Who Believes God's Word Anymore?
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, October 27, 2002
Copyright © 2002, P. G. Mathew
Who believes in the Bible anymore? In his book Islam Unveiled, Robert Spencer states that around the world all sects of Islam teach that the Koran is the perfect word of Allah, valid for all peoples at all times; thus, if anyone questions the authority of the Koran, he must face serious repercussions. A Moslem in a Moslem land who converts to Christianity may forfeit his life because, in classical Moslem understanding, the apostate deserves to die. No wonder Mohammedans throughout the world believe in the Koran and don't oppose its authority!
Yet the vast majority of Christians around the world defiantly reject the authority of the true word of God, the Holy Bible, the foundation document of Western civilization. In fact, if a Christian opposes the Bible, he is praised and promoted in modern "Christian" lands. Great ancient universities of the Western world began by teaching the Holy Scriptures, but if a professor today truly believes in the Bible, he is mocked, despised, and persecuted. Yet no one in the Western world dares to mock a person who believes in the Koran!
The questions before us are: First, who believes in the Bible anymore; second, why should anyone believe in the Bible; and, third, what happens if we do not believe in the Bible and in Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world? We will discuss these questions in the light of Isaiah 9:8-10:34.
God's People Reject His Word
The first half of the eighth century B.C. was a time of great economic prosperity for both Judah and Israel. During this time King Uzziah was ruling Judah and Jeroboam II ruled Israel. However, this economic prosperity engendered, not faith in the God of Abraham, but sheer arrogance on the part of God's people. They rejected the word of God which came to them through the prophets Amos and Hosea in the north, and Isaiah in the south. Not only did God's people reject his word, but they also oppressed God's people. These people still continued to offer many sacrifices, but the Lord was not pleased with their heartless worship. In Amos 5:23 we read, "Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream." But the people rejected God's call for justice and righteousness. We find an example of such rejection in Isaiah 7, when God, in his great mercy, brought his word of salvation to King Ahaz of Judah during his time of trouble. Isaiah told Ahaz, "Ask for a sign, any sign; pray anywhere, and God will do it. Do not fear. God will help you and save you." But Ahaz refused to believe the word of God and told Isaiah, "I will not ask. I will not put the Lord to the test" (Isaiah 7:12).
The Danger of Rejecting God's Word
What happens when we do not believe in the infallible, inerrant word of God? We find the answer in Isaiah 9:8: "The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel."
Isaiah 9:9 tells us, "All the people will know it-Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria-who say with pride and arrogance of heart, 'The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.'" If we reject God's word of salvation, we will certainly experience serious, inexorable, negative consequences. The word of the Sovereign Lord is always effectual.
The Efficacy of God's Word
In Isaiah 28:10 we find a description of how the word of God comes to those who do not want to believe it: "For it is: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there." It is like a word coming to a child. For example, in Sunday School we may teach the command, "Children, obey your parents," and then repeat it at home. Every day, we teach our children a little here, a little there.
But what happens if people do not want to believe God's word? In verse 11 we read, "Very well, then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people to whom he said, 'This is the resting place, let the weary rest'; and, 'This is the place of repose. . . .'" Through the prophetic word God was offering his people peace, rest, and salvation. What was their response? "but they would not listen."
What was God's response to the unbelief of his people? "So then, the word of the Lord to them will become: 'Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule, a little here, a little there-so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured" (v. 13). I hope we will tremble at this. Our response to God's word matters. It will result either in rest and peace, or in exile, restlessness, and great misery of soul. In Isaiah 40:8 we read, "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."
In Isaiah 55:10-11 we read about the efficacy of God's word: "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Rain comes from God with a purpose: It produces bread, which we eat and by which we live. In other words, if there is no rain, there will be no bread. In the same way, the word of God comes to us so that we may be saved. But if we reject it, it will come against us in judgment.
The word of God is full of power, because the power of the word is the power of God himself. The word of God has power to both to save and to judge. That is why Paul wrote in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is "the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."
In Jeremiah 23:29 God asks, "Is not my word like fire and like a hammer that breaks a rock to pieces?"
In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 we read, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him." God proclaims the gospel through us. "For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life."
The word of God is a double-edged sword. It brings salvation to those who believe and destruction to those who reject it. Whenever the gospel is preached, either life or death results, based on the listener's response.
The Danger of Pride
Why do people reject God's word? They are proud. To be proud means that a person considers he is God. Thus, every arrogant person who refuses to believe in the gospel is, in reality, saying, "I am God."
In Isaiah 9 we find the language of proud people to whom the word of the Lord came. Isaiah 9:9-10 tells us, "And all the people will know it-Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria-who say with pride and arrogance of heart, 'The bricks have fallen down.'" God's judgment came on these people, and the bricks of their buildings came tumbling down. But listen to the arrogant response of Samaria and Ephraim: "but we will rebuild with dressed stone."
These proud people were saying, "Yes, we understand that a judgment of God just came upon us and caused our beautiful buildings to fall down. But don't worry: we won't let such things faze us. We'll just use better materials next time-dressed stones instead of bricks-and build such strong structures that nothing can destroy them. We refuse to be disciplined and humbled by such events."
