The prophet Isaiah lived in turbulent times. Times of change. Turmoil. Upheaval. Uncertainty. Fear. Fake news i.e. conspiracy theories. As we can see from Isaiah 1:1, Isaiah’s vision spanned the reign of four kings of Judah who reigned from about 740 BC to 686 BC. During Isaiah’s lifetime and ministry, the super-powerful Assyrian army conquered nations including the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC. Isaiah served in Jerusalem in the Southern Kingdom, which, during King Hezekiah’s reign, was attacked by Assyria around 701 BC but was protected. The city was spared until the Babylonians overtook it around 586 BC. All that to say, Isaiah lived in, shall we say, hectic times.
Isaiah’s name means something like “the Lord [Israel’s God] is the rescuer.” It’s worth remembering who our Rescuer is in troubled times like ours. The coronavirus has humbled world superpowers including the United States from where I am writing. I’ve been reminded from Isaiah not to put my faith ultimately in the US government or any other merely human power during this crisis.
In Isaiah 31, God speaks through his mouthpiece, the prophet Isaiah:
“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
and rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
and in horsemen because they are very strong
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
or consult the LORD!
And yet he is wise and brings disaster
he does not call back his own words
but will arise against the house of the evildoers
and against the helpers of those who work iniquity
The Egyptians are man, and not God,
and their horses are flesh, and not spirit;
when the LORD stretches out his hand,
the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fail,
and they will all perish together.” – Isaiah 31:1-3
What is the context? It’s about 702 BC. Tiny Judah, ruled by King Hezekiah, is sandwiched between a fast-moving Assyrian army and Egypt. Assyria would love to conquer Judah and especially the more powerful Egypt. King Hezekiah, is tempted to rely on powerful Egypt for help. Egypt has powerful military technology – horses and chariots. But, according to the law given to Israel’s Kings (Deuteronomy 17:16), Israel was never to rely on Egypt (from which they were rescued) again.
King Hezekiah’s temptation (and our temptation) during a crisis, is to put our trust in merely man-made solutions instead of relying on the Holy One of Israel – the one who is set apart – high above all human powers, even superpowers.
We thank God for giving President Ramaphosa wisdom, we thank God for wise governments and doctors and businesspeople and economists and scientists who are doing everything they can to fight this Coronavirus, but if our trust is in mere flesh (humans) instead of the one true God — God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit – we will be severely disappointed and ultimately perish.
Perhaps one of the reasons God has ordained this virus is to help us see who or what our faith is actually in? As Isaiah’s vision (the book of Isaiah) and name teaches us, the Lord is our rescuer. He is worthy of our trust in a way that no merely human power is. In the person of his Son, Jesus our Lord, God has acted to rescue his people from death itself – no merely human power can do that.
Questions for reflection:
1. When I start to worry about the Coronavirus, is my first move to pray (seek the Lord) or to seek fallen humanity’s help?
2. If my first move is to seek merely human help, who is the first person or power that my heart looks to for help? How is the Lord stronger than that person or power?