Category: Seminars

Wisdom

PRACTICE FOR THE NEW HEAVEN AND EARTH

We do many activities in this life as Christians that we will not do in the new heaven and earth. For example, We will never evangelize anyone in the new heaven and earth. We will never share the gospel or hand out a tract. We will not pray for needs in the new heaven and earth; there will be no reason to.

However, there is one activity we will continue to do in the new heaven and earth: worship. We will worship God forever. Given this, we can look at worship in this life as a kind of “practice” for the new heaven and earth. Paul Engel wrote, “That’s how important it is to get it correct, here and now, in preparation for what’s coming. Our focus on worship in this life will reap eternal dividends (Paul Engle, When God Draws Near, 19).

The English word “worship” means “to ascribe worth to something.” We worship God for who He is and because He is worthy. “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME” (Revelation 4:8).

We worship God not only for His character, but also for His conduct (not only for His attributes, but also for His actions): “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11). Thus, God is worthy of worship because He did what no one else could ever do: He created all things, and He continues to sustain all things.

But more than that, He also redeemed us through His Son, Jesus Christ. “Worthy are You . . . for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood” (Revelation 5:9). That’s what God did for us, and He deserves never-ending praise and worship because of it.

Worship involves the physical and emotional aspects of human personhood, which can be expressed through song. But fundamentally, worship is an acknowledgment of who God is and what He has done. Worship incorporates our bodily and emotional responses and has an intelligent expression that involves the mind. Jesus said we should love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). This means our worship should fully engage everything within us as we dwell on the greatness of God. Fundamentally, worship is “consciously drawing close God.” It is not something that one does all the time. It is not something that one does thoughtlessly. Worship is a person actively connecting to God in and through the avenues that God has prescribed. Since God is the one to be worshipped, we do not choose how to draw close to God. Thankfully, God has revealed to us in His word how He desires for us to worship Him.

God is worthy to be praised! As the psalmist wrote, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God” (Ps. 95:6–7). Likewise, C. S. Lewis wrote: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 106).

THE PLACE OF THEOLOGY IN DISCIPLESHIP

I realize that our brotherhood has generally had a deep suspicion (if not outright hostility) of theology from the beginning of the Restoration Movement. There have been good reasons for those suspicions. Many of the “theologies” (Dogmatic, Liberation, Feminist, etc.) often promote ideas that do not cohere with the Bible. Theology can lack practicality (abstract thinking for “ivory tower” intellectuals). Sometimes, theology promotes confusion instead of clarity (it obscures the truth of the Bible). Some methods of theology supported oppressive church authority and tradition. For these reasons and more, many do not want to have anything to do with theology.

The problem with “stiff-arming” theology is that we are all theologians. We do not have the choice to be theologians or not. Our choice is to whether to be good or bad theologians. As Michael Weed wrote, “The only true alternative is whether one will have an examined theology or one which is unexamined . . . One’s option is not whether theology but rather what kind of theology” (Michael Weed, “The Layman, The Theologian, and the Church,” Restoration Quarterly 23 (1980), 25). In other words, we cannot free ourselves of theology if we are going to deal with God, God’s revelation, and God’s things.

I recently read an article entitled “7 Ways Biblical Theology Transforms Bible Study.” The premise of the article is that “biblical theology transforms personal and group Bible study.” The following two items are edited and enhanced from this article.

Biblical theology makes Bible study God-centered, not me-centered. Most Bible study techniques move quickly to “how am I going to apply this to my life?” without considering the intended message for the first audience. The Bible is God’s story, not my story. One of our first questions about a biblical text or passage ought to be, “what does this tell me about God?” After we ask these kinds of questions that we position ourselves to make applications for our lives.

Biblical theology urges us toward union with Christ, not merely imitating Jesus. Union with Christ is the very essence of what it means to be a Christian. Biblical theology serves to show us the beauty, the necessity, and the sufficiency of being joined to Christ by faith. Just trying to follow His example is not the goal. Think about Paul’s writings and all of his uses of “in Christ,” “into Christ,” “with Christ,” “through Christ,” and the metaphor of the “body of Christ.” Union with Christ is not just about “justification” (“being saved”) but also includes Christian living (living out the death and resurrection of Christ).

