Isaiah 46:8-11: God, The Lord of History
“Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.” (Isaiah 46:8-11)
God convicts the idolaters of their sin again. The proof that He was, is, and ever will be the one true God is the fact that He knows everything that will happen from the beginning of the world to its end. But there is something else to be noticed here in the same verse:
“…declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’.” (v.10)
This word, “saying,” is meant to connect God’s knowledge of the past, present, and future with “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” Thus, the implication is that He knows everything because He planned it all. Every event that happens in history, from the beginning to the end, happens because He planned and purposed it for His good pleasure, to bring glory to His name.1
The eternal decree of God and the resulting linear view of history can be contrasted with the chaos-order dialectic2 of paganism and its resulting cyclical view of history. Under the latter view, the principles of chaos and order are either both eternal3 or order arose out of chaos.4 For example, in ancient Egyptian religion, the grounds of being were the primeval waters of chaos out of which arose the primeval mountain or pyramid to establish order. In Mesopotamian religion, the two principles co-existed as the primeval salt-water ocean, representing chaos and personified as the Great Dragon, Tiamat, and the primeval fresh-water ocean, representing order, Apsu.
In this worldview, the “divine” tries to bring order to the chaotic cosmos, but fails to do so. Likewise, chaos destroys, but everything is brought back into balance by the principle of order. Thus, history was seen as cyclical and endless. As the Greeks would say, “All came out of chaos, and all shall end in chaos.”5
These principles were not seen as good and bad, right and wrong, but rather they were both essential aspects of the cosmos. Thus, war, for instance, was not seen as evil, but as a necessary part of human existence in order to balance out the principle of peace, bringing stability to the cosmos. Frequently, the monarch was made the embodiment of both these principles so as to give human civilization a healthy equilibrium and to direct the flow of cyclical history. This was clearly seen in the Assyrian king:
“The Assyrian monarch was not only the great shepherd and source of order, but he was also the source of chaos; he was usum-gal, the “Giant Snake” or “Great Dragon” and the source of terror:
(I am) Shalmeneser, the legitimate king, the king of the world, the king without rival, the “Great Dragon,” the (only) power within the (four rims) (of the earth), overlord of all the princes, who has smashed all his enemies as if (they be) earthenware, the strong man, unsparing, who shows no mercy in battle.
The Assyrian monarch therefore represented both chaos and order, and he was the incarnation of both. The fearful power of Assyria rested not only in its military might but in its summation of the dialectic of chaos and creation in the terrifying person and activity of the Assyrian king.”6
Thus, the Assyrian and Babylonian kings saw themselves as the embodiments of the cosmos itself, and history went wherever they willed it to go:
“Nebuchadnezzar, born into this faith, could ask incredulously of the three Hebrews, “and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan. 3:15). For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to appeal to a god beyond Nebuchadnezzar for vindication was to him an incredible thing. Whatever the gods were and sought to be for that day was manifested in history in the person of Nebuchadnezzar.”7
In stark contrast and opposition to the Assyrian and Babylonian kings, God speaking through Isaiah states:
“I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.” (Isaiah 45:5-7)
So, instead of the Mesopotamian kings being the embodiments of the ebb and flow of the cosmos, bringing both order and chaos, peace and war, resulting in circular history, YHWH, who alone self-exists and created the cosmos out of nothing, is the Author of history and whatever happens in it. Though not being the author of sin8, He ordains both the ends and the means, primary and secondary causes, both good and evil:
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20)
“Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech,” (Judges 9:23)
“Then Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring calamity on Absalom.” (2 Samuel 17:14)
“Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; and his limits You have set so that he cannot pass.” (Job 14:15)
“He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants.” (Psalm 105:25)
“The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.” (Proverbs 16:4)
“The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. A divine decision is in the lips of the king; his mouth should not err in judgment.” (Proverbs 16:9-10)
“Man's steps are ordained by the LORD, how then can man understand his way?” (Proverbs 20:24)
“In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider--God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14)
“Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth? Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins?” (Lamentations 3:37-39)
“If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos 3:6)
“Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with violence! Is it not indeed from the LORD of hosts that peoples toil for fire, and nations grow weary for nothing?” (Habakkuk 2:12-13)
“For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” (Acts 4:27-28)
“…also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,” (Ephesians 1:11)
(Exodus 4:11, Exodus 14:4, Joshua 11:20, 1 Samuel 2:6, 1 Samuel 16:14, 2 Samuel 12:11, 2 Samuel 24:1 <---> 1 Chronicles 21:19, 2 Chronicles 18:18-22, Job 1:12, Job 1:21, Job 42:2, Proverbs 21:1, Ecclesiastes 9:1, Isaiah 10:5-7, Isaiah 14:24, 27, Isaiah 37:26-27, Isaiah 63:17, Jeremiah 4:6, Ezekiel 14:9, Daniel 4:34-35, Luke 22:22, John 9:1-3, John 12:39-40, Acts 2:22-23, Romans 8:28, 9:17-23, 11:7-10)
Chaos (or in the Biblical worldview, evil) is not something that the Divine must war against to attempt to bring order out of it. Prescriptively, God hates sin and will destroy it in the end, but in the mean time, it is used providentially as a tool to bring about a desired result in history. As the Puritans said, “The devil is God’s lackey.”
