On the Verge (Bible Study for Week of September 18)

Week 2           September 18, 2016

READ: Isaiah 40:21-31

Why Follow?

The story of Jesus which is written in all four gospels begins early on with Jesus calling fishermen, tax collectors and rebels to drop what they are doing and follow him.  Spiritual leaders throughout history in a variety of cultures act in this same way whether they are rabbi, guru, master or sage.  Jesus was an itinerant Jewish teacher who called students or disciples to learn from him.  Like a coaching methodology I learned from my former coach Bob Logan: I do, you watch; I do, you help; you do, I help; and, you do, I watch (and for the sake of reproduction: what follows is: You do, someone else watches…etc.), Jesus’ disciples at first watched and listen but then were sent in pairs to go and do.

The question is why do I need someone or something else in my life?  The urge to be self-taught, independent and totally in control of our own destiny is a slow dying American, at least male, ideal.  It has been a goal of many self-directed and successful entrepreneurs.  The attitude projected toward people of faith is that they are weak and need faith or “religion” as a crutch.  Whether we pursue it or try to deny it, we have a spiritual core that desires to connect with something or someone greater than ourselves.

To follow is to learn.  Jesus is a teacher.  We learn from Jesus by reading and applying his teachings as captured in the gospels.  We discover his way of life, the way of God and the way to treat other people.  Jesus is a teacher of practices not philosophy or theory.

To follow requires openness.  In time, Jesus calls for a trust of his way of life by letting go of our will and control and pursue the Jesus way of life.  It could be described as a battle of the wills.  In AA it is described in this way: let go and let God.  Put another way: surrender, yield, submit or deny yourself.

We follow to find our true self, the person and understanding of life that is only found in God.  Ironically, what is perceived as weakness is actually a discovery of strength.  In Christ Jesus we find fulfillment and encouragement to gradually and throughout our lifetime become formed by God.  We follow to find what our soul has been longing for.

Consider this regarding following Jesus:

  • For all newbies to the Christian faith, we often begin our faith quest by using our mind to explore, discover and learn. We may not as yet engage our heart.  When we are ready we allow our heart to take a step of faith.  It may seem scary at first but with the support of other Christians, we begin our journey of faith.
  • The call of Jesus to follow him requires us to get to know Jesus who we meet in the gospels. Ask around for a group with whom to study and learn about following Jesus.
  • When read small portions of a gospel like Mark or Luke on our own, jot down your questions and observations for later inquiry with your small group or a pastor.
  • Keep in mind this is a life time journey and not a sprint when it comes to following Jesus. It is not a course you are going to complete but a life you are going to live.


Few people amaze me the way Ben does.  He is as poor as a church mouse but that does not stop him.  Ben showed up at church because he had a ride from a friend of a friend at his group home.  What surprises me is how high functioning Ben is as a young man with Asperger’s.  For anyone who is unfamiliar with Asperger’s, it is part of the Autism spectrum, but often results in a higher degree of function. Ben can quote an article from a newspaper he read several years ago.  His recall of facts and quotes is stellar.

Socially, there is no other way to put it other than Ben is awkward!  For example, Ben is listening to a group of teenagers and a few adults and the conversation is favorite bands and solo artists.  Ben chirps in by telling the group that he just bought a book for ten cents at the library’s book sale on repair tips for your bicycle.  It resulted in some puzzled looks, a giggle and awkward silence.  One of the guys who has come to know Ben best breaks the silence by messing up Ben’s hair and says something like “next time my bike chain falls off I’ll call you, Mr. Fix it!”

What Ben brings to the table is himself and that is special.  In its own way delightful.  Ben is not a complainer nor full of himself.  He wants to be included in a group and contribute his own thoughts and interests.  For other high school kids, Ben offers the chance to be adaptive and responsive to a wonderful seventeen year old whose brain simply functions in a different way.  We are all better in life when we are open to people different than ourselves.  Ben adds flavor to our palate and color on our canvas of life!

Ground Work

40:11-24: from last week’s reading to this week’s readings, note that Second Isaiah likes to use questions – even series of four questions: 40:12-14; 21.  While it could appear that the point of vv. 12-17 is about God as creator, it has the subtle point of dismissing the significance of power of the nations of the world (40:17) as well as rulers of nations (40:23).  In the presence of God, they are all insignificant.  The questions posed in (40:21) are in response to the questions in (40:18).  The same first two questions in verse 21 are repeated in verse 28.

Similar to the opening section in 40:6-8, all people are like “grasshoppers” or “grass” and the rulers of the earth, as with all people, come to an end when the Lord blows on them like the wind.

40:25-26: The questions of verse 18 repeat but this time, the answer is that the Creator of all life is in control of the stars and the vast expanse of the heavens.

40:27-31: As Claus Westermann points out in his commentary on Isaiah 40-66, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969, p. 58, Here at last the audience which has been addressed from v. 12 onwards is mentioned by name, ‘you, Jacob…you Israel’, and here it itself is also heard speaking, ‘Why do you say?…’.  What Jacob and Israel complained was: “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?” (40:27e). Uprooted out of Jerusalem and forcefully and temporarily (albeit for 70 years) reset in a foreign land far removed from home, these words of the Jews echo the form in the Psalms, Job and Lamentations known as a lament.  It is an anguish-filled, deeply emotional cry for help and justice to God.

The closest parallel to the words of the lament in Isaiah 40:27 in Scripture is Psalm 44:24 which says, “Why do you hide your face?  Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?”  This idea that God is far removed from my trouble is actually quite a common theme in the Psalms.  Here are a few more examples: “Do not hide your face from me.  Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation” (Psalm 27:9)!  And again, “But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.  At an acceptable time O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me…Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.  Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress-make haste to answer me,” (Psalm 69:13, 16-17).  And a lament from Job: “Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy (13:24)?

While Second Isaiah is referred to often by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, Second Isaiah demonstrates a close affinity with the words of Psalms. This makes some sense given the fact that the temple in Jerusalem, the center of daily and religious holiday sacrifices, had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E.  Without a temple around which the Jewish faith was centered, a new localized communal center emerged called the synagogue in Greek or Knesset in Hebrew. It was a place of communal assembly, a house of study and a place of prayer.  The ancient stories of God and God’s chosen people the Jews would have been read and studied in what is called the Torah (the first five books from Genesis to Deuteronomy).  The prayers offered were read from the five scrolls (modeled after the five books of the Torah) called the Psalms.

Our lives are shaped by the words we read and the thoughts we ponder as we experience the joys and challenges of life.  In a post-literate culture, it is amazing to see how television, movies and interactive video influences the interactions today.  In exilic Judaism, the liturgy of the people which was shaped by the laments and praise expressed in the Psalms as read in the synagogue understandably influenced the words of Second Isaiah.  Could it be that one of the most portable forms of Scripture and life to influence our lives are old hymns and contemporary Christian songs?  If we are in fact impacted by what we listen to on our smart devices while we walk, run and work and Christian music is part of what we listen to, what does this suggest about the need for an even wider Scripture message than simply praise in worship music?  Who is writing the new song for a new community based on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)?  Where are the songs that dream the dreams of God to end poverty, racial inequality, city-wide division and birth a love and respect that honors all people who God has created?  Is this not the voice of God as revealed in the words of Jesus?

Concluding Thought

To the questions of the Jews in exile who felt forgotten and ignored by God, Second Isaiah retorts with challenge: “Have you not known?  Have you not heard (Isaiah 40:28)?  What follows is one of the most heavily quoted and most familiar and powerful words in Second Isaiah.  God has got it under control, the One who has created it all.  God empowers the weak and the powerless.  Do not lose faith in God but rather, wait for God.  God will raise you up out of the ash heap in exile like an eagle riding the wind.  Do not be deceived nor lose heart, children of Jacob and Israel.  You are not forgotten.

Discussion Questions

  1. While many Christian now understand that the scientific theory of evolution does not conflict with the faithful understanding of God as Creator but rather provides some evidence of the gradual development of life over millions upon millions of years, therefore, it further implies that God’s plan and exercise of creativity is even more amazing. What is it about creation and life that you most enjoy?  Give God praise!
  2. Are you more captivated in your interests by the land-based plants, animals, reptiles, and birds, or plants, fish, and corral that inhabit the seas and the rivers, or do you raise your eyes in wonder about the one who brings out their host and number them, calling them all by name (referring to the stars and planets, Isaiah 40:26c)?
  3. What does Isaiah 40:28 tell you about God?