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Foundations of the Earth
Fall Quarter: The Sovereignty of God
Unit 1: The Sovereignty of God
Sunday school lesson for the week of September 18, 2016
By Rev. Denise Walton
Lesson Scripture: Isaiah 40:21-31
Background Scripture: Isaiah 40
God is doing a new thing!
Blessings and peace be upon you, brothers and sisters in Christ. I have sought to be transparent with you; I am a preacher at heart. When I engage the Book of Isaiah, it brings forth an urge like the surge of a wave to preach the gospel. My task is not preaching but expounding on the biblical lesson within our Sunday school lesson each week. This week the message compels me to share my thoughts leaning more toward the preached word.
Dramatic reading of the scripture: This week I’m inviting the reader to embrace the text as a dialogue between two dear friends. One friend has some great news to share with another who has been under years of oppressive systems and abuse. Now listen as the reader shares the text with passion and excitement because God has acted in the lives of the oppressed, a new liberation is at hand. God is doing a new thing.
Let’s continue with the main points from lesson one and two:
God is present with us and active, not distant and unconcerned. God is sovereign. God can be trusted to intervene and end oppression.
The writer of the Adult Bible Studies helps the reader to understand the change in the biblical narrative. While lessons one and two were centered in First Isaiah, the third reading, “Foundations of the Earth” begins in Isaiah Chapter 40 which is commonly described by scholars as Second Isaiah or the Comfort Book. Scholars point to a change in the vocabulary, style, and even the prophecies of the three Isaiahs.
However, it’s important to note while the messenger and style of the message have changed, the central character in the message remains the same. God is the key character in the Book of Isaiah.
Second Isaiah wrote about 200 years after Isaiah ben Amoz (First Isaiah). His prophecies focus on the end of the Babylonian Exile (587–539 B.C.). One of the most distinctive elements in his prophecies is that God will do a radical “new thing” by using a foreign king to liberate Israel from captivity.
King Cyrus, the ruler of the Persian Empire, issued an edict in 539 B.C. allowing the Israelite exiles to return home to Jerusalem to rebuild their city and temple. So King Cyrus became God’s instrument of liberation. Up to this point in biblical prophecy, foreign rulers had been instruments of God’s judgment on the Israelites. (Adult Bible Studies, pg. 41)
Second Isaiah focuses primarily on the devastation of the Israelites at the end of the Babylonian exile. The physical, social, political and religious life of the Israelites was destroyed. The loss associated with the Babylonian exile affected every area of life including the destruction of the Temple and the displacement of the center of religious life. The survivors were questioning both the presence and power of God.
Dramatic reading: Psalm 137 gives insight into the emotional state of the survivors. Allow someone to read the Psalm and let those feelings be present. Sometimes the best way we can be in solidarity with those who are suffering is to allow their stories to be heard without judgment.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Isaiah 40:1 NIV
The prophet Isaiah speaks to the people of God to bring comfort, restoration, and expectant hope that God is all powerful, present, caring and capable of using a new way to do new things:
Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? Wasn’t it announced to you from the beginning? Haven’t you understood since the earth was founded? God inhabits the earth’s horizons – its inhabitants are like locusts – stretches out the skies like a curtain?and spreads it out like a tent for dwelling. God makes dignitaries useless and the earth’s judges into nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely is their shoot rooted in the earth?when God breathes on them, and they dry up; the windstorm carries them off like straw. So to whom will you compare me, and who is my equal? says the holy one. Look up at the sky and consider: Who created these? The one who brings out their attendants one by one, summoning each of them by name. Because of God’s great strength and mighty power, not one is missing. Why do you say, Jacob, and declare, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord?my God ignores my predicament?” Isaiah 40:21-27 CEB
Here’s the part of the text that makes me want to give praise to God. Not only does God have the energy and power to deliver his people but he gives energy and power to those who are tired to continue the journey.
Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He doesn’t grow tired or weary. His understanding is beyond human reach, giving power to the tired and reviving the exhausted. Youths will become tired and weary, young men will certainly stumble; but those who hope in the Lord?will renew their strength; they will fly up on wings like eagles; they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not be weary. Isaiah 40:28-31 CEB
Take a moment to stop here and pray. What does Isaiah 40:21-31 teach us about God’s nature? What does this text teach us about our relationship with God? What does the text teach us about God’s relationship with humanity?
Isaiah 40:21-31 helps the reader to see a glimpse of God’s sovereign nature and the impact of liberation here on earth. God is sovereign. God can be trusted to intervene and end oppression. In those places and moments, that which was impossible becomes possible. The people of God, though broken and weary, will be renewed. Oppression, injustice, and evil do not have a final word.
May we all share the message of Isaiah 40:21-31. Dear Lord, let it be so.
Rev. Denise Walton serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.