Isa 66.2 - Trembling before the Word of God
Trembling Before God’s Word – Isaiah 66:2
Preached by Pastor Phil Layton on 11/26/2006 at Gold Country Baptist Church
There was a famous man by the name of Junius who lived many centuries ago, and was an atheist. He wrote of his experiences one rainy day: “I came home to my house and saw a New Testament lying before me. I took it up, and there I met with that first chapter in John (which is a chapter that is as full of majesty as any), and I took the book and fell a reading: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Upon reading this, my body trembled, my soul presently was amazed, and for all the day I did not know where I was. I was struck with such horror and amazement that it shook every joint of me and my heart trembled within me, and I knew not where I was all the day long.” (Jeremiah Burroughs, Gospel Fear, 14)
Ruth Bell Graham, wife of Billy Graham, relates the story of a Russian prostitute named Sonia and a man named Raskolnikoff, a conscience-stricken and self-tormented murderer: On a rickety little table in Sonia’s room stands a tallow candle fixed in an improved candlestick of twisted metal. In the course of earnest conversation, Sonia glances at a book lying on a chest of drawers. Raskolnikoff takes it down. It is a New Testament. He hands it to Sonia and begs her to read it to him.“Sonia opens the book: her hands tremble: the words stick in her throat. Twice she tries without being able to utter a syllable.” At length she succeeds. And then —“She closes the book: she seems afraid to raise her eyes on Raskolnikoff: her feverish trembling continues. The dying piece of candle dimly lights up this low-ceilinged room in which an assassin and a harlot have just read the Book of Books.” … There is Raskolnikoff—most prodigal of prodigal sons— and there is Sonia—most prodigal of prodigal daughters—bending together over the living page that points all prodigals to the Father’s house.
Quoted in “Prodigals and Those Who Love Them,” Ruth Bell Graham, 1991, Focus on the Family Publishing, pp. 117-126
On June 27, 1819, Adoniram Judson baptized his first convert in Burma. His wife, Ann Hasseltine, described how Moung Nau had responded to the Scripture: "A few days ago I was reading with him Christ's Sermon on the Mount. He was deeply impressed and unusually solemn. 'These words,' said he, 'take hold on my liver; they make me tremble."'
God spoke through Isaiah the prophet 2700 years ago and said, "This is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word … Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word" (Isaiah 66:2,5).
For two thousand years the Bible has been taking hold of people's livers and making them tremble—[as John Piper says, we tremble] first with fear because it reveals our sin, then with faith because it reveals God's grace. A single verse, Romans 13:13, convicted and converted the immoral Augustine [he also noticed a New Testament and just happened to turn to that verse]. For Martin Luther, a miserable monk, the light broke in through Romans 1:17.
- John Piper, "The Holy Spirit: Author of Scripture" (preached 2/26/84)
REVIEW: The great and pressing need of the hour is to have a high view of God and a high view of God’s Word, that we would tremble at it. And we discussed last week that this will result in a low view of yourself, that you will be humble and contrite.
Today, I want to look with you at the biblical context of this passage, then some biblical examples of trembling, and lastly, biblical reasons for trembling
I. BIBLICAL CONTEXT
The Israelites of that time had a lot going for them - Torah, chosen people, Moses and lineage, promises, temple, unique system of worship that set them apart from all other nations.
Isaiah 66 comes at the end of a prophecy of judgment and future comfort, the Jews still in the land were told they would go into exile, and later return to the land and in the end there would be a Messianic kingdom and then new heavens and new earth.
Both before and after captivity, the Jews put too much stress on the outward, the external, the building. But in light of who God is and His grandiose purposes, no house or temple could ever be built or rebuilt after the exile that would be worthy of God or that could contain God. The temple and whole priestly system was just a symbol and picture of God’s character, not the fullness of it.
- Verse 1 says that the earth, this massive colossal planet that we focus so much on what happens here, compared to God is just like a stool to put his foot on. The whole world is nothing to him and subordinate to God and those on the earth must bow before God’s feet
- But that's not all, look back at the text "the heavens" the whole universe itself is God's throne. However big this seemingly infinite and endless and immeasurable universe is, God is bigger, and more infinite and truly endless and immeasurable. He rules over all, through all, and in all.
When Solomon built the temple, he recognized this:
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!" (I Kings 8:27)
The Lord asks in our text “where is the house you will build for me?”
As I said last week, what impresses God and catches His notice, is not the most beautiful temple (in our day, Mormon temple or Vatican, etc.). It’s not even the earth itself, or the heavens, and the dazzling suns and stars God made that attract His notice.
God is not looking for a very big place, he’s looking for a small place, a human heart. What God looks for is the humble repentant reverent heart of the individual believer.
But the Jews for the most part did not get this message, and in N.T. times they continued their undue emphasis on the externals and the temple. TURN TO ACTS 6
In Acts 6, when they persecuted Stephen, they said in v. 13
“This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.”
