This congregation has had a long history of interest in Paraguay because of Frank and Marge’s involvement. Now with Ray planning to go some of have a renewed interest in what is happening in Paraguay. Chris Kroeker dropped into the office this week and I asked him about the situation in Paraguay. He told me that after 35 years of dictatorship the country moved towards democracy in 1989. Yet the years of democracy have not been stable years. The first democratic election was interfered with and so ended up not being a true election. The General who prompted the move towards democracy has continued to try to influence the political process and has himself been involved in political corruption and probably also in the drug trafficking.
The result of this political instability has a negative impact on the country. During the three weeks that Chris was here, the value of the currency dropped by about 20% against the US dollar. Confidence that you will receive what is right from the justice system is weak. There is high unemployment and many people struggle even to have enough to eat. There is often violence as people try to take what they feel belongs to them. Citizens of a region take matters into their own hands and form blockades on the highways. Every once in a while the government steps in and people die or are arrested. Although there is to be another election next year, many people have a sense of hopelessness and some even think that a dictatorship would be better than a non-functioning democracy. This is the kind of country in which Chris and his sisters and their families live and minister and also the kind of country into which Ray plans to move.
The demonstration of power among the nations and the instability of political systems occurs world wide. Each week we read in the newspapers of different things that happen in the world. Whether it is the news of the terrible conflict between Israel and Palestine or of American power wielded, sometimes not so wisely or gently, in military conflicts in Afghanistan. Whether it is the monetary power of the United States and the European Union making things difficult for Canadian farmers or the helplessness of rate payers in the Morris McDonald School Division. Whatever the situation, we are at the mercy of constantly new realities because of the power of nations around us.
For Christians, God has warned us that we should not be surprised at the power of nations. We are reminded that as believers, we should even expect to face persecution. Just this week, I received an email about the situation in North Korea. It included a list of those who had been killed for their faith: Seven people at a Public Security Ministry detention house in Onsong County of North Hamgyong Province in mid-1997; a young man in a prison of Hoeryong city in early 1998; three people in Musan city in early 1999; two people in a Ch'ongjin city prison in late 1999. Last September, 13 Christians were executed by Hoeryong city and even a 13-year old and an 8-year old child were openly shot to death for being "Jesus freaks".
The possibility of persecution even exists in Canada. In an Edmonton Sun article on May 26, 1997 columnist Michael Jenkinson wrote, "…it is clear that despite Canada’s much vaunted embrace of 'tolerance' it is still acceptable to denigrate Christians in a manner that would not be condoned with regard to any other religion.”
As we continue our study of Isaiah this week, I would like to remind us of a very important Biblical truth which gives us an entirely different perspective on the power of the nations. Let us read Isaiah 40:15-17.
I. The Nations Are As Nothing
In spite of what we see in the world, Isaiah 40 helps us to understand how God views the nations. A series of rhetorical questions helps us understand.
On our vacation, we had several opportunities to witness the power of water. I went on a white-water rafting trip and it was amazing to be carried along by the water and to be buffeted here and there by the powerful waves and rapids. We also looked around at Athabasca Falls and listened to and watched the tremendous power of falling water. Sometimes we may feel that the nations of the world are as powerful as the mighty surging waters and threaten to overwhelm us in their power. But the text tells us that in the eyes of God, these great nations are not like that at all. The power of a bucket of water is not something that frightens us at all and to compare the power of a waterfall to the power of a bucket of water would be a great image to help us recognize that in God’s eyes a nation is not such a powerful thing. But that is not the imagery. In the eyes of God, nation are not like a bucket of water, but like the little drop of water left after we have emptied the bucket.
(bring scales) This balance scale is capable of measuring small amounts quite accurately. If you balance it and put the lightest thing on the scale, it will be able to measure the mass of that thing. But if you covered one side and left the other side open, and left it standing out for a week, the dust that would fall on it would be negligible. The dust on the scales would make no difference at all. God does not view the nations of the world as some weighty thing to be measured, rather, they are like the dust on the scales.
Today we are impressed with the power and monetary might of the United States more than any other country of the world. At that time, Lebanon was a country of great resources. Lebanon is a region North of Israel. It was known for its forests and the wild animals that lived in those forests. Yet, In Isaiah 40:16, God says that all the forests and animals of Lebanon are not enough for a burnt offering for God. In other words, God is so much greater than any nation and indeed than all the nations.
