Carried by God

May 26, 2024 ()

Bible Text: Isaiah 46:3-4 |

Carried by God | Isaiah 46:3-4
Phil Krause | May 26, 2024

Grab your Bible and find Isaiah chapter 46. Isaiah 46.
While you’re doing that, look up at a screen for a second. Do you know who this man is? His name is Patrik Baboumian. He’s a German-Armenian retired strongman and bodybuilder. He currently holds several world records, including the one for “the heaviest yoke carried over 10 meters.” So ten meters is 33 feet. In this room, that’s about the distance from the front of the stage to about the second row from the back.
This video is from 2015, when our guy Patrik carried this weighted yoke 33 feet in just 28 seconds. Do you want to know how much weight he was carrying? 560 kg, which is 1,235 pounds! I’m told the average refrigerator weighs 250 lb, so 1,235 lb is like carrying the weight of about five average-sized refrigerators at once. That’s impressive!
Well, in Isaiah chapter 46, we’re going to read about Someone who’s a WAY better carrier than Patrik Baboumian. I dare say He’s stronger, too. We’re going to see how it is that you and I are carried by God. In fact, that’s how I titled this sermon today. Carried by God. Look at verses 3 and 4 of Isaiah 46.
God is speaking:
“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.”
Let’s pray.
Father, thank You that you are stronger. Thank you that You carry, and You save. Help us to hear and understand what You have for us in this passage. In Jesus’ Name, amen.
I love this passage. It’s both challenging and comforting to me, and I trust it will be to you, too. I’d like us to touch on two main points today. First, we’ll examine the subject of idolatry, and focus in on God’s superiority—His supremacy—over our idols. Second, we’ll find comfort in the fact that God carries His people.
1. God is superior to idols.
I’m going to show you how we can see that in this passage in just a moment. But first, some context here. Isaiah prophesied in the kingdom of Judah, during the reigns of four different kings, about 100 years prior to the Babylonian exile. The Lord, through the words of Isaiah, blasted His people for their idolatry, for looking to other nations for their hope and security, rather than looking to Him.
He warned them over and over that judgment was coming if they didn’t change their ways. And He sprinkled words of hope and mercy for His people in the midst of these prophecies of coming judgment. So one of the themes we see in Isaiah, as well as in other books of prophecy, and the Psalms, is how much better God is than the false gods, the idols, that we human beings worship. God sets Himself in stark contrast to idols. In fact, to even try to compare idols to the great God of the universe is laughable!
Now, can I push pause for just a moment and say a quick word about idolatry? It can be easy for us nowadays to look down on Old Testament Israel or other cultures and think, “How primitive of them to make a statue of wood or metal and worship it!” Right? I’d venture to guess that nobody in this room or watching online has a shrine to Baal or an Asherah pole in their backyard. But idolatry involves a lot more than just physically bowing down to a statue. Idolatry—that is, worshiping a God-substitute—starts in the heart. Author and counselor Edward Welch says it this way:
“To detect our idols, we must begin by realizing that Old Testament idols were concrete, physical expressions of new loyalties and commitments that had been established in the human heart. The prohibition against idolatry is ultimately about ‘idols of the heart.’”
In Ezekiel chapter 14, God alerted Ezekiel to the fact that the men who were coming TO INQUIRE OF THE LORD—these were leaders in Israel—had idols in their hearts.
Ezekiel 14:3: “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them?”
It’s a fascinating passage that we don’t have time to go into this morning. But the point is that we most certainly can worship a false god of our own making without a physical statue anywhere around. The fact is, anything we put into a place of higher importance than God is an idol. So you and I are guilty of idolatry, too. We just tend to excuse our idolatry/downplay it, instead of seeing it as heinous as it is.
But ever since Genesis chapter 3, when Adam and Eve chose to set aside what God had told them was true, and they focused instead on that fruit from the tree…the fruit the serpent had tricked them into thinking it would give them/do for them what only God could really give…ever since the Fall, the human race has churned out idol after idol after idol. The Reformer, John Calvin, is well-known for this passage in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:
“The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge (or “factory”) of idols. There was a kind of renewal of the world at the deluge (talking about Noah’s flood), but before many years elapse, men are forging gods at will. …The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labors under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has thus conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth.”
So we do worship idols. We do turn to things other than God for that sense of fulfillment or satisfaction that only He can provide. It’s no wonder that the Apostle John ended his first epistle with this warning: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
Now, what is God’s assessment of these idols we’re so quick to make and worship? He actually has a LOT to say about idols and idolatry. There are frequent times in the Old Testament where God, speaking through his prophets, actually makes fun of—he mocks—the idols they’re bowing down to—for their inability to answer prayers, for example. He sometimes uses holy sarcasm. He often points out the total irony and the utter folly of worshiping these poor God-substitutes.
You might think of the big showdown the prophet Elijah had with 450 prophets of Baal at the top of Mt. Carmel, in 1 Kings 18. Remember that? They’re working themselves into a frenzy, calling on their god to make fire fall and burn up their sacrifice.
“And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud, for [Baal] is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.”
And nothing happened until Elijah prayed to the God of Israel, the only true God.
Then there’s a passage in Psalms 115 (and it’s repeated in Psalm 135), where God points out that even though these idols have eyes and ears and mouths and noses and hands and feet, they still can’t speak/see/hear/smell/feel/walk. It ends with this chilling statement: “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”
You could say it this way: “You resemble what you worship,” or “You become like what you behold,” or “You become like what you bow down to.” “You’re transformed to be like what entrances you.” Think about that, because it can be negative OR positive. The more you gaze at and worship Christ, the more like him you become.
We don’t have time to look at them all now, but I do want to draw our attention to just a few references to idols in the book of Isaiah. Incidentally, it would be a good study for you to do on your own sometime: As you read through the Bible, notice what God says about idols. It’s sobering and sad, and at times, even humorous. But sticking to just the chapters leading up to and just after our passage in Isaiah 46 we see things like this in chapter 40:18-20:
“To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.” (Why are you bowing down to a god that can’t even move to do something for you??)
Isaiah 41:7, “The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith,
and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, ‘It is good’;
and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved.”
I’ve pointed this out before, but can you imagine the conversation?
“Hey! Whatcha makin’?”
“A god. He’s gonna help deliver me from the bad guys coming from the east.”
“Oh, I see. Ouch! Your god just gave me a splinter! Better sand him some more!”
“Nice solder joints there, should hold for a good while.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, careful there! Your god just about toppled over. Hey, I know!! You need to use some NAILS to help hold him in place. That should help!”
God’s assessment is that the idols are weak. God’s not joking at all when He says in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (I’ll tolerate no rivals, certainly not something that someone made or carved.)
Then you may remember that kind-of-funny-yet-sad passage from Isaiah 44, where it spells out the process of making an idol.
“The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. (haha! Sarcasm there!) He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand.”
Remember? You become like what you worship! The idol’s blind, it can’t understand anything, and so are you if you’re worshiping it! But He’s not done. He goes on:
“No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, ‘Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’”
Listen to the Lord’s commentary!

