Isaiah 26:1-15 Glory of God
Wow, this wireless mic is great. I’m free to move around now. I feel like an aerobics instructor. The wonders of modern technology.
I don’t feel that safe behind this podium so maybe I should move around.
Thank you for praying for our family. Baby Elijah and the mom are doing fine. I am doing fine, too. Ever since the baby was born, my joints are not as sore and I am starting to lose some weight. Strangely, when Jackie was pregnant, I started to feel similar symptoms – you know, typical stuff like bloating and soreness, but thank you I am doing better. That is true compassion – to enter into the pain of another, literally.
I have a simple question for us to discuss this morning – what is the desire of your heart? Not intellectually, I THINK the desire of my heart is blank, but what is really in your heart of hearts? What do you want more than anything else in the world? If you could have anything you wanted, no limitations, no strings attached, what would it be?
That’s what I want to talk about this morning.
And there are a couple of related questions — 1) as Christians, what ought to be the desire of our hearts? And perhaps a better question is 2) as a people of God or a church, what ought to be the collective desire of our hearts?
The Bible describes salvation in Matthew 13 is a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field and in JOY he sells everything to buy that field and get to that treasure. That treasure is so valuable. Nothing can compare to it. He will do anything to get his hands on this treasure. And what is this treasure? To have God in my life.
Luke 19 describes a short man named Zacchaeus who has a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and his response was “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Becoming a Christian and entering into the kingdom of God is not a casual thing. To be a Christian and part of His church is not like joining a social club. Having God is not like having a new hobby and going to a club once a week to talk about common interests. It’s not even about just having a group of like-minded people with a similar belief system.
There is a sense in these two accounts that salvation is much more. There is a reckless abandon because as Christian we confess, God, you are the most important thing in my life. Everything else I have is rubbish.
There is no room for calculation – well, God is good but you know I have a pretty good life without him and I am not sure if I can surrender the things I hold dear in my heart. That kind of weighing of options diminishes God. It reduces God to something so small and manageable. Someone we can fit into our back pocket and pull out in times of emergency like a triple AAA card.
God is not like that. It’s black and white. It’s all or nothing. You have God in your life and you may have nothing else going for you, but you still have everything. And if you don’t have God and you have everything else, you still have nothing. And we give away everything else in joy, why? Because God is so glorious, so majestic, so worthy of honor and praise and worship and nothing can come close to competing for our attention.
So what should a Christian desire more than anything else? What I learned as a teenager at my hometown Presbyterian church still holds true. I learned that the chief aim of humankind is to glorify God. That ought to be the desire of our hearts. Not ourselves, not even our church. But God’s name needs to be lifted up and God is to be exalted high above every other name. It is no accident that when Jesus returns and the world as we know it ends and a new heaven and a new earth emerges, the primary activity will be people of every tribe and nation and tongue gathered around the throne of God singing praises to his name.
It is this kind of kingdom where God is at the center receiving all the glory that we are called to model to the world – to be a people who give God proper glory through our lives.
This is precisely the message of Isaiah to the people of God.
Let’s read Isaiah 26:1-15. I’ll read the odd verses and please follow with the even verses.
The word “glory” appears 37 times – 20 in ch 1-39 and 15 in ch 40-66, 5 of which are in ch 66 (final chapter). So glory is one of the most important themes in the book of Isaiah.
The book of Isaiah also highlights the sovereignty of God, that he is the primary actor in world history by demonstrating his involvement not only with His people but in the lives of all the other nations and rulers. And because God’s people are not living up to their calling and mission to be a servant who accurately reflects the character of God to the rest of the nations, He uses these other pagan nations like Assyria, Babylon and Persia to punish Judah. To teach them a lesson, to free them from their idols and for them to reclaim their standing as servants of the Lord.
We will see through Isaiah that God uses judgment as a tool to train his people to give glory to him.
In the first 39 chapters, God uses the nation of Assyria as his chosen tool of judgment to correct his people. The people of God were scattered and were forced to live as captives in Assyria. Things were bad. But starting from chapter 40, there is a prophesy that things are going to get even worse — Isaiah warns that 100 years later, there will be a second judgment. The first tool of judgment in God’s hand to chip away at Judah was Assyria, and now the next tool of judgment is Babylon. Not only will Babylon overthrow Assyria, they will also utterly destroy Jerusalem in 586 BC. And the destruction of the temple, the symbol of God’s abiding presence, announces the beginning of the period known as the Babylonian captivity or the great Exile. So ch 40-55 are about the promise of restoration.
Things are looking up. But it’s an odd kind of deliverance. God doesn’t use a godly man like Moses from his own flock to deliver his people out of bondage in Egypt. This time, he uses a man named Cyrus from the pagan nation of Persia to deliver Judah from Babylonian hands.
