Adoption: The Security of God's Family
In Isaiah 41:5-13 God was teaching Israel about their spiritual security by contrasting it with the insecurity of the idolater. Let me put it another way, idolaters are like orphans. They are fatherless and helpless. But the people of God having been adopted into the family of God enjoy a loving Father in whom they enjoy peace and security.
In verse 5 Isaiah says, “The coastlands have seen and are afraid.” The obvious question is what have they seen? If we skip ahead to chapter 44 we find our answer. The nations are described as seeing the advent of Cyrus - his power and might. They watch and are terrified. What is their response? They run to the gods of their own making. But their running to their idols betrayed something deep seated about them. In running to their idols they were really running to each other. They are rallying themselves because that is all they have! There is nowhere else to turn. So, they say in verse 6, “Each one helps his neighbor and says to his brother, ‘Be strong!’ So, the craftsman encourages the smelter, and he who smooths metal with the hammer encourages him who beats with the anvil, saying of the smoldering ‘It is good”; and he fastens it with nails, so that it will not totter.”
Now, think of it. This is a description of nations! Nations! Yet, they are nothing but spiritual orphans afraid in the dark. I couldn’t help but think of the State of Union speech that President Obama delivered in January 2012. He said, “This Nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.” Did you catch the similarities? “This nation is great because we worked as a team.” “This nation is great because we got each other’s backs.” “As long as we are joined in a common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward…” Many things may change over time but the natural man will display the same godless tendencies no matter the age.
But, says our heavenly Father to His people, things are different for you. In verse 10 he says to them that they have no need to anxiously look about seeking for help.”
Because, says God, “You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you.” And then, “I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
But this too raises an obvious question. What is the difference between the godless nations and Israel? After all, does not God Himself, in v. 14, call Israel a worm? In Job 25:6, albeit from the lips of Bildad, the same comparison is used to illustrate the question, “How can a man be just with God?” The worm describes unjust men. This only serves to highlight the question. If the nations are lacking in justice and Israel is an unjust worm then what is the difference?
We are given something of an answer in the text. God upholds the right hand of Israel with His righteous right hand (vv. 10, 13). But the warmth of this expression does not relieve the tension. How can a righteous God take the hand of an unrighteous people? We need to think ahead to Isaiah 59:16-17. The prophet tells us that God “saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought salvation to Him, and His righteousness upheld Him. He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head…”
The point of this text is obvious; salvation is of the Lord. But this text has a striking way of putting it. Look at the end of verse 16, “Then His own arm brought salvation to Him, and His righteousness upheld Him.” Did you catch the wording? The prophet says that His righteousness upheld Him. Now, we might expect the text to say that God’s righteousness upheld His people or them but this text says that God’s righteousness upheld Him. What does that mean?
We might put it like this, if God’s people were to be at peace with Him they would need to meet the righteous requirement of His law. But for that to happen they would need to be righteous themselves. And, of course, they failed to meet that requirement. What is more, God saw that they had no intercessor, no mediator, no kinsman redeemer to plead their cause. If they were to be saved God would have to come among them and He would have to meet His own righteous requirement on their behalf.
Now we are in a position to understand Isaiah 59:16. God’s own arm brought salvation because His righteousness upheld Him in the face of His own righteous requirement. He alone can meet His standard. But the question that comes immediately to mind is how does this help us? How does God’s righteousness help us? Yes, God is able to live up to His own standard of righteousness but where does that leave me?
Look at Isaiah 61:10. The prophet writes, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness…” The image is beautiful. Our God comes clothed in a robe of His own righteousness that He might clothe His people in the same.
Clearly the prophet is looking ahead to Jesus. We are found in Jesus, not having a righteousness of our own derived from our obedience to God’s law, but that which is through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9). Christ not only upheld God’s righteous standard but took the curse of disobedience upon Himself for every breach of it that in Him we might be found to have a righteousness not our own.
It is through the righteousness of Christ that God takes us by the hand and speaks to us as a Father saying in 41:10, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous hand.” The people of God have no need of idols; they have a Father. And what better picture of security is there but a father holding his child’s hand? Such is the security of every believer in God’s family.
Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995. He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.
Editor's Note: The above article is meant to augment material in the associated "Theology on the Go" podcast with Jonathan Master. It considers facets of the theological topic that may have been briefly touched upon in the podcast or passed over in the discussion. We hope you find these ruminations a blessing.