Evil is allowed to exist and even used through secondary causes in order to bring about an end good (Romans 8:28, 9:22-23). Thus, the problem of evil is solved, and we can know that every event in history whether good or evil happens for a greater purpose. For, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Isaiah 40:18-20, 25-26: The Incomparability of God
“To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him? As for the idol, a craftsman casts it, a goldsmith plates it with gold, and a silversmith fashions chains of silver. He who is too impoverished for such an offering selects a tree that does not rot; he seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman to prepare an idol that will not totter…”To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.” (Isaiah 40:18-20, 25-26)
We have already seen that God is one, eternal, self-existing, incomprehensible, the Creator and Sustainer, immutable, holy, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and the Lord of History whereas the gods of the heathen were none of these. The Lord, our God, is incomparable:
“There is none like the God of Jeshurun, Who rides the heavens to your help, and through the skies in His majesty.” (Deuteronomy 33:26)
“But to the wicked God says, “What right have you to tell of My statutes and to take My covenant in your mouth?...These things you have done and I kept silence; you thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.”” (Psalm 50:16, 21)
“For Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, You who have done great things; O God, who is like You?” (Psalm 70:19)
“There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Yours…For You are great and do wondrous deeds; You alone are God.” (Psalm 86:8, 10)
“The LORD is high above all nations; His glory is above the heavens. Who is like the LORD our God, Who is enthroned on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?” (Psalm 113:4-6)
“There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and great is Your name in might. Who would not fear You, O King of the nations? Indeed it is Your due! For among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You…But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure His indignation. Thus you shall say to them, “The gods that did not make the heavens and the earth will perish from the earth and from under the heavens. It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom; and by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens…The portion of Jacob is not like these; for the Maker of all is He, and Israel is the tribe of His inheritance; the LORD of hosts is His name.”” (Jeremiah 10:6-7, 10-12, 16)
(Exodus 15:11, Psalm 35:9-10, Isaiah 44:6-7, 46:5-7, 9-10, etc.)