In these chapters we find not only God's people saying these things, but also pagans. So in Isaiah 10 we find the arrogant words of Assyria. God used the superpower Assyria as a rod in his hand to punish God's people. But Assyria did not realize he was merely being used by God. He thought he was the Almighty himself.
In Isaiah 10, beginning with verse 8, we find the personified Assyria saying, "'Are not my commanders all kings? Has not Calno fared like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad, and Samaria like Damascus? As my hand seized the kingdoms of the idols, kingdoms whose images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria-shall I not deal with Jerusalem and her images as I dealt with Samaria and her idols?'" And when we study history, we learn that what Assyria said was true. Assyria defeated Calno in 748 B.C., Carchemish in 717 B.C., Hamath in 720 B.C., Arpad in 740 B.C. and again in 720 B.C., Samaria in 722 B.C., and Damascus in 732 B.C. So here Assyria was telling Jerusalem that it was next to be captured. In his arrogance, Assyria understood Jehovah to be just another useless idol.
Though Assyria was only an instrument God was using, he arrogated power to himself. He thought he was a great king who had ascended above the God of Israel and could now look down upon him. He was saying, "No man can stop me, let alone worthless idols like Israel's God." We do the same thing. A little health, a little beauty, a little power, and a little money-all of which are gifts of God-can cause us to think we are independent of God.
In Isaiah 14 we find the words of Babylon, or Satan, who was behind Babylon. Satan is behind any kingdom or person who is arrogant: "You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of the assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High'" (vv. 13-14). These are the words of pride! They are the words of the little child who defies his mother. They are the words of the proud professor or anyone else who does not acknowledge the true God.
God responded to Assyria: "But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit. Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: 'Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a desert, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?'" (vv. 15-17)
No man, no nation or power on earth can defy the Sovereign God. Whether old or young, rich or poor, male or female, free or slave, if you defy God, you will feel inexorable consequences of your action both here and hereafter.
Why, then, should we believe in the Bible? Because, if we don't, God will exercise his sovereign prerogative to deal with us. He brings pressure upon pressure until his word becomes effectual in bringing about either salvation or judgment.
Let me tell you something: You and I are not God. How can I prove this? Just keep your mouth shut and close your nose with your hand. Keep doing that, and you will soon be thinking about your mortality and finiteness. We live by breathing. We are not self-existing, self-sufficient, eternal beings. God alone is independent. He doesn't need us, but we need him. It is in him that we live and move and have our being. How, then, can we be arrogant before him?
The Lord of History
Next, we must realize that this Lord controls history. It is good to know with whom we are tangling. Our enemy is not mortal man; he is the infinite, transcendent God.
Isaiah 6 tells us, "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple." Notice, the Lord of history was above history, not part of it. "Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two their covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.' At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke."
How did Isaiah react to this mighty revelation? "'Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.'"
This Lord Almighty will humble the arrogant. Isaiah 10:33 tells us, "See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will lop off the boughs with great power . . . ." Here Isaiah may be referring to 701 B.C., when Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, came to Judah. Isaiah traces his progress, beginning in verse 28, saying first that they enter Aiath, which means Ai, then "they pass through Migron; they store supplies at Micmash," and so on until finally, in verse 32, we read, "This day they will halt at Nob," near Jerusalem. Then we read, "[T]hey will shake their fist at the mount of the Daughter of Zion, at the hill of Jerusalem." This is defiance-the Assyrian king shaking his fist against Jerusalem, treating the God who raised him up as if he were a worthless little idol.
The fulfillment of this prophecy is recorded in Isaiah 36-38. God knows how to cut us down to size. In fact, he delights in humbling his creatures. So in 701 B.C. Sennacherib did come against Judah and Jerusalem, stopping in Nob with his mighty army, famous for its ruthlessness, cruelty, and strength. But as he waited outside Jerusalem, God lopped him off, as we read in Isaiah 37:36: "Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp." That was not the end of it. Sennacherib returned to his country and in verse 38 we read, "One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat."
When we become arrogant and begin to grow, we try to ascend to the throne of God. It all happens in the brain. PGM As we grow taller and mightier, all of a sudden we want to defy our father and mother and pastor and teachers and God Almighty.
But the time will come when God will cut all arrogant people down. This is true in history as well as at the end of history. That is why we believe the statement in the Scripture, "It is appointed for man once to die, and then comes judgment."
God Applies Pressure
Next, we see that God will apply pressure to us when we are arrogant. He starts with the least degree and increases it until it results either in repentance and life or in judgment and death. The word of God becomes either the fragrance of life or the smell of death to us.
As the Lord of history, our God deals with all agents and people of history. So we read about him dealing with Egypt, Assyria, Medo-Persia, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Tyre and so on.
Leviticus 26 gives us an idea of how the Sovereign God operates, particularly in reference to his people. In verses 14-16 we read,
But if you do not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life. You will plant seed in vain because your enemies will eat it. I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you."
God knows you and will deal with you by applying pressure without any emotional disturbance.
In verses 18-20 God says,
If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit.