Summing up this picture language Isaiah says that the nations are as nothing, in fact less than nothing. The word used here is the word “tohu” which is the same word used in Genesis 1:2 to describe the condition of the world before God ordered creation. There it says that the earth was formless and empty. Here God says that the nations are empty. Compared to the God of the universe, the nations have no power. They cannot do anything without God’s knowledge and permission.
Drop of water and dust do not mean that God has no concern for the nations, but just that compared to him they have no power.
II. Prophecies Against The Nations
Such a statement needs demonstration for our wondering eyes. It is fine for God to say this, but where is the evidence that it is indeed true? We look at the world situation and we are not so sure that God has this power.
Isaiah presents us with ample words regarding the power of God over the nations. In many places, Isaiah has oracles against the various nations with whom Israel had to do. A particularly concentrated collection of these sayings is found from chapters 13-23. There we find a series of prophecies against these nations including Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Cush, Egypt, Edom, Arabia, Tyre and even Ephraim, Damascus and Jerusalem.
Seitz, the writer of a commentary on Isaiah says, “the oracles against foreign nations are not primarily oracles of salvation for Israel; rather, they make clear that God’s sovereignty over human pride and arrogance reaches to every nation on earth.” The purpose of this section is to recognize that God’s name will be exalted in all the earth.
It would be interesting to take each of these prophecies and examine how they have been fulfilled in history. If we did that, we would see just how true it is that God is sovereign over the nations. This work has been done and I would like to briefly point out just one example.
In Isaiah 13:19-22 there are several specific predictions that are made about the city of Babylon which was as glorious and prosperous as any city we can go to today. The prophecy predicts that Babylon will be like Sodom and Gomorrah, that it will never be inhabited again, that tents will not be placed there by Arabs, that sheepfolds will not be there and that desert creatures will infest the ruins. At the time of writing and for many decades afterwards no one would have believed that this could possibly happen. Today, the site of Babylon has been excavated and it has become evident that all of these things have come true. Austen R. Layard in Discoveries among the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon writes, “the site of Babylon a naked hideous waste. Owls start from the scanty thickets and the foul jackal skulks through the furrows. Truly ‘the glory of kingdoms and the beauty of the Chaldeans excellency is as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.” Floyd Hamilton clarifies, “Travelers report that the city is absolutely uninhabited, even Bedouins. There are various superstitions current among the Arabs that prevent them from pitching their tents there, while the character of the soil prevents the growth of vegetation suitable for the pasturage of flocks.”
These and many more illustrations come from Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands A Verdict. Clearly the message of Isaiah that God is the one who has power over the nations is born out by history.
As Israel read this, they read it in the context of the history of the Assyrian nation which had destroyed Israel and had come right up to the walls of Jerusalem and in the context of the Babylonian empire which would come and destroy them. It was written to comfort them that none of these things happened without God’s permission.
Why do we need to know this? There are two reasons.
First of all, it helps us deal with some of our fears. We have become used to a civil and just government and have come to believe that our rulers will always do more or less what is right. That assumption cannot be made in most of the world. Last fall, when we saw the two trade towers in New York collapse at the hands of a terrorists, we were suddenly brought face to face with what the rest of the world lives with almost all the time - instability and threat. But when we know that God is Lord over the nations, that the most powerful nations are just a drop from a bucket and as dust on the scales to him, then we do not need to fear what enemy nations or our own nation can do to us. We have no idea what could yet happen in our world or even in our nation, but one thing we can be sure of and that is that we do not need to fear the nations of the world. We know people who are missionaries and are living in unstable countries. I think of Harold and Cheryl, Chris and Revita and even of Ray going to Paraguay. As parents and friends of these people, we do not need to fear because we know the God of the universe who is over all these nations.
Another thing that has happened to us because we have such a stable government is that we begin to put our trust in the government. We are confident that justice will be done and that prosperity will continue and our confidence comes because we believe that our government will make sure that these things happen. What foolish confidence! When stock markets fall as they did this past week and when armies fail to protect, we soon know that our confidence cannot be in nations, but must be in God. So when we know that the nations are but dust, and that God is Lord over all nations, we are reminded once again that we must learn to put all of our confidence in Him.
What do you fear? Whom do you trust? Make sure that it is the sovereign Lord of all the earth and Him alone.