Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:21-31
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.” -Percy Bysshe Shelley
I found it ironically amusing that today’s reading, which includes the phrase “they shall mount up with wings like eagles“, coincided with the 2018 Super Bowl, where the underdog Philadelphia Eagles defeated the favored New England Patriots. I admit that I rooted for the Eagles primarily because they were not the Patriots, who seem to win more than their fair share of national titles. There are certainly times when I feel that the wrong team is winning in the world we live in, where the strong only get stronger and use that strength to lord it over the weak.
The writer of Isaiah must have also felt that way, for the time frame in Isaiah 40 seems to have been the sixth century BC. Things were not going very well for the people of Israel. Jerusalem was in ruins, its people carted away in captivity to Babylon, where they languished for many decades, strangers in a strange land. The people had to feel abandoned and let down by God, and perhaps even wonder whether there was a God at all. The prophet reminds them that God takes a rather longer-term perspective than that of humans. God knows that the Babylonian empire and its rulers will eventually crumble into dust, like the braggadocious king in Shelley’s poem. And when they do, God will still be there.
In time, God will “bring princes to naught, and make the rulers of the earth as nothing.” In time, Babylon will fall as surely as did Assyria before her, and Greece and Rome after her. That God wouldn’t “faint or grow weary” and might observe the rise and fall of many kingdoms isn’t particularly surprising; one would expect that of an eternal deity.. What is surprising is that God “gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless“. In other words, God favors the underdog. God is on the side of the losers rather than the winners, and offers them comfort and strength. “But those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Isaiah’s words reassure me that this is God’s world, and no matter how it looks to me at the moment, “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet“. And that’s good news to me.