“He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’”

And again, even though you and I aren’t literally cutting down a tree to use for an idol, this becomes a metaphor for what we do, and the lack of logic, the sheer stupidity of our idolatry.
So God’s assessment of our idols is that they’re LIES. Deception. In multiple passages God points out the utter futility of worshiping idols by showing that they (the idols) are completely unable to do anything for themselves, let alone anyone else. They must be carried, and they cannot save. Look at Isaiah 45:20,

“Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save.”

Notice the combination of terms “carrying” and “salvation,” or deliverance. There’s absolutely no way you’re going to be delivered by a god that you have to carry around. We see that same concept in Isaiah 46:5-7.

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike? Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship! They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble.”

Notice: the Lord is telling Israel, “These gods you’re worshiping are so helpless you have to carry them and set them up, and they can’t move! How dumb is that?!” And again, we see that pairing: being carried is equated with not answering, not saving. Then, listen to the contrast, in verse 8-10.

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’”

He’s saying, “Not only do I not have to be carried, not only can I move, I’m actually the One in charge! I decide how the story’s going to end. My counsel stands. I accomplish EVERYTHING I purpose,” which, by the way, is more than any of us can say!

Now, our plane has been sort of circling around this whole issue of God’s superiority over idols in Isaiah, but now we’re on the final approach to our passage. Look at Isaiah 46:1-2. Here Isaiah describes a scene that probably would have been familiar to his readers, or certainly would be in a hundred years, when they’re carted off to Babylon. Commentators speculate that there was some sort of festival honoring these Babylonian gods, Bel and Nebo, where they actually moved the huge statues/the idols outside the city walls. But in order to get through the gate, the statues have to be lowered. So it looks like they’re bent over, even tied up with ropes. And so we read, in verses 1-2:

“Bel bows down; Nebo stoops ; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts. They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity.”

Do you get the picture? God is really condescending to compare Himself to a useless idol in the first place. But He does it because He wants His people to see the foolishness, the delusion, the utter insanity of worshiping these things. And one of His arguments is, “Look, that dumb idol can’t even move on its own! It has to be carried!”