In fact, because there is nothing higher than Him, anytime He makes a covenantal promise, He can only swear by Himself, His unchanging nature:
“Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son,”” (Genesis 22:15-16)
“I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.” (Isaiah 45:23)
“The LORD has sworn by His right hand and by His strong arm, “I will never again give your grain as food for your enemies; nor will foreigners drink your new wine for which you have labored.”” (Isaiah 62:8)
“For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself,” (Hebrews 6:13)
However, there is one more aspect of His incomprehensibility that needs to be dealt with. Unlike the pagan gods who had visible bodies like men, God is Spirit and not a man:
“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19)
“Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” (1 Samuel 15:29)
“Were He to pass by me, I would not see Him; were He to move past me, I would not perceive Him.” (Job 9:10-12)
“I will not execute My fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim again. For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” (Hosea 11:9)
“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18)
“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)
“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12)
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)
“…He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:15-16)
In short, whereas God created man in His image, the gods of the pagans were created in the image of man. As Cornelius Van Til said, “In their gods the Greeks indirectly worshipped themselves.”10
We are to fear God, not men or their creations for there is none like Him: “It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. Then He shall become a sanctuary…” (Isaiah 8:13-14)
Isaiah 41:8-9: The Personal Nature of God
“But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham My friend, You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its remotest parts and said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you.’” (Isaiah 41:8-9)
Unlike the “gods” of the pantheists and the forms of Greek philosophy which are impersonal “its,” our God condescended from His infinitude to create the space-time universe and make man in His own image in order to covenantally commune with Him.11 As Robert Morey put it:
“Christian theology has very carefully stated that while God is infinite and spiritual in His essence, this does not mean that He is an impersonal “it.” The Greeks had fallen into the trap of assuming that God must be either finite and personal or infinite and nonpersonal. But this dichotomy is never found in the Bible.
God is “personal” in that He is a self-conscious ego who can say, “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). He has an intellect (Romans 11:34), thoughts (Isaiah 58:8-9), will (Romans 12:2), emotion (John 3:16), and action (Ephesians 1:11). He cannot be reduced to a nonpersonal “ground,” “force,” or “energy.” An “I AM” is far superior to an “it.”
Some processions have argued that God “needs” the world to fulfill Himself. Since this “need” of God would be eternal, the world must be eternal. The doctrine of creation is thus rejected because God needs the world for His own growth and knowledge. It is by this assumption that they made time eternal, holding that God “needs” time to exist.
The historic Christian response to such pagan ideas is to point out that God is a Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Because the fellowship and communication within the Three Persons of the Trinity is both eternal and self-sufficient, God is not “lonely.” He does not “need” man or the space/time world. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have gotten along just fine for all eternity without man or the world.”12
It was with this personal nature of God that the psalmist could say:
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.” (Psalm 103:8)
and Christ could say:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
This concludes our lessons on the doctrine of God, and brings us to the doctrines of creation and of man. Though we have finished studying this doctrine and moved on to others, it is essential that one keep this doctrine in mind since who God is is the fountain of all other doctrines and of truth itself.
[All Scripture quotes are from the NASB, emphasis mine.]
1 This does not mean that God is the direct cause of everything or even that He forces men to do things. Rather, the eternal decree is made certain in that He causes events to take place by the manipulation of external factors, the use of secondary causes. For instance, when God ordains that men should do evil to one another, He simply becomes passive toward man, withholding His common grace, and lets the evil of human nature take over, or He could allow an evil spirit to start the chain of events. See the verses cited below for more detail, especially 2 Chronicles 18:18-22.
2 Here being defined as a view of reality in which the universe is composed of and governed by two equal and opposing principles.
3 This view is most prevalent in pagan philosophy.
4 This view is most prevalent in pagan religions.
5 Which would start a new cycle of history.
6 Rousas John Rushdoony, The One and the Many (Thoburn Press: Fairfax, VA., 1978), p.50.
7 (ibid. p.52)
8 Paragraph 1. God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass;1 yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein;2 nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established;3 in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree.4
1 Isa. 46:10; Eph. 1:11; Heb. 6:17; Rom. 9:15,18 2 James 1:13; 1 John 1:5 3 Acts 4:27,28; John 19:11 4 Num. 23:19; Eph. 1:3-5
-2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 3, Paragraph 1, Of God’s Decree
9 The two parallel texts cite different causes for David’s incitement to number Israel. In the 2 Samuel passage, God (or at least His anger) is the one that incited David to take the census. In the 1 Chronicles passage, the devil is the cause of the incitement. The two can be easily reconciled once we realize that God frequently allows (which is a passive action) secondary causes (such as the demons) to carry out evil that will result in the fulfillment of His plan.
10 Cornelius Van Til, Christianity in Conflict, A Syllabus, I (Philadelphia: 1962), p.83.
11 As the Westminster Larger Catechism states:
Q.1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.
-Westminster Larger Catechism, Q.1
12 (Morey, op. cit., p.73)