“This is what the Lord says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. 7 Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come— yes, let them foretell what will come. 8 Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” (Isaiah 44:6-8)
You remember Psalm 137. Pagan captors taunt Israel who is now in Exile.
“You have cultural songs don’t you? Why don’t you sing one of them for us!”
By the rivers in Babylon, Israel hung their harps on the branches of the poplar trees. “How can we sing those songs in a foreign land? If I forget you Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you…” (Psalm 137:4-6a)
O Jerusalem! Precious Jerusalem, in ruin. No patriotic Israelite would have ever believed the prophets announcing doom to their city. Why would anyone believe for a moment that God’s holy city would be in ruin and its people in Exile? Jerusalem was supposed to be un-conquerable. That was God’s earthly dwelling. God waited forty years for them to finish building His temple before He moved in. If they started in 1980, they would only be finishing it up right about now.
Why would God, who sits on the throne, allow for mortals from pagan nations to come and destroy his house? Why would any sitting president allow any foreign force to come and take their capital, destroy their house and take their citizens off to their pagan cities? Israel had rested on the belief that Jerusalem would always be… Jerusalem.
But it didn’t stay that way.
In Exile, God’s people lived in the shadow of pagan statues adorning mantles in the houses; idols carved from wood and stone enshrined throughout the city. The pagan idols were regularly visited and honoured while God’s house was abandoned. While the house of idols were packed; in God’s demolished temple, not a word of praise. Pagan idols had beautiful shrines and the Lord Almighty had nowhere on earth to rest His head.
No praise. Only the sound of moss growing on crumbled stones: not one left on the other. No praise in the temple. Only the sounds, far away, by the rivers in Babylon, where you could hear the faint sound of people weeping. A people who thought that this would never happen, that their future was secure.
And why wouldn’t they have thought that? They thought they knew what the week ahead would look like: a meeting here, a visit with friends there and movies and pizza on Fridays. Why wouldn’t we think that our world would continue going on the way we’ve always known it. But something happens and we don’t know the future anymore. The future, that just a little while back seemed so sure. A sudden death in the family, a difficult diagnosis, a job in peril… an illness.
We thought, like Israel, that the temple would always be there. That their place of worship was sacred and that we would always be able to gather together. Able to maintain passing the wine and bread in remembrance. To come together and sing praises loudly and to our heart’s content. Why would a sitting God allow for the singing in his house to be silenced?
Israel might have asked, “When do we get our old life back?”
You might be asking the same.
In their confusion, Israel revisited these words from Isaiah… like we are today.
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and set it before me,” (44:6-7a)
“Beginning and the last,” He says. I remember someone else who said that. He said he was the Alpha and the Omega. The people also went through some dark days when they heard those words.
A God who knows the beginning from the end. He was the only one around when the first man and woman opened their eyes. And, since Adam, God has been with his people when they opened their eyes for the first time. Ever since Adam…
He knows ancient things, this God… And he knows what is coming.
All throughout, He’s sent messengers with warnings. “Don’t put your hand in the fire, you’ll get burned.” He knew what was coming, though we rarely listened. They remembered the warnings after they’d burned their hand though. They read Isaiah after they sat by the rivers in Babylon. There’s lots in there where you feel you’re reading “I told you so.” But there are words of comfort in there too.
“Do not fear. Do not be afraid.
Have I not told you from of old and declared it?
You are my witnesses.
Is there any God besides me?
No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” (44:8)
You are my witnesses.
I remember someone else who said that. It was right before He ascended. Those witnesses knew something the world didn’t yet. They were with Him from the beginning; they could recount everything they saw. If anyone knows what this God is like, it’ll be His people who have been with him the longest… Since the beginning. God’s people are his witnesses.
We could go back to Adam and ask him the same question. “Tell us, is there any other Rock than God?” What would they say? What would Abraham say? What would Moses say? You ask them! What would David say? What would Elijah say? What would Zechariah say? Ask them! What would Thomas say? What would Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Billy Graham, or any of the others who witnessed God through history? Was there any other Rock in all the world apart from God? I wonder what they would say if you asked them.
They’ll come knocking on your door also. Asking as they’ve asked all the others through history. They’ll come asking when the world seems to be falling apart and their hope is fleeting and their harps are hung silent on the trees.
“Tell us: is there any other Rock than God?”
And when they do, just take a deep breath and tell them what you know.