Okay, the plane is touching down now in Isaiah 46. Let’s read verses 3 and 4 again. God pleads with Israel:

“Listen to me, (I think of the way a parent urgently gets the attention of a child. “Listen up! This is important. I don’t want you to miss this.”) O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel…”

By referring to them as the house of Jacob or Israel, He’s reminding them of His covenant relationship with them. He didn’t have to choose Abraham. He didn’t need their friendship. No, God chose to make a covenant with Abraham, which He then renewed with Isaac and Israel—purely out of grace! To show forth His glory to a watching world…”Look at Israel! Their God isn’t made with hands. He lives among His people. He loves them, and they love Him!” God’s speaking to the whole nation of Israel as if it were just Jacob himself.

The next phrase, “who have been borne by me,” dramatically shows how different this God of Israel is from all the other gods of all the other nations. See, they have to strengthen their gods with nails. They have to put them on donkeys or oxen to even move them at all. But the God of Israel says, “I’m the one carrying YOU.”

And when? “From before your birth, even to your old age!” It’s a poetic way of saying, “from beginning to end, I’m the One carrying you, My people!”

He says it again: “I am he! And to gray hairs I will carry you.” Remember Bel and Nebo? Those are really no gods at all. They’re being moved with a lot of effort and equipment and animals, but not on their own.

God goes on: “I have made.” The false gods had to be made by humans. God says “not only was I not made, I made everything, including YOU.”

“I will bear, I will carry, (and the climax of it all) and will SAVE.” Yes, God is making a point to Israel and to us: God is better. He’s absolutely superior to the false gods we so quickly set up. Worship GOD, not those helpless idols! They can do nothing for you, Israel / Redeemer Church / Phil Krause.

2. Secondly, let’s think about the comfort to be found in the fact that God carries us. God carries his people.

You remember the original Christopher Reeves Superman movie? One of the memorable scenes… Lois Lane is a reporter, the helicopter she’s in crashes at the top of a skyscraper, and she’s falling to certain death, when Superman, whom she’s never met, comes to save the day.
He catches her in mid-air, and very calmly says,
Superman - “Easy, Miss. I’ve got you.” (To which she hoarsely responds…)
Lois Lane - “You’ve got me—who’s got YOU?”
What a great line! Now, that’s a pretend story. But God is not pretend like Superman! And nobody has to carry Him!

Back to Isaiah 46. Did you notice? God repeated Himself. And when God repeats Himself, you can be sure it’s not because He’s worried He’ll forget. It’s because He wants US to pay attention and not forget. So, in rapid-fire succession, God says:
I’ve borne you
I carried you from the womb
To gray hairs I will carry you
I will bear
I will carry and will save.

Five times in just two verses, sandwiched in between all these other comments about how the helpless idols have to be carried, He’s saying, in effect, “Don’t worry, Israel, “I’ve got you. I’m carrying you. And nobody has to carry Me.” Look at the tenses. “I have borne you.” …it’s a done deal.

Again, in the past tense, God says to His people, “I carried you.” The Hebrew word here includes the sense of “raising, lifting, setting up.” Remember? the false gods had to be set up, lifted into position. God says, “I lifted YOU.”

Then He says, “to gray hairs I WILL carry you.” This is future tense. God says, “I’m GOING to carry you.” Then, “I have made (the idols had to be made, but God’s saying, “I have made!”) and I will bear. I will carry and will save.” So from “womb to tomb” as the saying goes—in the past, the present, and the future—God has carried, He carries, and will carry His people!

James Smith was pastor of New Park Street Chapel in London in the mid-1800’s, just before the young Charles Spurgeon became its pastor. Well, James Smith called this passage “the aged believer’s cordial.” A cordial is a soothing medicine. He was keying in on the phrase about God carrying his people to gray hairs. He commented:

“God is a parent, a kind and tender-hearted parent. He is peculiarly attached to His people — they are dear to Him, precious in His sight. They are His portion. He prizes them above all creation. He is strong to sustain, to defend, and support them. His strong arm, tender heart, and watchful eye — are all employed for them — and especially so in old age.
The aged believer is as a child. He is weak. He feels exposed and defenseless. He is timid and fearful. But the Lord, as a tender parent, engages to take him up in the arms of His power — and carry him in the bosom of His love! Like a tender lamb in the shepherd's bosom, on a cold and frosty night, borne across a bleak and snow-covered common — so the believer, in the winter of old age, shall be carried in the bosom of his God, across the bleak and cheerless desert of time.”
I don’t know about you, but I think that thought is a comfort, no matter what color your hair is!

The Puritan pastor John Flavel wrote a treatise called, The Mystery of Providence in 1678, where he systematically went through many, if not all, of the passages that directly point out God’s sovereign control and loving care for his people, including this one in Isaiah 46. He said:

“It is not just the supply of one or two pressing needs, but all your lackings, as they grow from day to day through all your days.

The care of Providence runs parallel with the line of life: 'Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.' (Isaiah 46:3-4).

So would I persuade you, reader, to record the ways of Providence, from first to last, throughout your whole course to this day, that you may see what a God He has been to you.”

