Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence—as fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil—to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence! – Isaiah 64:1-2 ESV
Isaiah was a prophet of God speaking the words of God to the people of God. He prophesied over a period of time in Judah that spanned the reigns of four different kings. Over that time, he had watched their brothers and sisters in the northern kingdom of Israel fall to the Assyrians because of their sin and rebellion against God. And he saw the nation of Judah committing the very same sins and headed for the same fate if they did not repent and return to God. Early in his ministry as God’s prophet, God had given Isaiah a vision and a clear message concerning His people. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: ‘Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand’” (Isaiah 1:2-3 ESV). God’s people had rejected Him. They had consistently disobeyed Him. And Isaiah knew that, because of God’s holiness and righteousness, He was going to have to bring judgment against them. God would not allow His people to continue to live in open rebellion to Him. He would be forced to punish them for their sin, motivated by their pride and self-sufficiency.
But Isaiah longed to see God step in. He knew that their only hope was to be found in God. After years of prophesying to the people of Judah, he had no illusions that they might actually hear what he was saying and repent. Unless God did something, their fate was sealed. They would be incapable of saving themselves, so if anything was going to happen, it would have to be God’s doing. So he cried out, “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down!” He was looking for a visitation from God, a physical manifestation of God’s presence much like the people had experienced when He came down to Mount Sinai in the wilderness. That had been an attention-getting, never-to-be-forgotten moment for the people standing at the foot of the mountain. “Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain” (Exodus 19:17-20 ESV). That appearance by God had made an impression on the people, and Isaiah longed to see God do the same thing in his day. He knew that the people of Judah would continue to ignore God unless He showed up in a spectacular fashion, complete with thunder and lightning, smoke, earthquakes, and other attention-getting signs. In essence, God had become invisible to them. He was out of sight, out of mind. They no longer expected to see Him or hear from Him. The message of Isaiah was just like those of the other prophets who had been warning them for years. Their words went in one ear and out the other. So Isaiah wanted to see God show up in power, might and majesty.
Isaiah’s hope was that an appearance from God would ignite a change among the people. Perhaps it would light a spiritual fire under them and cause them to reconsider his message and return to God. Not only that, Isaiah believed it would do wonders for God’s reputation among the pagan nations that were threatening the security of Judah. The reasoning behind Isaiah request that God make an appearance was in order “to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence!” But the truth is, that was the role the people of God were supposed to have fulfilled. They were the ones who were to have made God’s name known to the nations as they lived in obedience to Him. They were to be living illustrations of what it looked like to live in obedience to God, enjoying His presence, power and provision. Any time the people of Israel had lived in submission to God’s will and obeyed His commands, He had stepped in a given them victories over their enemies. He had blessed them. And had put the fear of God in their enemies. The reign of Solomon is a perfect illustration of that reality. It was a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. As long as the people remained faithful to God, His power and presence was with them. The problem in Isaiah’s day was not that God was absent, but that the people were disobedient. It was their sin that was preventing God’s power from being displayed among them.
We may long for God’s presence, but He has not left us. He is never far away. The only thing that puts distance between us and God is our own sin. Longing for Him to show up in power makes no sense if we have no desire to do what He says. Desiring God to do great things is silly if we aren’t willing to do what He has called us to do in the first place. The people in Jesus’ day longed to see Him perform signs and miracles. They got a kick out of seeing Him do the miraculous. But for the most part, they had no interest in what He was offering them. They refused to repent and return. Longing to see the power of God while refusing to submit to the authority of God is pointless. God’s power is best revealed through our dependence upon Him and obedience to Him.