Notice how their first concern was "this place" and then the law and customs. To speak against the building was a capital crime and one of the chief accusations brought against Jesus (ironically by those who had truly desecrated the place by turning it into a den of thieves).
They would probably never say it out loud, but the temple was more of their focus than the Torah, the building was reverenced rather than the Bible, their eyes were on the rocks of the walls rather than the Rock of Ages Himself who transcends all things.
Even today in Jerusalem, you see great reverence and prayers at the Wailing Wall, a remnant of stones from centuries past, which is almost worshipped in the way some worship relics or locations in Rome or Israel. God never wanted these types of things to be the focus, He is so infinitely above and beyond everything visible and created, and it is ridiculous to limit Him to some man-made structure - it's not just ridiculous, it's an insult to the God who is transcendent and infinite and omnipresent and who fills the universe.
Notice Stephen's speech in Acts 7:
47 ... it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
49 “ ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?
50 Did not my hand make all these things?’
51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you
... 54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him
,,, 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
That young man named Saul followed the OT system as best as any man could externally, but one day he was converted to a humble and contrite spirit by the Supreme God who Stephen spoke about, the outward became inward, the rituals were replaced with a relationship. I suspect those words from Stephen on that day reverberated often in Paul’s soul, because when Paul had a chance to give an apologetic to the Greeks in Acts 17, his words were very much along the lines of Acts 7 and Isaiah 66.
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
... [v. 29] we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent"
Repentance is commanded of all people everywhere, this is not an optional thing or something we should take out of the Christian gospel, as some Christians have done.
What does God mean in Isaiah 66:2 when he says He “who trembles at my Word”?
II. BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF TREMBLING
You’ll notice it is also in verse 5, calling on those who take God’s Word seriously.
It verse 5 it is combined with the idea of “hear” = TO OBEY WITH REVERENCE
The phrase “tremble at the Word” only elsewhere occurs in Ezra 9 and 10 of those who trembled in reverence and repentance for their sins, such as taking foreign wives. To tremble here certainly contains the idea of having a high view of God and His Word and responding accordingly:
"Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel on account of the unfaithfulness of the exiles gathered to me, and I sat appalled until the evening offering." (Ezra 9:4, NASB95)
"“So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law." (Ezra 10:3, NASB95)
It includes the idea of physical trembling. When Daniel heard the Word of God through a messenger in Dan. 10, he says in verse 11 “while he was speaking this word to me, I stood trembling” – this is a far cry from reading your Bible, yawning, then dozing off
When Jeremiah received the Lord’s word to preach judgment, his whole body shook inside and outside at the enormity and implications of the task for that generation:
My heart is broken within me, All my bones tremble; I have become like a drunken man, Even like a man overcome with wine, Because of the Lord And because of His holy words." (Jeremiah 23:9, NASB95)
When the prophet Habbakuk received the Word in vision about coming judgment:
"I heard and my inward parts trembled, At the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, And in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, For the people to arise who will invade us." (Habakkuk 3:16, NASB95)
Dominant in this word trembling is fear – in fact, the N.T. often uses the phrase “with fear and trembling” (Greek tromos)
*Look at Isaiah 64:1-3
Word Study of root - "shudder with terror, fear ... be (make) afraid ... quake, tremble"
Ex: I Sam 4:13 - Eli's hear trembled for ark, he died when he heard it was captured
"When he came, behold, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road eagerly watching, because his heart was trembling for the ark of God. So the man came to tell it in the city, and all the city cried out." (1 Sam 4:13)
I Sam 14.15 - great panic among Philistines, killing each other
"And there was a trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. Even the garrison and the raiders trembled, and the earth quaked so that it became a great trembling." (1 Samuel 14:15)
28:5 - Saul's heart greatly trembled at size of army opposing him
"When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly." (1 Samuel 28:5)
Job 36:32 - 37:5, also 37:24 - trembling response of heart before works of God
"“He covers His hands with the lightning, And commands it to strike the mark. “Its noise declares His presence; The cattle also, concerning what is coming up. “At this also my heart trembles, And leaps from its place. “Listen closely to the thunder of His voice, And the rumbling that goes out from His mouth. “Under the whole heaven He lets it loose, And His lightning to the ends of the earth. “After it, a voice roars; He thunders with His majestic voice, And He does not restrain the lightnings when His voice is heard. “God thunders with His voice wondrously, Doing great things which we cannot comprehend." (Job 36:32-37:5, NASB95) "“Therefore men fear Him; He does not regard any who are wise of heart.”" (Job 37:24)
See esp. Ex. 19:16-19; 20:18-20 -- two kinds of fear; self-centered and God-centered
"So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder." (Exodus 19:16-19)
"All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.”" (Exodus 20:18-20, NASB95)
The Jews who were so into the Law, should have remembered that the “mountains shook and trembled when the Law of God was given. And God expects that the hearts of sinners should tremble when they hear the Law of God at any time.” (Gospel Fear, 11)
Every true believer knows some trembling – to have no fear of God would put us in the camp of Romans 3. Even unbelievers and the demons tremble at times before God’s Word, but they turn away from it, whereas healthy fear of God leads us to Him.
