When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. – Isaiah 64:3-5a ESV
What we know about God greatly influences how we pray to Him. The greater our understanding of God’s power, the more likely we are to ask Him to display that power on our behalf. If our knowledge of God includes an awareness of and belief in His grace and mercy, our prayers will contain appeals for Him to extend both to us. But if we don’t know God well, it stands to reason that our prayer life will suffer because we will not know what to expect from Him. We can ask Him for things, but we will do so with apprehension, because we aren’t familiar with His ways. We can share with Him our burdens, but if we don’t know Him well, we’ll never even know if He has heard or even cares.
Isaiah prayed to a God he clearly knew. And it was far more than just an academic or historical knowledge. He had a personal awareness and understanding of God. Yes, he knew the stories from Israel’s past. He had heard about the appearance of God on Mount Sinai when the people were wandering in the wilderness. He was aware of the thunder, lightning, and earth-shattering signs that accompanied that appearance. He also knew that when God showed up, the people tended to straighten up. He had a way of getting their attention. But Isaiah also knew that there was more to God than just shock and awe. There was more to His appearing among the people of Israel than just to get their attention. He wanted to reveal His power. He wanted to assure them of His presence. He was there among them and He cared greatly for them. Yes, God wanted them to fear Him. But He also wanted them to depend upon Him. The kind of rock-shattering power He displayed before them was available to them, to protect them, provide for them, and to give them an assurance of His ability to do all that He had promised to them.
One of the problems the people of Israel had always had was their seeming inability to see God as personal and loving. They had no trouble fearing God. They just couldn’t understand how much He loved them. They tended to keep their distance from God, out of fear that He would kill them. They didn’t really trust Him. Which is what led them to seek other gods in place of Him. But Isaiah knew God to be extremely loving, intimate, personal and gracious. Which is why he stated, “You welcome those who gladly do good, who follow godly ways” (Isaiah 64:5a NLT). He understood God to be loving and welcoming to all those who trusted Him enough to obey Him. Isaiah had found God to be approachable and merciful. He feared God, but wasn’t afraid of Him. He had an awe and respect for the holiness and majesty of God, but had no trouble approaching Him as his loving Father.
Isaiah found himself ministering among a people who had forgotten just how great God was. Their personal knowledge of God was suspect. Isaiah could speak on His behalf and tell them all that God had to say to them and about them, but they didn’t take him seriously. Which is why Isaiah was asking God to make an appearance. He longed for God to show up in might and power, as a form of wake-up call for the people. But what Isaiah really wanted was for the people to know God they way he knew God. He wanted them to understand that the God he knew was simply waiting for them to return to Him with humble, repentant hearts, ready to obey Him, and He would bless them. He would extend mercy and grace to them. He would forgive them. Because there is no God besides Him. They were wasting their time looking for help from any other gods. They were going to be highly disappointed if they continued to reject God’s calls to repentance. The Babylonians were not going to show them mercy. The Egyptians were not going to provide them with protection. The gods of all the other nations weren’t going to be able to save them. Ignoring God was not going to make Him go away. Rejecting His warnings was not going to keep them from happening. They could either experience the wrath and judgment of God, or they could experience the grace, mercy, love and forgiveness of God. Either way, they were going to learn that there was no other God besides Him.
God will display His power. He prefers to do so in order to bless His children. But if He has to, He will do so to discipline them. The greater our knowledge of God’s love for us, the more we will expect Him to reveal His power for our good. We will learn to fear Him less and respect Him more. We will understand His power, but know that it is there to protect and provide for us. We will approach Him expectantly, not hesitantly. We will run to Him, not from Him. Because we will know that there is no God besides Him.