All Religions the Same?
It's a common attitude today isn't it? Many folk hold to the view that all religions are fundamentally the same and that it simply is all a matter of personal preference which religion, if any, you might choose to follow. Those who adopt this line would be quite happy with words written in the 13 th century by of a famous muslim mystic, a Sufi,
"The lamps are different but the Light is the same; it comes from beyond."
Others, with a less positive view of religions in general would prefer to put it something like this:
"They're all as bad as each other!"
The prophet Isaiah was called to preach to the people of Israel. He carried out his work sometime in the 8 th century BC. It was a time when God's people were well aware of the fact that other peoples worshipped other gods and some of these other peoples were apparently doing better than they were. In such a situation Israel was becoming more and more wilfully rebellious; the people were wavering in their allegiance to the LORD God.
Isaiah wanted them to stop and to take stock. He called upon them to listen to his words and he called upon them to remember what they had already heard. In this way he wanted to prepare them so that they would to choose to follow the right path and return wholeheartedly to the LORD.
What Isaiah, acting as God's mouthpiece, had to say to the people of his day is relevant to us in our day too. We too need to think clearly and to act wisely. We too need to learn to judge with a right judgment. We need to hear what God himself says to us and not be swayed by the opinions of mere men.
The "gods are a burden vv.1-
For the moment however Babylon was top-
Bel and Nebo were two of the collection of gods that were worshipped In Babylon (although we are focusing upon the gods of ancient Babylon they are representative of all the gods other than the LORD). Bel and Nebo figured prominently in religious festivities that were celebrated at the start of each New Year. The idols of these two gods were carried in procession and a major part of the celebrations included a writing out of what the future held for the nation.
This was just an early form of astrology as becomes clear in the following chapter:
Is.47:13 "All the counsel you have received has only worn you out! Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you."
People are still fascinated by astrology. Not long ago there was a special day held at the Kings Hall here in Herne Bay devoted to this sort of thing. Why in a supposedly scientific age like our own should people be interested in such things? Simply because the sinful human heart longs to know what the future holds -
And yet Isaiah mocks these gods. After all they can't even move under their own steam and have to be carried around, they were certainly completely powerless to save Babylon from its coming destruction. These idols and the gods they represented were supposed to be the ones carrying the burden of security for the Babylonia empire but in reality all they were able to do was to become a burden themselves! When the external military threat came too close the Babylonians, in order to preserve their idols, would have to wrap them up and try to carry them away to safety by placing them upon beasts of burden. Unable to do anything for their worshippers they went off themselves into captivity! What a burden these idols turned out to be!
The contrast is striking when Isaiah turns to consider the LORD!
"Listen to me" he cries out (a cry that will be repeated in v.11) The LORD your God is not at all like that! Far from being a burden to them he has indeed carried them! The gods of the Babylonians could do nothing but the God of Israel could and had done so for his people!
Everything had to be done for the dumb idols but it was the LORD God who had done everything for his own. Isaiah uses some very forthright and surprising language to describe the Lord's relationship with his people – he writes as though the LORD had carried them as a mother carries her baby in the womb.
Thus from the very outset God had provided for his people. He had taken good care of them and he had gone on providing for them. That care was not about to be brought to an end either even though his people had shown themselves to be unworthy of it again and again and even now, were becoming increasing rebellious.
What a wonderful declaration Isaiah makes concerning the Lord's determination to look after his people: no, he won't be a burden to them but he will go on and on carrying them into their old age. He promises to continue providing for them and promises to save them – here in context it the salvation refers to their continuation as a nation.
Does the True God have an equal vv.5-
The LORD, speaking through Isaiah, had already alerted his hearers to radical differences between himself and the false gods of the nations. Now he presses further and invites them to think – to whom can they possibly compare him?
This is the absolute reverse of putting your head in the sand and ignoring the truth. The LORD invites serious reflection – only in this way can the people br brought to their senses and realise just how senseless they had previously been. Every bit of information must be taken into account, none of it is to be ignored.
If you are one of those people who is tempted to say that all religions lead to God and that basically all religions are the same because all gods are the same it may well be because you have never yet begun to think enough!
"To whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?" v.5
And to help with the reflection further contrasts are brought to our attention:
The gods which are made
Men take their money, they take their silver and their gold and they use it to employ skilled workmen; they turn to the goldsmith and turns their gold into an idol.
The origin of this "god" is with mere men. There was a time when it didn't exist and in fact was totally dependent upon men for its creation. (We could say the same thing concerning the gods that people worship when they say something like "I like to think of God like in this way" –God wants us to think of him as he reveals himself to be and no other.)
The quality of this "god" is really pretty paltry – it might look impressive but it can't move by itself but has to be carried; when placed in spot there it has to remain until someone moves it again; should anyone be so foolish as to speak to it or to cry out in prayer to it – what do you think the effect will be? You've got it – absolutely nothing!
Why should anyone want to be taken in – can't you think clearly about this? A man-
The God who makes
But on the other hand the LORD is so totally different – can any other be likened to him?
Whereas the idols are made by men the LORD is the Maker of men and not only that but he is the Maker and Governor of all there is!
This should have come as nothing new to the men of Israel as Isaiah declared God's word to them. They knew about the LORD – their ancestors had experienced his power and passed on the story of his exploits. They knew that he was the Creator God and that he had created everything there is without needing the counsel or the help of anyone else. So we should be at all surprised to find men being called upon to remember.