Persia had a different foreign policy. Unlike Assyria and Babylon who deported the leaders of the nation they conquered because dispersing leaders meant less chance for revolt, Persia believed in maintaining friendly relationships with their captive nations. This made good sense – if your captives like you, then there is less chance for rebellion. Two different strategies with the same goal.
So when Cyrus the Persian king was in power, he issued an Edict which allowed anyone from Judah who was living in exile in Babylon to return to Jerusalem. And to really gain the favor of Judah, he even contributed Persian imperial funds to help in the rebuilding of the Jewish temple.
It’s amazing to me that all of this prophesy came true over a hundred years after Isaiah first spoke out against Judah. Imagine if you are part of God’s people during Isaiah’s day and you are under Assyrian rule. And rather than relief, the prophesy says that your judgment is not ending any time soon. Rather, things are going to get worse under Babylon. And after that, Persia will rule over you, but then you read this strange prophesy about a deliverance by a man named Cyrus. And this man ends up being the king of Persia, and in a strange reversal, through this king, the exiles are allowed to return to Jerusalem. Because that was the Persian way of dealing with conquered nations.
It is simply unbelievable. And reading this 100 years prior would not bring me much comfort.
On the other hand, imagine that 100 years have passed and from the perspective of king Cyrus living, you are a Persian king and you have just overthrown Nebucchadnezzar and Judah is thrown in as part of the spoils of war. And during his interactions with these former exiles, you begin to hear about this prophesy that has your name in it. And the prophesy was spoken 100 years ago and yet it happens exactly the way it was recorded in the ancient manuscript.
Did you ever think about that? It is amazing.
God is indeed sovereign, He alone is worthy of all our praise.
This is precisely the lesson God is trying to teach Judah. God is glorious and as my servant and my witness, now go out and show the world just how glorious I am.
And if you don’t believe me and you still stubbornly cling to your idols, wait until Cyrus comes onto the scene and you see God’s word fulfilled in history. Then you will give me glory.
Let’s read Isaiah 26:8.
v8 – From the Hebrew, the translation goes like this – In the way of judgment (act of deciding a case), O Yahweh, we wait for you, your name and your remembrance (memory) are the soul’s desire.
It’s like a court scene. God is both prosecutor and judge. The sense is that God is not pleased with his people. Therefore, he has put them under judgment by these pagan nations and he is in the midst of deciding which way to rule the case – deliverance or more judgment. And during the deliberation process, God’s people answer, O Yahweh, we wait for you, your name and your remembrance, your memory are the soul’s desire.
When God heard that, he must have been so thrilled. They finally get it!! Yes, that’s exactly what I have been trying to teach them.
Why does God have to use such harsh means, I mean, back to back to back judgment by 3 pagan nations and then Malachi and another 400 years of silence. That is a lot of judgment!
Verse 9 and 10 give us a clue. Grace is shown to the wicked but they do not learn righteousness. But in judgment, the people of the world learn righteousness.
If you have young kids, you don’t need any more elaboration on these verses. Showing grace or speaking gently when kids misbehave does not work that well. You have to raise your voice. And if your name is Jeremiah, this doesn’t work that well either. You have to start taking away things. Like yesterday, I bought him some goggles and now he wears it all the time – it’s just like when we first bought him a bike helmet, he wore it everywhere – at home, at the groceries, even to church. I start with gentle words, Jeremiah, you shouldn’t do that.
And if that doesn’t work, then it’s raising my voice – Jeremiah, stop doing that!
And if that doesn’t work, then it’s taking away things – Jeremiah, give me your goggles and helmet and I am going to return them to the store or give them away.
This is the only way kids learn. And to God, we must be like the most rebellious, spoiled children. It’s because we are sinners that God is forced into exercising his judgment for our own good.
God uses harsh means with Judah, but God is finally getting the answer he is looking for – Lord, your name and your remembrance, your memory are the soul’s desire.
Verses 13 and 14 follow this theme.
v13 – your name do we honor, your name we remember – so again honor and remembering God’s name are connected.
v14 – wipe out all memory of other lords that have ruled over God’s people – the word for “memory” referring to the wiping out of all the memory of other kings and other nations is the same word used in v8 for God’s memory being the desire of our hearts.
Putting it altogether, what ought to be our heart’s desire? It’s about God’s name, his character being exalted and honored and this name can never be forgotten. It is to be proclaimed, remembered, celebrated. For what purpose? So that the unbelieving nations will see us giving glory to God and eventually join in the worship of God.
In comparison, every other memory is wiped out because the memory of God overshadows all.