There is often a desire for group studies or teaching to be “practical.” We tend to want simple, manageable, consumer-friendly tidbits about God that we can use in our faith walk. However, the most practical thing that can take place in our study of the Bible is that it kindles a desire to know and walk with God. Desiring God is the foundation each one of us needs for life-transforming obedience.

Mark’s Remarks

I had a good week at Yellowstone Bible Camp. It was not a very large camp, which helped to have a more relaxed atmosphere. The lessons from Isaiah were well received and appreciated. I even spent some time in Yellowstone National Park and saw bison, elk, deer, a black bear, a grizzly bear and cub, and seven wolves.

I appreciate Jakie Gibbs and Lorn Benson for preaching and teaching in my absence. I also appreciate Mike Ewing for taking over the online access to the worship assembly.

We are embarking on a short series concerning “desire.” As I delved into the subject, the direction of my study took some turns that I did not expect. Those turns challenged me, and I will share some of them with you. The plan for the desire series is:

July 11          The Realm Of Desire

July 18          The Desires Of God

July 25          Human Desires

The Bible uses several Hebrew and Greek terms to express both good and evil desires. Two Hebrew roots shape the concept of desire in the Old Testament: אוה (ʾwh) generally expresses a neutral or good desire, whereas the numerous terms derived from the root חמד (ḥmd) describes the desirability of an object or person. The Old Testament often deems desire expressed through the root ḥmd as a negative form of desire. In addition, the Old Testament employs other verbs and nouns to specify the nuances of desire in relationships with both humans and God (חָשַׁק [ḥāšaq, “to desire”] and שָׁאַף [šāʾap, “to pant for”]). In the New Testament, the concept of desire is frequently communicated through Greek terms related to the will or wishes of a person or God. The verbs θέλω (thelō, “to will”) and βούλομαι (boulomai, “to wish”) frequently occur regarding the concept of desire. Desire can be morally positive or negative based on the context. The New Testament authors typically employ the verbs ἐπιθυμέω (epithymeō) and ἐπιποθέω (epipotheō) to illustrate the positive aspect of desire. At the same time, the noun ἐπιθυμία (epithymia) often refers to the destructive effect of lustful desires.

The Bible mentions all kinds of desires and longings that are fundamental to human existence. The biblical texts characterize some of these desires as good and thus to be pursued, while others are viewed as sinful and therefore to be avoided or resisted. When uncontrolled, passion can become overwhelmingly excessive or misdirected, turning people away from the Lord and toward selfish and harmful thoughts and actions.

As we think about “desires,” let us adopt the mindset the psalmists communicated in the following texts:

Psalm 40:8 I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.

Psalm 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

Psalm 119:174 I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight.

Mark Johnson

THE “I AM” STATEMENTS IN ISAIAH

“I am” occurs fifty-six times in forty-nine verses in the English Standard Version translation of the book of Isaiah. Several of the “I am” occurrences refers to humans (Isa. 6:52; 19:11; 21:32, 8; 33:24; 38:10, 14; 44:5, 16; 47:8, 10; 56:3; 58:9; 65:5), there is one occurrence of “I am” which refers to the Servant (Isa. 49:5), and all of the other “I Am” occurrences in Isaiah refer to God (Isa. 1:14; 13:17; 28:16; 41:4, 102, 13, 14; 42:6, 8; 43:3, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 19, 25; 44:6, 24; 45:62, 7, 18; 46:4, 92; 48:123, 17; 49:5, 23, 26; 51:12, 15; 60:22) refer to God.

God’s “I Am” statements that are recorded in the book of Isaiah indicate that God wants people to know and understand that “I Am He” (Isa. 43:10; 45:6-7). “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isa. 42:8). “For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa. 43:3). “I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King” (Isa. 43:15). “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’” (Isa. 44:6). “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: ‘I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself’” (Isa. 44:24). “For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the LORD, and there is no other” (Isa. 45:18).

