I create disaster, says the Lord

Jim Elliot
Jim Elliot (1927-1956)

Isaiah 45 is a very difficult passage for those who have a small view of God. Yet this same chapter is of great value to Christians. Isaiah teaches in this chapter that God is sovereign over all of nature and history, and nothing happens except as ordained by God.

Cyrus the Great of Persia

Cyrus the Great was an unbelieving, idolatrous king and yet God used even him to achieve his good purposes. Listen to what the LORD says through Isaiah:

 

I am the Lord, and there is no other;

apart from me there is no God.

I will strengthen you,

though you have not acknowledged me,

so that from the rising of the sun

to the place of its setting

people may know there is none besides me.

I am the Lord, and there is no other.  (Isaiah 45:5-6)

You say, “But God wouldn’t use a pagan, idolatrous man to achieve his good purposes – surely God should use his own elect people?” Well, the Bible teaches that God is not just God of Israel. God is the God of the whole world and he will use anyone or anything he sees fit.

I create disaster

I form the light and create darkness,

I bring prosperity and create disaster;

I, the Lord, do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)

The LORD says that he is in control of all creation and all history. He’s responsible for all creation from the light to the darkness. Not only that, he is responsible for all history, from good fortune to bad fortune. Does that include tsunamis, illness, death and deformity? Yes of course it does, God is Sovereign over all his universe and nothing happens other than willed, permitted and purposed by God. God does not instigate evil, be he allows even evil according to his good plan and purposes.

God works for the good

What was God’s purpose in raising up Cyrus of Persia and granting him military success? God’s plan was to bring about deliverance for his people in exile to the Babylonians.

For the sake of Jacob my servant,

of Israel my chosen,

I summon you by name (Cyrus)

and bestow on you a title of honor,

though you do not acknowledge me. (Isaiah 45:4)

The exiles from Jerusalem might seem like an obscure people and part of a tiny, conquered nation in a distant part of the world; but they are God’s and God is working for their good. The apostle Paul teaches the same truth in Romans 8.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

The LORD orders all of history for the sake of the good of his seemingly insignificant people, and he even uses idolatrous rulers.

Are you offended?

The above truth of the sovereignty of God who orders the entire universe as he see fit is offensive to many people, including Christians with an Armenian slant.  There would be some, as there always is, who would question God’s ordering of his creation and question God’s running of his universe. They would say things like, “why would God use Cyrus? He’s a pagan idolater! Why not do it this way or that way? Why is God doing this, does not make sense, we know far better?!  In v9 we see God’s woe on this offensive attitude.

Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker,

those who are nothing but potsherds” (Isaiah 45:9a)

A potsherd is a fragment of broken pottery. Compared to the Maker, Creator and Author of Life you are nothing but a piece of broken pot lying on the ground! Perhaps our world needs a bit of “ontological realism”! Yes, God loves us, he created us, he made in His image; but compared to our Majestic Maker, Magnificent Originator and Ruler Of All Things, we are but broken fragments of clay. We are not gods; we don’t debate with God as equals; in comparison to God we are but clay.  Look at the arrogance and folly:

“…Does the clay say to the potter,

‘What are you making?’

Does your work say,

‘The potter has no hands’? (Isaiah 45:9b)

When the people say, “Has the potter no hands?” the meaning is “Has he no skill; he does he know what he’s doing; maybe I need to show him a few things?”  Are you tempted to think like this? “Why did God permit this thing to happen? This tragedy, this sadness; this death of a loved one; this suffering?  God’s reply is from v11 onwards:

“This is what the Lord says—

the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:

Concerning things to come,

do you question me about my children,

or give me orders about the work of my hands?

It is I who made the earth

and created mankind on it.

My own hands stretched out the heavens;

I marshalled their starry hosts. (Isaiah 45:11-12)

The mighty creator God who rules over nature and history asks, “Will you command me?” The powerful Persian Emperor, Cyrus the Great, like the earth and the stars, like all things – including you, exists and comes forth at the command of God alone.

Through the gates of splendour

I have just been reading again the account of Jim Elliot who was a missionary to an unreached group of Huaorani Indians living in the jungles of Ecuador. The Huaorani had never heard of Jesus. After months of planning, Jim Elliot and his fellow missionaries met with the Indians in the jungle. The Indians turned on them and killed them all. Jim Elliot left behind a wife and ten month old daughter. We might say, “What a tragic mistake. How could God allow this to happen? Has God no hands (v9)?” But through Jim Elliot’s death, his wife ended up living with those Indians and shared with them the gospel and the forgiveness Christ offers. The tribe was largely won for Jesus. We see this great truth in action: God uses all things, even suffering and death for good.

Will you question God?

I’m not talking about sincere prayer where we confess to God that we don’t understand his ways, but arrogant, big-headed pride – lifting our fists to God – and declaring, “Have you no skill?”

Jim Elliot’s biography, written by his wife Elizabeth Elliot, is entitled, “Through the Gates of Splendor” The biography is named from the words of a great hymn sung by the missionaries a few days before they were murdered.

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender

Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise.

When passing through the gates of pearly splendour

Victors, we rest with Thee through endless days.

Shall the clay treat the Potter with contempt? Sometimes we might be offended by the way God orders his world and our lives, but this we can entrust ourselves to the grand fact that God is good, and if we are his, he works for our good too and his glory. The worst thing that may happen to you in this world is that you may be killed. But death is no more an enemy, for we have already died to self. Even death is gain for we shall on that day, like Jim Elliot, pass through the gates of pearly splendour and be victors.

The LORD says,

I form the light and create darkness,

I bring prosperity and create disaster;

I, the Lord, do all these things.