True Trembling at the Word of God begins at conversion and is marked by true faith and action and continues through life.
- In Mark 5:33 a woman comes trembling to Jesus, and He commends her for her faith
- In Acts 9:6, Paul hears the Word of the Lord speaking audibly and He asks trembling what He should do.
- The Philippian jailer, trembling from the earthquake in Acts 16, asks what he must do
Trembling leads to action, to obey whatever God’s Word would ask us to do
III. BIBLICAL REASONS TO TREMBLE
- True knowledge of God and His works
"‘Do you not fear Me?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do you not tremble in My presence? For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, An eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it. Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail; Though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it." (Jeremiah 5:22, NASB95)
"“I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; For He is the living God and enduring forever, And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, And His dominion will be forever." (Daniel 6:26, NASB95)
Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence And rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!" (Psalm 2:1-12, NASB95)
- The hearing of God’s Word
Acts 7:32 says that when Moses heard God’s Word through the burning bush, he trembled. Hebrews 12:21 says that when God’s Word came at Sinai, the scene was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling” (NKJV).
Hebrews 4 also tells us that God’s Word is like a sword that searches and cuts deep to our thoughts and intents of our heart
Burroughs writes: “the heart that trembles at the Word accounts it a most dreadful condition to have the Word to speak against it … Oh, this is a restless condition! How can I eat, drink, or sleep quietly when the Word of God speaks against me!” (p. 6)
He adds: “And when you come to sermons to hear the Word of God, oh, labor to keep your hearts in a constant, trembling frame, and the Word that you now tremble at will forever hereafter comfort your heart.” (p. 24)
- When we sin presumptuously and repeatedly and unrepentantly
"For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah" (Psalm 32:3-4, ESV)
Psalm 19 “keep back your servant from presumptuous sins, let them not rule over me
- When we treat God’s Word lightly
Psalm 119:120 “My flesh trembles. I stand in awe of your laws” (NIV, others “fear” or “I am afraid of”)
Application: Always treat God’s Word seriously, no matter who is speaking
Being present Sunday morning, and every opportunity to hear
Preparing your heart Sunday morning, even Saturday night
If God’s Word is really reverenced by you, you will desire to read it daily, desperately
- It brings much glory to God if we tremble at His Word
"and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”" (Revelation 14:7, NASB95)
It is one thing to tremble in the visible or physical presence of a manifestation of God, as many in the OT did. No human being could help quivering before thundering Majesty.
“But certainly, my brethren, for a soul to tremble at God’s Word glorifies God more than the glory God shall have by men’s trembling at His glorious manifestation at the Great Day [of Judgment]. Why? Because that is such a manifestation of God as cannot but force it from us. But this trembling comes from a gracious, sanctified frame that there is in the heart of a man … ‘Tis true, if God spoke but one word He could shake this building, and all of heaven and earth. Aye, but He would not have as much glory by shaking them as He has by one immortal soul who trembles in the manner as I have opened to you.” (Gospel Fear, p. 41)
- If we really believe this book is God speaking
**If the demons believe, tremble, and are not saved (James 2:19-20), what does that say about those who profess to believe and don’t even tremble?
Spurgeon tells us:
George Fox, the famous founder of the Society of Friends, was called a “Quaker” for no other reason than this: that often, when the Spirit of God was upon him, and he spoke the Word with power, he would quake from head to foot beneath the burden of the message. It is an honorable title. No man need be ashamed to quake when Moses said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” In the presence of God a man may well tremble. Surely he is worse than the devil if he does not; for the devils believe and tremble. Demons go the length of that; and he that knoweth God, and hath any sense of his infinite power and inconceivable purity and justice, must tremble before him. I believe George Fox not only quaked himself, but he made others quake; and if we tremble at God’s word, we shall make others tremble. (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 35, Sermon #2071)
Someone asked a good question last week: How do we know if we are humble enough, repentant enough, trembling enough?
I would suggest that if you are sensitive enough to ask that question, you are on the right track. God knows we are not perfect in these areas, but He does demand we be pursuing these characteristics.
Isaiah’s rebuke is intended for self-righteous people, people who are not trying to turn from their sin, people who can read Isaiah 66:2 and say, “Yeah, I’m humble, I’m repentant enough, I take God’s Word seriously enough.” A sensitive believer will examine himself, will be convicted by the word, will be effected by the Word, and will question whether he is truly applying this truth, and where he is at spiritually, and how by God’s grace he can grow in that area and please God more.
Verse 5 of Isaiah 66 says “Hear the Word of the Lord, you that tremble at His Word”
Let’s be hearers and doers of this message.