God wants people to know Him and walk with Him (Isa. 41:10, 13, 14; 43:5; 46:4; 51:12). Walking with God does not mean doing many rituals (Isa. 1:14) without conformation to His instruction (Isa. 48:17). Knowing and walking with God means realizing that there is no one and nothing else like Him (Isa. 41:4; 43:12; 45:5; 46:9; 48:12).

Realizing that God is the LORD means acknowledging that He is the only savior (Isa. 43:11) and that people need to turn to Him to be saved (Isa. 45:22). God can and will save because He has the power to save (Isa. 43:13; 51:5) and is the only one who can “blot our transgressions” (Isa. 43:25). Being in a saving, covenant relationship with God includes practicing righteousness and being a light to those around us (Isa. 42:6) and “waiting for” (trusting) God.

God has revealed Himself to humanity. Thank you, God.

CREATE (bārāʾ)

One important word in the Old Testament is bārāʾ (create). Bārāʾ has the basic meaning of creating, separating (as by cutting), creating, cutting, forming, fashion by cutting, pare a reed for writing, and initiating something new.[1] Although one of the most respected Hebrew lexicons states, “ברא is a specifically theological term,”[2] this claim is not supported by the evidence.[3] When bārāʾ is used in the Qal and Naphil verbal forms, the subject is always God and refers to God’s activity (a theological term in these two verbal forms).[4]

Bārāʾ occurs six times in the first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:4) to claim that the God of the Hebrews (the God of the Bible) is the mighty Creator. This verb occurs only four more times in Genesis (Genesis 5:1, 22; 6:7) and does not often appear in the biblical text until the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah uses bārāʾ nineteen times and almost exclusively in chapters 40-55 (Isaiah 4:5; 40:26; 41:20; 42:5; 43:1, 7; 45:72, 8, 12, 182; 48:7; 54:162; 57:19; 65:17, 182). One of the primary objectives for Isaiah’s use of bārāʾ is to create and sustain trust in God. Isaiah seeks to accomplish this goal by contrasting God to the idols (Isaiah 40:21-26; 45:5-7). As the Creator, God declares the things that have come to pass (“former things”) and the “things to come” (Isaiah 41:20-23; 42:9; 43:7-11; 48:3-7). A third way Isaiah uses bārāʾ is to call God’s people to consider creation so that we will appreciate His power (Isaiah 40:26; 41:20; 45:7-8, 18). Isaiah uses bārāʾ culminates in God’s declaration to create “new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65: 17-18).

Some also claim that the term bārāʾ never appears with explicit mention of preexisting material[5] (in other words, the claim is that bārāʾ means “to make something out of nothing”). This claim may be valid for some of the occurrences of bārāʾ, but several texts demonstrate that this assertion is not always true. For example, the psalmist calls on God to “create (bārāʾ) in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). The psalmist is calling for a “change of heart,” which is further explained by “renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Psalm 51:10 is a call for God to rework the psalmist’s preexistent heart/spirit.

Mark Johnson

[1] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDB), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977, 135; David J. A. Clines, The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH), Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993–2011, 258; Thomas E. McComiskey, “בָּרָא,” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT), ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Chicago: Moody, 1999, 127; Willem VanGemeren, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (NIDOTTE), Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1997, 728.

[2] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000, 153.

[3] Bārāʾ occurs in the Piel verbal form in Joshua 17:15, 18; Ezekiel 21:19; 23:47 with the meaning of cut and the subject who is doing the “cutting” is not God. When bārāʾ occurs in the Piel verbal form, the typical subject is humans (NIDOTTE, 731–732).

[4] TWOT, 127.

[5] McComiskey states, “the word never occurs with the object of the material,” TWOT, 127.