In verses 21-25 we see the pressure increasing:
If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted. If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction, but continue to be hostile toward me, I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over. And I will bring the sword upon you to avenge the breaking of the covenant.
Where is the proud man or woman? Here Isaiah is presenting a God who will cut us down, in this life and in the life to come.
In verses 27-28 God continues,
If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.
God will apply his pressure as we need it. If you read the book of Lamentations, you will know that these things happened also in the history of Israel.
In verse 33 God continues, "I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you." Where is that young man? Where is that teenager? Where is that middle-aged person? Where is that professor? Where is that philosopher? Where is the debater of this world? Where is that wise person? God will apply his pressure to such people.
But in verses 40-42 we find another aspect of this God, the Lord Almighty:
But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers-their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies-then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.
God is not going to save any arrogant person, but he will show mercy and save those who humble themselves before him.
God poured out his anger and wrath on his people, but in Isaiah 9:12 we read, "Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised." In other words, even though God had dealt some with Israel, he had more judgment in store.
A person who is being disciplined by God may think, "I am having such a hard time. O God, please stop now." But God will say, "No deal. I will not stop until you humble completely before me." Isaiah 9;17 tells us, "Therefore, the Lord will take no pleasure in the young men, nor will he pity the fatherless and widows, for everyone is ungodly and wicked, every mouth speaks vileness. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised." More discipline is promised. When do you think God will stop? Only when we surrender to him and submit to him. God knows when someone has truly humbled before him. Remember, there are only two attitudes we can bring to God-arrogance or humility.
Because the northern kingdom did not want to follow God, they became so self-centered and acquisitive that they began to fight, first against each other, and then against Judah. Selfishness causes people to fight against their own brothers. Isaiah 9:21 tells us, "Manasseh will feed on Ephraim, and Ephraim on Manasseh; together they will turn against Judah." This was more pressure brought by God. Then we find a familiar statement: "Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised."
In Isaiah 10:1 God speaks again about Israel, saying, "Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless." This is speaking about the judges in Israel who were not administering justice properly. Under the thumb of the rich people, they were oppressing poor people, "making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless."
In verse 3 God says, "What will you do on the day of reckoning?" I hope that if you are arrogant, you will have some respect now for God! This almighty, all-powerful God will deal with everyone on the day of reckoning.
John 3:36 begins, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. . . ." God says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved." But suppose you do not want to believe in the Bible? The verse continues, "but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."
No Escape from God
There is no escape from God's grip. We are always in God's hand and must give an account to him for our every thought and deed. Suppose a person is carrying on his sin, with no regard for God. "What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar?" (Isaiah 10:3) To whom will you run for help? To your mother? Oh, she may not be there anymore. After all, mothers die. What about your professor, who taught you this unbelief when you went to the university? To whom can you go? Nobody. Everyone is under the grip of God.
In Isaiah 10:12 we find a warning to the arrogant people of God: "When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, 'I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.'" Jerusalem and Judah here represents the church, the people of God. Notice, God's people are being punished first. In 1 Peter 4: 17 we read, "For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God."
Suppose God pours out his judgment and wrath on people. Will that make people repent? "But the people have not returned to him who struck him, nor have they sought the Lord Almighty" (Isaiah 9:13). Revelation 9:20-21 tells us, "The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood-idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts." Revelation 16 tells us, "They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him" (v. 9) and "Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done" (10-11). Despite the great outpouring of God's wrath, people not only refuse to repent, but they curse God.
The Remnant Receives the Word
Finally, this passage in Isaiah teaches us that there will be a remnant who will receive God's word. God will have a people! If God's ultimate plan was to destroy everyone, he would have done so. But his ultimate plan is to save a people for himself, who will receive his word and do it.
"In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down, but will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel" (Isaiah 10:20). In that day the remnant of Israel will stop leaning upon Assyria and truly lean on the Lord, the "Mighty God," a term we found earlier in Isaiah 9:6: "And he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." In reference to this remnant Isaiah says, "Very soon my anger against you will end." Truly, it ended in the Messiah!
God's Anger Turned Away
Isaiah 10:27 tells us, "In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders. . . ." In Matthew 11:28 Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Our burden has been lifted because God's anger against us ended on the cross.
Then Isaiah says, "the yoke will be broken." Satan put a yoke on us, but the Lord Jesus Christ has broken it. This is rest. This is salvation.
Even today the word of the Lord is coming to us. The personal Word, Jesus Christ, came down from heaven, became flesh and dwelt among us. He died for us and was raised for us. In Romans 10:8 we read, "'The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,' that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
Why should anyone believe in the Bible? Because whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever does not believe in him remains under wrath throughout eternity. For the believer, the wrath has ended, but for the unbeliever, the wrath has not ended. It will be poured out upon him.
May God help us to tremble before his word and believe it because God's word alone brings salvation to us. The Bible proclaims, "Your God reigneth!" May we, therefore, welcome the rule of this Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. And if anyone has not believed in Jesus Christ, may God have mercy upon that person and enable that person also to trust in God. Then his burdens will be lifted, that his yoke broken, and he will enter into peace and rest that God alone can give. Amen.
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Copyright © 2002, P. G. Mathew
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