When the Word Makes You Tremble (Isaiah 66:1-2)
Topic: One Truth: Your Word is Truth Passage: Isaiah 66:1–2
I. Attentive to Your Attitude
I think you would agree with me that the disposition or posture or stance or attitude that we bring to God's word is incredibly important. And that issue is incredibly relevant for you and me right now because... we're coming to God's word together. So think about your current disposition. Consider your internal posture. Check your stance. Be honest about your attitude. And after you've done that, look with me at one of the selections from Our Bible Reading Plan last week. Look with me at the last chapter of Isaiah, chapter 66.
II. The Passage: “The One to Whom I Will Look” (66:1-2)
Listen to the opening verses of the closing chapter of the book of Isaiah. Verses 1 and 2...
Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?  All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
Think with me about that last phrase... “he who... trembles at my word”. Trembling. When is the last time you trembled at something... at anything? At first glance, this phrase doesn't sound all that positive, does it. It sounds like someone who is about to learn the mode or method by which they'll be tortured. Wouldn't you tremble in light of that word? Trembling is something we typically connect with dread or terror. And God's word absolutely uses it that way in certain contexts. As Gideon announced just before a major battle in Judges 7, verse 3: “Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead."
But is that the only way to understand this language of trembling; and specifically, trembling at God's word? No, I don't believe so. Let's think more about that by digging into this passage.
1. “Humble and Contrite in Spirit” (v. 2b)
Since we're focusing on that final phrase of our passage, let's start by working backwards. For example, notice that the man or woman who “trembles at [God's] word” is not introduced as anxious and terrified; but instead, as “humble and contrite in spirit”. Now, throughout Isaiah the word translated “humble” here is almost always translated as “afflicted”, “poor”, or “needy”. Similarly, the word translated “contrite” in verse 2 is only found in one other book in Scripture: 2 Samuel. And in that book, it refers only to Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan who was... “crippled” or “lame” in his feet. But as we read here, God is talking about a “lameness” of spirit. Now think about the picture that emerges when you use these two words together. The man or woman who is needy and crippled in spirit is the man or woman who trembles at God's word.
2. “Heaven is My Throne” (v. 1a)
How do we make sense of that imagery? By jumping back to the opening line of the chapter. Think about how God introduces himself there. “Thus says the LORD: 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool...'” Okay. Take the figurative language here literally for just a moment. We know that God is spirit. He doesn't have feet like us, and even if he did, we know his feet aren't resting on top of the planet Earth. But if they were, wouldn't you be in awe at the sheer size of God? Of course you would! Then how much more in awe of God should we be when we accept that God is way bigger and so much greater than even this imagery conveys?
Of course the language here is not ultimately about God's size. It's even more about his reign over all things, things in heaven (his throne) and on earth (his footstool). And as we've talked about in weeks past, everything in this second half of Isaiah has been stressing these same ideas of God's power and sovereignty; that is, God's power as King over all things.
And so, when any man or woman, any boy or girl, rightly understands themselves in light of God, they recognize the fact that they are needy as creatures and crippled as sinners. And the result of that recognition? A man or woman, a boy or girl, who is humble and contrite in spirit. And... a man or woman, a boy or girl, who trembles (at least internally) at the King's word. In light of all this, let me suggest this idea in reference to that final phrase from Isaiah 66:2...
To tremble at God's word is to take his word as seriously and as personally as possible, since it is the word of the Creator and your Creator.
3. “That You Would Build for Me” (vs. 1b, 2a)
There's also a contrast here that's important. Did you notice the kind of people Yahweh first addresses here? Look back at v. 1... “...what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” If we think about the context and the prophet's intended audience, it seems clear that God is addressing those Jews who had returned to the land from exile and wanted to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. But the context makes it clear that they wanted to rebuild that temple for all the wrong reasons. Like their ancestors, the ones addressed way back in Isaiah 1, these people believed God would 'look to them', that they could satisfy, and even control God, by simply returning to their rituals. They weren't concerned about honoring God. They literally wanted God in a box, and figuratively, in their box... so He would serve them, rather than the other way around. This is why God is so severe with them in verses 3 and 4.
Such people did not tremble at God's word; they trampled on it. They were proud and confident and sought to exploit his word, picking and choosing what they wanted for their own ends. But listen again to what God declares, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
III. The Ears to Hear
As we think about application this morning, about how this ancient word should impact your life today, let's unpack this idea a little bit more. So imagine three different scenarios linked by a word about cancer. First, think about a magazine article describing a famous individual's battle with cancer. Second, if you were taking a college course, think about writing and proof reading a paper about cancer. Third, think about about a voicemail from an oncologist. Imagine a voicemail in which that oncologist (that cancer doctor) asks you to call him back right away.
In all three of those examples, you are hearing, you are receiving, you are or will be interacting with a word about cancer. But in only one of those scenarios would you be tremble at that word. Make sense? The first example (the article) connects you to cancer by way of curiosity. In the second example, the stakes are little bit higher, since you will be graded on your paper. But only in that last example do the serious and the personal meet in such a way that you would tremble at that doctor's word.
Of course, this idea of trembling would apply in other, less scary circumstances. For example, think about your posture toward a news story about the Arizona lottery giving away a million dollars by randomly calling three lucky households. But if an hour later your phone rang, and the caller ID said, “Arizona State Lottery, your disposition or posture would be radically different in terms of a word from the lottery. You would (in a sense) tremble in light that overwhelming reality.
So what about a word from God himself? If you are a genuine disciple of Jesus, a born-again believer, a Spirit-filled Christian, then you have trembled at God's word. No one can experience new birth and be a true follower of Christ without trembling at God's word (even if not literally trembling); specifically, trembling at the gospel. If it is not received in faith as both serious and personal, it simply is not received. But as I think we all know, that 'saving tremble' doesn't mean genuine disciples will not struggle in regularly maintaining that posture toward God's word.
Do you tremble at God's word? If not, why not? Like reading an article on cancer, or writing a paper on cancer, sometimes our posture with Scripture is far less invested, far more detached, than a conversation with Great Physician should be. Serious and personal just seem far away at times. Or to put it another way, other things can seem far more serious and God's word can seem far less personal. Like the first readers of Hebrews, we too can become “dull or hearing” (Hebrews 5:11). If you can relate to that struggle, then I invite you to use this prayer adapted from 1 Thessalonians 2:13... “Father, when I receive the word of God... [help me always to] accept it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in those who believe...”. You see, the fact the Thessalonians trembled at God's word was evident from how that word was at work in them and through them.
And we can pray that kind of prayer with hope, because God's grace really does open the 'ears' of our heart. Jesus gave thanks for this very thing in Matthew 11:25-26, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” Listen: by his grace, God loves to give us a heart that trembles at his word. He did it in saving us, and he'll continue to give it. But we are called to cooperate with grace, in faith, with gratitude. Paul wrote,
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God [the God of Isaiah] who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
As you hear the word this morning, as you come to the word this week, come trembling. What does that mean? It means taking his word as seriously and as personally as possible, since it is the word of the Creator and your Creator; the same Creator who became a creature like us, in order to die for our pride and our trampling on the word. In Jesus, the only man to be perfect in the reverence and awe department, we can rest assured that God will look to us, always. Isn't that wonderful? Your God became a man and died for you. If we take that as seriously and as personally as possible, shouldn't that cause us to tremble? Let's pray even now, and this week, for his grace and our cooperation; for trembling, every time we come to the word.
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023)
August 27, 2023Praying for God's People (Daniel 9:17-19)
August 20, 2023Daniel's 'Not of This World' Example (Daniel 1:8-17)
August 13, 2023The Shepherd's Rescue (Ezekiel 34:10-12)