Darkness And Light In Isaiah

The book of Isaiah begins with God’s people in rebellion and they need to learn to seek good (Isaiah 1:2-6, 16-23). Israel is in spiritual darkness and needs to submit to God and walk in His “light” (Isaiah 2:5). This interplay between light and darkness makes a significant contribution to the message of the book.

The theme of “light and darkness” is evident in Isaiah’s initial call to be a prophet. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed” (Isaiah 6:8-10). The rubric of “blind and see” contributes to “light and darkness” theme for spiritual understanding or lack of understanding (Isaiah 6:10; 29:9, 18; 35:5; 42:7, 16, 18, 19; 43:8; 56:10; 59:10).

The pairing of “light and darkness” occurs in eight places in the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:30 They will growl over it on that day, like the growling of the sea. And if one looks to the land, behold, darkness and distress; and the light is darkened by its clouds

Isaiah 9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined

Isaiah 42:16 And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them

Isaiah 45:7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things

Isaiah 50:10 Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God

Isaiah 58:10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday

Isaiah 59:9 Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom

Mark Johnson

IMPLICATION OF 1 CORINTHIANS 12:14

  1. The church doesn’t belong to any one of us (or even all of us). Christ is both the head (Col. 1:18) and the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20) of the church. It’s His church. Nobody – nobody – in a local church can legitimately say, “This is my church.” Christ is the one who purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28). “Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ” (Eph. 5:23-24).
  2. The church is not dependent on any of us for survival. Some folks think their church will die without them, but God has a way of teaching us otherwise. The church is “nourished” by Christ (Eph. 5:29).
  3. Each person in the congregation matters; including those who seem less significant in the congregation. “On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it” (1 Cor. 12:22-24). We should support, empower, and trust other church members (this is especially true for the leaders, Eph. 4:11-13).
  4. If every member is a clone, the church won’t be healthy. “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?” (1 Cor. 12:15-17).
  5. No member is supposed to be doing everything. Some church members hold many positions, and there is a tendency to think of themselves as more faithful. It’s not biblical that any one member plays all the parts that God intends others to play. “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?” (1 Cor. 12:18-19).
  6. Members must never leave a body lightly. If one part of the body disappears, the entire body is weakened. There are times when it is right to leave one congregation to join another. Prayer, wisdom, and godliness are essential in this kind of transition for the body’s good.

Chuck Lawless (edited by Mark Johnson)

THE POTTER’S HANDS

The potter at work with the clay is one of God’s favorite images of Himself and people. God’s hands began shaping people at creation. “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen. 2:7). The Hebrew word for “formed” is יָצַר (yāṣar) which means to shape, form, fashion, or create.

The potter pictures God’s ability to fashion and make things. According to Alan Coppedge, the strength of the potter and clay image is its “graphicness in creating pottery, often beautifully,” and “the key purpose is to communicate that God has the power to do what seems good to Him to do (Jeremiah 18:4)” (Allan Coppedge, Portraits of God, Kindle).

Isaiah connects the role of the potter with God’s role as creator or maker.

Isaiah 45:9-12 “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? 10 Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’” 11 Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: “Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands? 12 I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.

The potter image describes God as creator, and the above text also uses the concept of the potter to compare God with the work of a Father fashioning or shaping his children in their growth. The father aspect of the potter metaphor is brought to the forefront in Isaiah 64:8, “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

The physical properties of clay make it a powerful biblical metaphor. It is soft and pliable in one form, and it can also be hard or brittle. Clay provides an excellent image for human beings as the work of God’s creative hand. As the master potter, God has the right to give each of His creations a specific shape and purpose (Leland Ryken, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, InterVarsity, 2000, 155).

We may not always like the way we are being shaped. The clay is gouged, poked, molded, heated, etc., as the potter works. Yet, it is futile for the clay to argue with the potter (Isaiah 29:16; 45:9; Romans 9:19-21). The potter uses the clay to express His will. The clay needs the potter; without the potter, the clay is formless (purposeless).