You too know a lot about this God – you know that he is the Creator of all there is – you've heard this before, you've heard it every time you've lifted your eyes to contemplate the stars, when you've gazed on the might of the seas, the grandeur of the mountains, when you've considered the intricacies of human life itself – everything shouts loudly the work of a Creator. Many might try to suppress what they know, they may argue that they don't know this but they do and you do too – what you must do is stop arguing and remember!
What the people knew about him and the way he behaved in the past was not sterile information but it was knowledge that had serious implications for the present and for the future as well. Just as this God had announced beforehand things that would take place and they did, so he was still making declarations about the future and they could be sure that all he declared would also take place.
It is important for us to recognise once more that Isaiah is showing us that there really is no comparison between the LORD and the idols of the false gods. Bel and Nebo were both supposed to be involved in predicting the events that unfold in Babylon but they were in reality utterly powerless. The LORD on the other hand not only predicted what would take place but acted to bring it about.
In the immediate context this is applied to Cyrus to whom Isaiah has already referred at the end of ch.45 and into ch.46. Isaiah had declared that this man would be the means of returning Israel from their Babylonian exile – an exile which had not yet come about. It was this same Cyrus who would be responsible for bringing down the might Babylonian empire and yet his birth was still some 150 years off in the future!
The LORD refers to Cyrus again here as that "bird of prey from the east" v.10. The LORD had settled his plans and was intent on keeping them – he could speak with authority about future events because he was the One who was fully in control of the world that he alone had made. The LORD had and has all the power necessary to predict the future because he brings it about.
The folk of Isaiah's day had seen the fulfilment of some of the things that the LORD had spoken about. Because of what they had seen they were called upon to exercise faith and to believe that he would bring to pass the other events he had also declared but which remained, at that time, unfulfilled.
As we heed the calls to think and to remember we have even more reason to exercise faith in the LORD God than Isaiah's contemporaries had. We have seen how he regularly and completely accomplished his plan and purposes in the world in which we live.
Did you hear what I just said? "We have reason for faith." Many people idly imagine that faith and reason are opposed to each but that is simply not the case when it comes to the kind of faith that is talked about in the Bible. We are not called upon to close our eyes to the facts and take a leap into the dark. No, we must open our eyes, weigh up the facts, and act sensibly upon them – that is Bible faith.
The God who saves vv.12-
And as the chapter comes to a close Isaiah, still speaking as the LORD's mouthpiece, presses on to issue a call to his hearers.
Once more he begins with the exhortation to listen. Are you paying attention to what God is saying to you? He is not speaking so that you can simply fill your mind with a few more historical details or facts – he speaks so that you can pay attention and act accordingly.
Isaiah is speaking to God's people who were turning away from the LORD and he doesn't mince his words – "you… are far from righteousness" he says. The people may well have been living lives that compared very favourably with those of their contemporaries but that was not the standard by which they were to be judged.
Neither is it the standard by which you will be judged when you are called before God to give an account of the way in which you have lived the life he gave you. It will be no defence to stand before God and say: I did my best or I'm not as bad as so and so. God looks for a righteousness that matches his own and when he looks on the human race he sees only people who have fallen short of his glorious standards.
Have you realised this about yourself? Isaiah had to speak to people who should have known better, who were religious, but it was a people that lacked the righteousness by which they might stand before God. Have you understand that even what you consider to be your most praiseworthy deeds fall short of his standards? God addresses men and women as sinners – have you understood that this applies to the way God deals with you?
Ah, but there is some lovely news for sinners who do realise that they are unrighteous in God's sight. The LORD God promised to bring near his own righteousness and to make his salvation known. This didn't mean that God was about to demonstrate the righteousness of his own character by judging sinners for their sin (as Martin Luther first thought when he read about the righteousness of God being revealed in the gospel) but rather he meant that he was going to make available to sinners the righteousness they need in order to stand before him, his salvation.
He was promising to send his Messiah who would do just this!
The people of Isaiah's day were called upon to place their faith and trust in what God promised to do for them. Having no righteousness of their own that could pass the test God promised them a righteousness, his own, and it was to be received by faith. In our day we live on the other side of the coming of the Messiah.
For us who now live after the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ we need to see that he came into the world to fulfil the plan and purposes of God, the plan that had been partly spelled out to the folk of Isaiah's day. Jesus lived the only fully righteous life that has ever been lived on earth and he pleased his Heavenly Father in every aspect of his life. When we consider closely the quality of Jesus' life we are left reeling – it is magnificent. But we are not saved by trying to somehow attain to his standards – so many go wrong here and imagine that the message of Christianity is "Try a bit harder" -
The way of salvation is not about trying to imitate Christ's example but about trusting Jesus. He came into the world in order to bear the penalty for our sin. He was, as it were, clothed with our unrighteousness when he was nailed to the cross of Calvary. And when he died there, he died clearing the debt of our sin. In this way he secured a full and free salvation for all who will trust him. When we exercise faith in him just as he was clothed with our unrighteousness so we are clothed with his righteousness!
Men and women listen to me. Remember these things, consider these things, think about them and act upon them. The false gods of this world may well be very pretty and appealing, they might be nice to look at and they may even bring you grant some kind of pleasure as long as you don't need their help in dealing with your sin and the problems caused by it. Then you will need a real God, the Living God. You will need the help of the One who has proved himself again and again by doing just what he said he would. You can trust Jesus – after all what an amazing thing it was to declare that he would not only be put to death but would also rise from the dead like no-
You can trust this One and he calls you to come to him in faith and in trust: