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God with us through our trials (Horizons 6)

“God’s Promise: I Am With You”
Lesson 6: God with us through our trials
Isaiah 41:8-13; 43:1-7

Grim and brutal is the history that informs First Isaiah, chapters one through 39. The people of God go their own way without regard for the Lord. Wealth is in the hands of a few while the poor are grounded down. In the courts, the innocent are deprived of their rights while the guilty are acquitted for a bribe. Their leaders lead them astray and the spoil of the poor are in the houses of elders and princes. (Isaiah 3:13-15; 5:18-23)

God’s judgment comes crashing down on Judah by the Babylonian army. The Jerusalem temple is destroyed, and all its sacred vessels are carted away to Babylon. All the people of rank, skill, military prowess and education are chained and marched away. The last king of Judah, Zedekiah, watches as his sons are slaughtered and then his own eyes are taken out. Zedekiah is bound in fetters and taken off to Babylon. (See 2 Kings 25)

None of us, except for prisoners of war, have known anything like the devastation heaped upon Judah. It would be like the bombing of the twin towers all over the nation. Since 1865, no war has been fought on the American mainland. We cannot imagine what it was like for the exiled people. But we do get a taste of their feelings in Psalm 137 as they lament Jerusalem’s destruction and grimly say of Babylon, “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against a rock!”

In the cauldron of captivity, the people wonder if the Babylonian god is stronger than the Lord. They wonder if God has abandoned them. In what can only be described as the workings of the Holy Spirit, the Jewish teachers come to some stunning conclusions. Their faithful reflections lead them to believe that the prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, had been correct and that they had brought God’s judgment upon themselves by forsaking God and God’s commandments. They also come to affirm that despite all evidence to the contrary, the Lord God is the Creator, the one God above all rulers, powers and other gods.

A generation has passed in Babylon and a new word comes from Isaiah, in what is known as Second Isaiah, chapters 40-55. The Lord, the creator of the universe, will redeem the people. God is raising up a savior. The pagan King Cyrus of Persia is afoot conquering vast territories and Cyrus’ eyes are on Babylon. God through Isaiah says:

Who has roused a victor from the east, summoned him to his service?
God delivers up nations to him and tramples kings under foot. (Isaiah 41:2)

The Lord of the universe is using a person, who does not even know God, to bring deliverance to God’s people. With God’s word about King Cyrus comes a more tender word:

You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off;
Do not fear, for I am with you,
Do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41:9b-10)

We do not know the terrors of powerlessness and captivity. We do not see our landscape go up in flames set by invading armies. Yet, we may know what it is like to feel abandoned by God; to believe that God has turned away from us. The causes are many: a deadly disease, isolation and loneliness, bondage to addiction, the tearing apart of a marriage, the death of the one dearest to us, abuse, crushing money problems, job loss and terrible choices. In such situations God’s word can remind us that we are not abandoned or alone.

There are several anthems based on Isaiah 43:2. A youth choir was learning an anthem when a member of the choir was in a terrible car accident. It became known that the young man could not survive. Before the family was to end life support, the youth choir came to the hospital room. Tears flowed as they sang:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned.

Paul Galanti was a prisoner of war for nearly seven years during the Vietnam War. He was repeatedly tortured. He and his fellow captives were held in separate cells. In the night, they would tap out the Lord’s Prayer against the wall. The prayer was what they could give each other in the darkness.

One night I was deeply sad and could not sleep. I read my favorite Scriptures. I was consoled. God’s word brought God near. Remember in the long nights and difficult days: God is with you.

rosalind-banburyRosalind Banbury is the interim pastor of Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church in Fishersville, Virginia.

You can purchase the PW/Horizons Bible study book through the PC(USA) Church Store.