will be threats both foreign and domestic, there will be worries over families and our futures. And we will be tempted again and again to follow the example of God’s ancient children in putting our trust in the works of men. Embracing our former oppressors in hopes that they might save us. But salvation is not found in our activity. Eternal hope is not measured by how busy our hands are. True victory is found in Christ alone. True victory over sin, death and the power of the devil is accomplished completely by the working of another. Such a victory is a gift; a gift we receive by grace alone.
So we find there is strength in resting in the Lord. There is confidence in His embrace. This is not the position of a weak man hiding away from the world but rather a man who knows where true hope lies and so engages this world with a fearlessness found only in the saints of God. This, then, is how we will engage this coming year, with the reckless confidence of those who have already been given eternal victory.