The LORD Looks on the Heart
I imagine that I would be telling no lies if I were to say that all of you have used a telescope at some time or another. It might have been a real powerful and expensive one or it may have only been a plastic children's one but you've held one and you've looked through it.
Before the Battle of Copenhagen Nelson took up a telescope – he knew how to use it properly and he'd used one many times – but that day he decided to put it to his blind eye. The result was that he could truly say that he never saw the signal ordering him to disengage from the Danish fleet. We call this "turning a blind eye" and Nelson has gone down in the folklore of country as having said: "I see no ships" before proceeding with the great sea battle from which he would shortly emerge victorious.
You're not meant to put a telescope to a blind eye! But there is another way in which we can use a telescope in the wrong way and that is by looking through it the wrong way round. A telescope is designed to help us see things clearly that are a considerable distance away but if we turn the telescope round then we make the object that we're looking at look much smaller than it really is.
Now imagine for a moment that each of us possesses our own spiritual telescope – well the problem is that too many of us, if we use it to see at all, use it the wrong way round!
"Your God is too Small"
I think Isaiah would have happily used this title "Your God is Too Small" to describe his prophecy. (It was in fact that J B Phillips who used it for one of his books.) Why? Because his contemporaries were continually forgetting how great God was and he, Isaiah, was continually trying to remind them of his greatness.
Here in this section of Is.66 Isaiah shows us that human pride and arrogance go hand in hand with small views of who God is. The more we look at ourselves close up and like what we see the smaller, the less impressive and the more remote the One True Living God seems to become.
On the other hand, when we recognise the greatness, majesty and splendour of the Almighty the way in which we evaluate ourselves changes. When we begin to see him for who he truly is we stop puffing ourselves up – how can we be proud when we see ourselves arraigned before such an exalted being?
When you think about God, when you look at God, which way round are you holding your telescope? I fear too many of us today are using a powerful telscope but looking through it from the wrong end and we are left with a God of miniscule proportions.Small wonder then that we develop an inflated sense of our own importance and strut the stage humming Frank Sinatra's "I did it my way" as we go.
But hear this:
"Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool" Is.66:1
The LORD's declaration is the opening salvo of the chapter. At once the stage is set and we know what this means. By this simple short statement the LORD tells us that he is not like anyone else and no-
Then we gaze up into the night skies and we marvel at the spread and extent of the stars in their multitudes. But to him even these heavens are but as a place on which to sit. No, don't get bogged down with the language just realise that Isaiah is using imagery to impress upon us the immense difference that exists between God and us.
"Stop and think about this" he says through Isaiah. ""When you do that you'll realise that no house you can build for me will ever be able to contain me." How could it? Just think for a moment – how foolish such an idea is!
And Israel knew how foolish such an idea was – or, at least, Israel had known this is in the past.
When the Temple was dedicated King Solomon knelt in the presence of the Most High and prayed:
1Kings 8:27 "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!"
And so all Solomon could pray for was that God might heed the prayers that would be linked in some way to the Temple which Solomon had built. He knew God was too impressive to be restricted there.
But over the years men moved away from Solomon's understanding of God and gradually reduced him in size. And every step they took in reducing him the more important they thought themselves to be.
And man continues spiralling downwards until all trace of humilty or respect for God, our Creator and Sustainer, are lost or so diminished that we have no hesitation in questionning him, challenging him, disobeying him.
Take for example the question of suffering. When we encounter suffering we are at a loss to understand why it is happening, what the purpose of it all is. But with small views of God we have no hesitation in acting as though our knowledge were more extensive than his and that we know better than he what should be done and so we are tempted to critically defy him, to cast aspersions on his character and generally to minimise and denigrate him.
And yet, what do we know? Our knowledge is so limited and our timescale so restricted – yet with small views of God our arrogance knows no bounds.
A Better Way
In the light of who God really is we need to know how he expects us to intelligently respond and we don't have to wait long:
v.2b "But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word."
Would you grow in your relationship with God? Then he tells you how you must order your life and what your attitudes must be like. Let's look at this for a while:
Humble and contrite in spirit
We know what humility is all about, it is about not getting above our station, not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. It doesn't mean saying saying things that aren't true but it does mean facing up to the fact that we are what we are and no more.
And what are we before God?
We are creatures, the work of his hands. We are dependent upon him for our very life. We had a beginning and we are subject to change (and decay). One day we will die and will return to the ground for dust we are and to dust we shall all return. If we are more than that, if we are children of God, it is entirely due to God's graciousness towards us and humble thankfulness is the right response, there is no ground for boasting about ourselves here!
But what does being contrite mean? Well it means sorrow for sin, sin which we have committed. In other words to be contrite means that we recognise failure and culpability. A contrite spirit is ready to confess sin and guilt and shame and does not try to pretend that things are other than they are.
These are the attitudes of which God approves and they are found linked together in other sections of Scripture too:
Is.57:15 "For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite."
David some centuries earlier had also joined these two attitudes together:
Ps 51:17 "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."
Trembling at his word:
Cf. Is.66:5 "Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word."
While this chapter is the only place in the Bible where this particular expression is used it is easy enough to understand what the expression means.
When we "tremble" we are demonstrating a sensitive response to an outside influence or set of circumstances. We readily speak of trembling for a whole variety of reasons:
So when we hear that God approves of those who tremble at his word what it means is that he approves those who are sensitive to what he has to say; who hear it and take it on board thus showing themselves to be responsive to his word. These are the ones who are left in no way indifferent to what he says.
Does this description fit me? Does this description fit you? Please God it may do so!
Ps.96:9 " Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!"
The Alternative Route of Self-
The folk who act in this way are not necessarily outright deniers of God and indeed they can be very religious. Their religion however is a sham – they may have the form and even look very much like the real thing – but they have no power and they bring God's judgment upon themselves and not his approval.
Isaiah describes the way in which this person acts – just look at v.3:
"He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations;"
They're offering the right things but when this is done in pride and arrogance of heart it becomes a stench in the Lord's nostrils – what these men and women are so proud of are simply dismissed by the LORD as abominations.
These folk are so confident in their religion and so cocky about their abilities are also so ready to look down on others and so ready to be critical of those who do in fact tremble at God's word.
Let us not be like these scribes and Pharisees but may we be those who allow the Word to take us Christ in whom alone is salvation.