We must be careful and not become “spoiled” clay (Jeremiah 18:3-6) or too hard for the potter to use. Let us determine to be soft, moldable, pliable clay that is open to God’s Word and God’s people. Sometimes this is painful. Yet the call is to have the attitude of the psalmist:

Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Mark Johnson

The Cloud Rider

Clouds rarely appear in the Bible in a simple meteorological context, which means that clouds often have a theological meaning. When Israel “looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud” (Exodus 16:10). After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelite journey through the cloud, and the fire represents God’s presence with them during their journey (Exod. 13:21, 22; 14:19, 20, 24; Neh. 9:12, 19; Pss. 78:14; 99:7; 105:39).

Several passages associate God’s appearance as a warrior with the cloud. Michael Heiser wrote the following concerning the widespread concept in the ancient Near East that the one who rides the clouds is a deity:

In the Ugaritic texts, the god Baal is called “the one who rides the clouds.” The description became an official title of Baal, whom the entire ancient Near Eastern world considered a deity of rank. To ancient people all over the Mediterranean, Israelite or not, the “one who rides the clouds” was a deity—his status as a god was unquestioned. Consequently, any figure to whom the title was attributed was a god (Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm, Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015, 251).

The writers of the Hebrew Bible were familiar with Baal and the Baal stories because the worship of Baal was an ongoing problem in Israel. One thing these inspired authors of the Old Testament did to counter the Baal legends and emphasize that Yahweh (the God of Israel) should be worshiped instead of Baal was to depict the God of Israel as the real warrior who rider the clouds as His chariot. Please do not misconstrue my point. Yahweh is the real cloud rider (the Old Testament authors did not image Him as something He is not).

Deuteronomy 33:26 There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty

Psalm 18:6-12 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. 7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. 8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. 9 He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. 10 He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. 11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. 12 Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.

Psalm 68:4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him!

Psalm 68:32-34 O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, Selah 33 to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice. 34 Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies

Psalm 104:1-4 Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, 2 covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. 3 He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; 4 he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire.

Isaiah 19:1 An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.

Nahum 1:3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

The point of this recurring image of God is to tell the reader that when God puts on His armor (Isa. 59:17) and rides His cloud chariot, things happen. God is doing battle for righteousness and justice. God is waging a spiritual war against the powers of darkness.

When the warrior God goes to battle, it is an excellent time to make sure that you are “on the Lord’s side” (Exodus 32:26).

This image is carried into the New Testament with Jesus as the “son of man coming on the clouds” (Daniel 7:13; Matthew 24:30; 26:57-66; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 17:24-25; 21:27; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 1:7; 14:14-16).

I AM HE WHO COMFORTS YOU

There is a multitude of “I am” statements God makes in the book of Isaiah. Yet, God makes one “I am” statement in the first thirty-nine chapters (Isaiah 28:16 thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion). Only two “I am” statements are made by God in chapters fifty through sixty-six (Isa. 60:22; 65:5).

Things are dramatically different in Isaiah chapters forty-one through fifty-one. God identifies Himself over thirty-five times as “I am” in this section of Isaiah. Some of the ways that God identifies Himself with the “I am” include:

Eternal – Isa. 41:2; 44:6; 48:12

With His people – 41:10; 43:5

One who helps (strengthens) – Isa. 41:10, 13, 14; 48:17

His name (glory) – Isa. 42:6, 8

The holy one – Isa. 43:3, 15

Savior – Isa. 43:3; 43:11, 12, 13; 49:26

Does a new thing – Isa. 43:19

Blots out sin – Isa. 43:25

Creator – Isa. 44:24; 45:7; 51:15

Unique – Isa. 45:5, 18, 22; 46:9; 47:8

Trustworthy – Isa. 49:23

All of these are great, important, and helpful self-designations (self-revelations) by God. The “I am” that struck me in the Isaiah readings this past week was, “I, I am he who comforts you” (Isaiah 51:12).