And did you know? Isaiah 46 isn’t the first time God told Israel He was carrying them. Listen to Deuteronomy 1:30-31. Keep in mind, the Israelites had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, they were about to cross over into the Promised Land, and Moses reassured them with these words:

“The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.”

And so now, when God said it through the prophet Isaiah, it had to be a tremendous comfort to the Israelites, just a few generations later, when they were exiles in Babylon, to remember that God was carrying them and that He would deliver them. You see, it’s when the bottom drops out, just like Lois Lane falling from 20 stories up, that you suddenly feel your need for someone to lift you up, to carry you.

So those are our two points today: God is superior to our idols, and there’s great comfort in knowing that He not only made us and set us up and carried us in the past, He is doing it now and He will continue to do it.

So how about us? How do these truths apply to us? God was speaking to the nation of Israel when He first said these things. But how do we apply it to ourselves? Well, we need to ask ourselves some soul-searching questions! We examine ourselves, first of all related to idols and wrong worship:
What idols am I tempted to worship?
How have I deluded myself and gone to the trouble and expense and effort to figuratively build and set up and lug around and bow down to God-substitutes in my life?
What am I turning to for satisfaction? Is it God or is it a God-substitute?
Where am I looking for protection or security? The Lord or a false god?
If it’s true that I’m transformed to be like what entrances me (and it is), then by what am I entranced? What delights me/what thrills me? Is it God, or my pet idol?
Who or what controls me? Who or what do I WANT to control me? In the current episode of Looking to Jesus with Brian Hedges, he says this: “Listen to this sentence and fill in the blank: “Jesus plus ____ equals happiness for me.” Fill in the blank in your own mind, and whatever is in that blank is your idol. It’s the thing that you put before Jesus. If you can say, “Jesus plus nothing equals happiness for me,” then you know that you’ve really put him first in your life.”
After you’ve recognized your idolatry, confess it as sin and repent. Ask:
What can I do today/this week to tear down my idols and worship the only true God instead?
Turn to Jesus, the only One who never bowed His heart to anything or anyone other than His Father.

And then, think about the wonderful truth that, all through your life, God has been carrying YOU. Thank him for it:
When your mother was carrying you in the womb, God was carrying you.
When she first held you in her arms as a baby, God was carrying you.
When you toddled and fell, toddled and fell, God was carrying you.
When you first went to school, God was carrying you.
When you were sick, God carried you through it.
When mean kids bullied you, God was carrying you.
When that horrible accident happened, or when unspeakable things happened to you—sinful, hurtful things done by others—and it seemed like God had abandoned you, He was really there with you, holding you.
When that relationship fell apart or your family splintered into the nightmare of accusations and screaming and then deafening silence, He hated the hatred, but He carried you through it.
When you first understood the gospel and the eyes of your heart were opened, the veil was removed, that was the Lord carrying you, drawing you to Himself.
When you sinned against Him (in the past), He didn’t let go of you.
When you sin against Him (in the present or in the future), He won’t let go of you. Jesus, your Good Shepherd, holds His sheep in His hand, and he said in John chapter 10 that no one will snatch His sheep out of his hand or the Father’s hand. Can your heart rest in that sweet security?
When the biopsy is positive, God is still carrying you.
When your memory fails and your mind slips into a fog so thick you can’t see your way out, God will hold you.
When your life nears the end, God will be carrying you then.
When the time comes for you to cross over in death, God will carry you into eternity with HIM.

With a God who’s WAY stronger than a man who can carry the weight of five refrigerators, stronger and more real than Superman, why do you and I try to carry ourselves? Confess that to Him— say, “Lord, I’ve been trying to do it all myself. Help me to rest in Your strong, loving, capable arms.”

Again, look to Jesus, about whom the Apostle Peter says, “He himself bore (He carried) our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” And again in Isaiah 53, speaking prophetically of Christ: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…”

This is your comfort, and this is your hope. You are carried by God! It’s not that we’re super-great at holding onto Him; it’s that He carries us. As we’ll sing in a moment, words from a hymn by Ada Habershon, written in 1906:

Those He saves are His delight
Christ will hold me fast
Precious in His holy sight
He will hold me fast

He'll not let my soul be lost
His promises shall last
Bought by Him at such a cost
He will hold me fast

He will hold me fast
He will hold me fast
For my Savior loves me so
He will hold me fast

Let’s pray.

Father, we worship you for your strength, for your supremacy over all, including our idols. We confess that we are too quick to turn to other sources of satisfaction; we’re too quick to look for fulfillment elsewhere. So help us to do the ruthless work of rooting out and casting down our idols. Thank you for carrying us. Thank you for caring for us, and we do express our dependence on you. Thank you that you have made and will carry and will save. And thank you most of all for Jesus, our strong, strong, Savior. And it’s in his name that we pray. Amen.