In other words, our heart’s desire is to glorify God, to give him all the glory and to make his name famous to all nations, for all time. That’s it. This is what it means to be a Christian. When we first became Christian, wasn’t that our confession? God, you are the greatest thing that happened to me. I lay down all my idols, Lord, be glorified through my life, I am your servant, I give my life to you. Lord, I want the whole world to know you.
Isaiah 43:7 reads everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.
It says we were created, formed and made, for what purpose? For my glory. For God’s glory. To give glory to God is in our DNA, we’re wired for glory.
Living for the glory of something or someone is a foreign concept to many of us.
Alexander the Great knew glory. This Greek king conquered much of the known world in the 4th century.
Or if you were one of the many emperors of Rome during its 2,500 year history, then you know glory. The glory of Rome.
Samurais knew glory. They lived for the glory of their master and if they dishonored him, their only option was to commit hara kiri with a sword and the less pain they expressed during their self-execution, the more honorable their death.
But what about us? American history is a little more than 200 years. The closest thing we have is movies about Glory, like Glory with Denzel Washington about the Civil War. And what is being honored during wartime. The bravery and courage of soldiers who die in battle. Or freedom, or democracy. Some say, this is glory as defined by our nation. I don’t want to get into war or passivism but clearly WWII and Vietnam War and even most recently the Iraq War I believe have caused us to pause and question if war or the ideals that cause us to go to war are that glorious.
So if it’s not the glory of America, or war, or freedom or democracy, then what do we have left?
I believe we who live in America are struggling because we have not found anything glorious to motivate us, or to live for.
On top of that, factor in America’s quick rise to power and the subsequent wealth that followed.
Why do any of our youth need to strive for something more glorious? Living for something glorious is a hard life. You can’t sit in your lazy boy and expect to be a Caesar Augustus. We no longer have to be the best because even if you are at the bottom of your class, you can still live in relative comfort.
The American dream is really a small thing if you think about it. It is having a nice home to call your own and living in relative comfort. It is a nice goal but it is certainly a far cry from glory.
What is the desire of your hearts?
I had to think about this for my life and what I thought many of us would say.
What would many of our perfect lives look like? We’re Christian so we know it is not good to be too materialistic. So we would say we don’t need a lot of money. But we would want to have enough money that we wouldn’t have to worry about money and providing for our children.
What about our careers? We don’t want to be a CEO. That takes too much work. I want to have flexibility but I don’t want to work at Starbucks because they pay too little so that wouldn’t work. And so we imagine having this fictional job where we have no boss, maybe we are like a board member and we just have to show up to work for a few hours a week whenever we feel like it. None of us would want to be jobless because that would be boring to stay home all the time. And babysitting, who wants to watch kids all day.
In my perfect dream scenario, I want my job to be meaningful, it has to make an impact on other people and allow me to be well paid and have a flexible schedule. And be a boss without all the demands and responsibility.
Isn’t this the desire of our hearts? Let’s be honest with ourselves.
It’s a paltry self-glory disguised as comfort and self-sufficiency. And just like in Isaiah’s day, people fashioned idols, we have fashioned a fictional world where we are at the center and everything comes to us easily and we don’t have to work too hard. And we have enough time to give God whatever is left over at the end of the day.
If this is your heart’s desire, this dream would end up being a nightmare from God’s perspective. May it not end like this.
In Isaiah’s day and for centuries, God’s name was being dishonored. Pagan rulers mocked were the name of God and lifted up their idols and taunting the exiles, where is your God? Is he not mighty to save? Where is your God?
Isaiah’s day and our modern situation are no different. Today, God’s name is mocked. Mentioning the name of God is taboo in most social settings.
God’s name is at stake, his honor. And for this reason, God will not allow his mockers to get the last word.
That is why God will always accomplish his mission. He did deliver His people from pagan hands, though it took centuries. He will achieve his goal of making a small remnant of true servants who can wholeheartedly give glory to God.
And of course, God’s ultimately silenced all mockers by sending Jesus Christ, the True Servant, whose heart’s desire and actions testified in every way to the unfailing glory of God.
I want to close with a quote from C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Weight of Glory”:
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desire not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us… We are far too easily pleased.”
What is the desire of your heart?
Let’s not settle for too little. Let’s not allow ourselves to be too easily pleased.
Jeremiah is perfectly content putting his goggles on and swimming in the bathtub. Daddy, look at me, and he splashes around and he doesn’t move an inch.
I want him to experience swimming in a pool and eventually in the ocean.
Infinite joy awaits us, His weight of glory, his weighty presence around us, in our midst, and within us as we learn to give God the proper glory that He deserves.