One reason that “I am he who comforts you” stood out from the other designations for me is because of the implications it has for our understanding of God’s character. Since Marcion of Pontus in the early to mid-second century, the Old Testament’s God has severed from the New Testament’s God. The Old Testament God has been characterized as a God of anger, wrath, and malice (in contrast to the God of the New Testament being a God of love and grace). Marcion’s reading of the Old Testament and God’s characterization continues to occur, taught, and promoted (in various forms and degrees in our time).

Disconnecting the God of the New Testament from the Old Testament is absolutely wrong.

Separating the God of the New Testament from the God of the Old Testament is biblically incorrect.

Characterizing the Old Testament God as angry, wrath and malicious misses what the Hebrew Scriptures claim concerning God. Does God get angry? Yes. But His anger is not triggered nearly as fast as our anger is, and His anger is not about trivial things. By the way, the wrath of God is not just an Old Testament concept (for example, read John 3:36; Romans 1:18; 2:5, 8; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).

God reveals Himself as a God of “comfort” in Isaiah 51:12!

The second reason “I am he who comforts you” stood out from the other designations for me is because of the importance of the “comfort” motif in Isaiah 40-55.

The Hebrew word that is translated as “comfort” is נחם (nāḥam) and occurs 108 times in the Old Testament. נחם (nāḥam) is the word that is found in Psalm 23:4, where David says of his heavenly Shepherd, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

According to Marvin Wilson,

The origin of the root seems to reflect the idea of “breathing deeply,” hence the physical display of one’s feelings, usually sorrow, compassion, or comfort. The second primary meaning of nāḥam is “to comfort” (Piel) or “to be comforted” (Niphal, Pual, and Hithpael). This Hebrew word was well known to every pious Jew living in exile as he recalled the opening words of Isaiah’s “Book of Consolation,” naḥămû naḥămû ʿammî “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people” (Isa 40:1). (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 1999, 570-571)

According to Ludwig Koehler, “to comfort does not mean to sympathize but to encourage” (The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 1994–2000, 689).

Similar to the “I am” statements, the word “comfort” (nāḥam) rarely occurs in the first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah (1:24; 12:1; 22:4) and chapters fifty-six through sixty-six (57:18; 61:2; 66:13).

Chapter forty is Isaiah’s recommissioning and begins with the charge to “Encourage, encourage my people” by God (Isaiah 40:1). This recommissioning is an extension and expansion of Isaiah’s prophetic call found in chapter 6. No longer is the prophetic message to be primarily one of judgment. Now the message is to be one of hope.

The repeated verbs “comfort” (nāḥam) are plural imperatives commanding the prophet what to say to God’s people. The God of comfort (Isa. 51:12) wants His people “comforted” (“encouraged”) because God’s servants will be crushed to the ground under the burden of their sins. The message to be proclaimed to them is that the exile was not designed to destroy them but only to punish them. God has a word of hope for them.

The verb disappears for a few chapters but then emerges again in chapter 49 at verse 19, “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! for the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.” “Comfort” (nāḥam) occurs six more times in the following five chapters (Isa. 51:3, 12, 19; 52:9; 54:11).

The need for God’s people to be encouraged is because they are struggling in their faith, as they are following foreign gods (Isaiah 40:18–20; 44:9–20; 46:1–7), doubting God’s trustworthiness (Isaiah 40:27), and needing to be commanded to heed God’s word (Isaiah 55:1–3, 6–7).

God’s people asked, “Are you really the one who did all those wonderful things in the past?” (Isaiah 51:9–10). God responds with a definitive “I, I am he, your comforter” (Isaiah 51:12). God offers Himself as the constant comforter to His fearful people in Isaiah 51:12. The reality of God being able to comfort His people is predicated on His uniqueness and incomparability.

Like the people of God that Isaiah addressed, God’s people still need to be encouraged today (have God’s hope spoken to us). Let us provide a word of comfort, a word of encouragement to our brothers and sisters in the Lord this week (maybe even every day this week). God will be glorified, the body of Christ strengthened, and you will be manifesting the character of God by doing this simple task.

Mark Johnson