Weal and Woe
Over the past few weeks our nation and the world has gone into panicky
financial tailspin. What's behind this? Many say loans made to people who could
not repay them. Others say greed on the part of Wall Street and high-paid CEOs of
financial institutions. Some say George Bush, others Barach Obomba and the
Democrats. Our text offers another explanation. It says that the Lord is behind both
prosperity and disaster. This gives us reason to be both humble and confident.
If you think your prospects don't look very good due to the latest financial
crisis, it's still not as bad as what the Israelites of Isaiah's day were facing. The
northern kingdom of Israel had already been taken into captivity by the Assyrians in
722 b.c. The Assyrians did no harm to Jerusalem, but it fell in 586 b.c. to the Baby-
lonians, and its inhabitants were marched several hundred miles away into exile.
They would not remain in Babylon forever. God had made a promise that the
Savior would be born in the little town of Bethlehem just outside of Jerusalem. To
insure that promise He planned to use the Persian king Cyrus to bring His people
back home. Our text explains: "Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the
belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: 2"I will go
before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron, 3I will give you the treasures of darkness and the
hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel,
who call you by your name. 4For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my
chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. (Isaiah
One gets the impression that God was speaking directly to Cyrus. Well, God
is certainly speaking directly to that king but these words were written over a hund-
red years before Cyrus's birth! Cyrus's people, the Persians, weren't even a world
power yet and so predicting that a Persian king would conquer most of the then
known world would be like saying that, in a hundred years, Equador will dominate
the world financially and militarily. It seems a bit unbelievable doesn't it?
But God could make such a bold prediction concerning Cyrus and the Persians
because he controls history. The Lord would give Cyrus his power and cunning so
that no gate or walled-city would withstand his forces.
If, in the midst of today's troubled times, you can give thanks for a good job, a
nice home, food, or good grades, remember that it is the Lord who made all these
things possible for you. He took you by his hand and guided you. He opened the
doors to give you the opportunities you are now enjoying. Don't think that you
have a comfortable life because you somehow earned it. Look at Cyrus. He hadn't
done anything to earn God's favor. Why, he wasn't even born yet when God made
those pronouncements about him. And even after he was born he didn't prove that
he was deserving of God's attention. Twice in our text God said he would bless
Cyrus even though Cyrus did not acknowledge him (Isaiah 45:4, 5)!
As Christians we acknowledge the Lord by confessing our faith in him. But
that doesn't make us deserving of God's love. On our own apart from the work of
the Holy Spirit who brings us to faith in Jesus Christ, we are just like Cyrus. By
nature there's nothing good in us that deserves any special favor from God.
So why does God bless us with so much? He blesses us because he is a God
of undeserved love. So be humble. Don't take credit for all the blessings you have.
Acknowledge that they are undeserved gifts from a loving God.
But now what if things aren't going so great? Do you still have reason to
thank the Lord? Of course you do. Our text makes the startling statement that the
Lord is behind disaster as much as he is behind prosperity. God said through Isaiah:
"I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, (I love the
way the RSV translates this) "I make weal and create woe" I am the Lord, who
does all these things" (Isaiah 45:7). From the point of view of all who would go up
against Cyrus and lose, calamity had come upon them. And since God was behind
Cyrus, he was behind the calamity Cyrus created. Why? What was God up to? As
I said at the beginning, God was using Cyrus to bring his people back to the
Promised Land. Not only that, God said: "I equip you, (I will strengthen you,
Cyrus) though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the
sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no
other"(Isaiah 45:5b, 6). When God allows calamity, disaster and woe to strike, it's
always for the purpose of getting people to acknowledge him so that we will enjoy
the blessings he has given us in Jesus.
In fact Cyrus serves as a picture of what Jesus does for us. Cyrus had been
appointed by God (lit. "Messiah-ed") to free God's people from captivity, return
them to the Promised Land, and equip them for service when he gave them money
to rebuild the temple. In the same way, Jesus, the true Messiah (lit. "the anointed
one") has freed us from our sins, is bringing us to the Promised Land of heaven, and
has equipped us for acts of service along the way!
If it's God's goal to bring us to heaven, then why do we face disasters along
the way? Our text gives us the confidence that disasters are not evidence that world
events are beyond God's control. On the contrary, God is behind it all. Of course
when our text says that God "creates calamity" this does not mean that God is the
author of evil (James 1:13). When we are self-indulgent and do things that are not
God pleasing, God is not at fault. God did not prompt Hitler and Stalin to do what
they did. We are each responsible for our own sins. Yet even then God turns our
self-made difficulties to good. The ultimate example is how God used the jealousy
of the Jewish leaders and the cowardice of Pilate to secure payment for our sins
when Jesus died on the cross.
So even though these times may have been a disaster in terms of finances, or
employment, or grades, you have reason to be confident. God is behind that
disaster and he's using it for your good. Maybe the latest financial meltdown has
made you look more closely at what you value. If you've valued your retirement
plan more than God's plan for us in Christ Jesus, repent! Spend more time studying
God's plan for you in Jesus than researching your next investment move. For no
matter how smart you are as an investor, the riches you accumulate here will one
day disappear. Not so the riches of heaven.
I don't suppose the pundits will ever stop analyzing the latest financial melt-
down. Why, they're still analyzing the stock market crash of 1929! But Dear
Christian, you do know what, or should I say, who is behind the disaster: God. He
allows these messes so that people will acknowledge him. And why wouldn't we
want to acknowledge the Lord? He has summoned us by name, as he did Cyrus.
When? Where? At the baptismal font. There, God put his name on you and took
hold of you forever. So whether it's prosperity or disaster you face, give thanks to
the Lord. For in Jesus you have sure riches that wait for you in heaven.