A voice says, “Call out.”
Then he answered, “What shall I call out?”
All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.
Get yourself up on a high mountain,
O Zion, bearer of good news,
Lift up your voice mightily,
O Jerusalem, bearer of good news;
Lift it up, do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
– Isaiah 40:6-9
Woven through Isaiah 40 are the corresponding themes of man’s frailty and God’s sufficiency. Verse 8, which we so often see on pretty little plaques in people’s hallways, takes on much greater significance when we recognize what is being referred to by the statement “the grass withers, the flower fades”. It’s not talking about grass and flowers; it’s talking about us! “All flesh is grass” (v 6); “Surely the people are grass” (v 7); even the greatest figures in humanity are scarcely able to take root in the ground before “He merely blows on them, and they wither” (v 24).
This is not good news for those looking for the typical kind of self-esteem. But there is better news available to us – namely, that God offers His sufficiency to us. We see this in verse 9 with the proclamation that was to be proclaimed from the top of a mountain: “Here is your God!” This is the answer to all our problems, the provision for all our needs; and yet how reluctant we often are to accept this as our solution. I want to look to myself for the answer. I want to be self-sufficient, because that will allow me to be self-governing. But grass is not self-governing, no matter how much it would like to be.
When we find ourselves attempting to practice self-dependence, and God puts us in a situation that’s beyond our personal capacity to handle, it’s easy to assume that God is not being fair. If God expects me to handle a given situation in a way that’s pleasing to Him, and I can’t see how it’s possible for me to do that (either because I can’t figure out the proper method or because I lack the strength to do it), I can easily develop the sense that God is calling me to do something that is impossible – which would, of course, be unreasonable. But what I need to recognize is that it’s only impossible in one sense, and that it’s altogether possible in another sense. I simply need to be humble enough to take hold of that other sense, by taking hold of the supply that God offers me.
Those who “grow weary and tired” and who “stumble badly” (v 30) are called to wait for the Lord. The question is, how long? Sometimes the answer is, until your point of absolute need. God often doesn’t supply our need until we actually need it, lest we continue to operate under the mistaken assumption that we devised a way to have our needs met. It is only when we have walked through a situation with the conscious knowledge that we are personally insufficient to handle it, that we are maximally free to recognize God’s sufficiency in our weakness, and to reflect the glory to Him.
Our tendency is to either see ourselves as tireless, strong and immortal, or to become despondent when we experience our own frailty – to say either “I can do it”, or “I can’t do it”. Neither of these statements is sufficient in itself. Each, left on its own, will dishonor God.
Our hope is not in man, who is grass. But there is hope for man in God. We are frail, weak and temporary. But God’s strength can make us into something useful. Our hope is in God’s transfer of His tirelessness to us.
We see in this passage the picture of an incomprehensibly powerful, conquering sovereign who merely blows on the rulers of the earth and they wither like grass, and who counts the nations as nothing in comparison with Himself; and interwoven with these descriptions of absolute sovereignty are promises that He will direct that power wholeheartedly toward the benefit of His people.
It scares me, on the one hand, to consider what the next impossible-for-me situation might be. When will the next tragic death happen? When will I next be faced with a counseling situation that’s out of my league? When will my wife reveal to me something in my life that needs to change? When will the pressures of family, ministry, education, and the details of life next pile so high that my calendar simply won’t fit them all? When will one of these items slip, and create major problems?
Life is intimidating, and I am insufficient in myself to handle it. And yet I do not ultimately lack access to the sufficiency, because God promises to provide it for me. Maybe not when I want, or by the means I want, but when I really need it, and by means which will reflect most effectively the source of the supply.
Scripture is full of examples of individuals called on to do things for which they felt personally ill-equipped. Jeremiah’s response to God’s call on His life was “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” God’s response to Jeremiah was that his personal capacity was not the issue. God directed his life, and God would supply what he needed. An even more profound example is found in Moses’ call to return to Egypt. Moses objected and/or excused himself from this call at least four times in the course of his conversation with God. And his constant objection had to do with himself. God never corrected Moses’ sense of personal inadequacy; rather, He promised over and over to be adequate for him. On the one hand, I can’t imagine arguing with a miracle-working burning bush; on the other hand, I’m sure I do similar things all the time, and on the same basis that Moses used. With him, I am called to look away from myself to the One who is sufficient to supply the otherwise impossible.