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I have not spent my strength in vain or for nothing...thoughts on Isaiah 49
Isaiah was a prophet in the Old Testament. He worked hard to obey the Lord. The people of his country had turned their back on their God. They made alliances with other countries who took advantage of them. They worshipped idols that required them to sacrifice their children. They lived evil, selfish lives, hurting and taking advantage of each other. There was no justice in the land. It was not the life God wanted for his chosen people. So he chose Isaiah to speak to them, to warn them of the danger from surrounding nations and their lifestyle. It was Isaiah’s job to remind the people that God loved them and was waiting to forgive them and heal them. All they had to do was return to him. But the people didn’t listen. They didn’t want to hear what he had to say.
Isaiah was discouraged. There was nothing to show for all his hard work. There was no change in his circumstances and no break from his labor. No one was listening. The Lord promised Isaiah’s work would bring glory to God, but he saw none of it. It didn’t get better during his lifetime either. In the end Israel would be destroyed by Babylon and the people would all be forced into captivity, taken from their land and carried off to live in another land.
So was Isaiah’s work useless? Did God lie to him? Did his words ever bring glory to God? Listen to their conversation in Isaiah 49.
“Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.
Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”
And now the LORD says-he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength-
He says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
Isaiah was not afraid to tell God he felt useless. He also recognized that it was ok. God would reward him in His own way. He realized his reward may not look like he was expecting. He found the strength to continue from God. He knew that God was the only one whose opinion mattered.
Look what happened. Isaiah thought his only purpose was to bring Israel back to their God, but God had something bigger in mind. His words would be recorded throughout all time and they would not only restore Jews, but introduce Gentiles as well to God’s salvation. Isaiah had the privilege of sharing prophesies of Jesus Christ. Even today, both Jews and Gentiles turn to Isaiah’s words to clarify the identity of the Son of God. He never saw it in his own life, but God knew what would happen, it was in his plans from the beginning.
Do you ever feel like Isaiah? Like obeying God is useless. What is the point in talking to Him if we don’t get what we want? Why should we obey if no one else is going to notice? It seems like everyone else is having so much fun, why shouldn’t we just give in and do what we want, will it really matter anyway? But take courage. God is there, he sees us and knows what we are going through. Obeying him will be rewarded. It just might not be what or when we expect. But never fear, he has a plan, he is in control and we will not be disappointed. After all, as he told Isaiah, perhaps what we think we are doing is just a small part of the impact we are having and he has much greater things going on that we can’t see.