May 2016 • Volume XVI, Issue 1
Fearing Man and Forgetting God (2)
“I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that
thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the
son of man which shall be made as grass; and forgettest the
Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and
laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared
continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor,
as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the
oppressor?” (Isa. 51:12-13).
There is not only the fear of man as man; there is also the
fear of man’s fury. Jehovah declares that Israel “hast
feared continually every day because of the fury of the
oppressor” (13). There are people who can cope with displays
of power from the ungodly but will cower before their wrath.
Our text describes a fear of the fury of the wicked that is
daily (“every day”) and continual. Beloved, by God’s grace,
never allow yourself to get into such a condition: fearing
man, fearing man’s fury and that “continually every day”!
Our text does not speak merely of fearing man and his fury;
it also speaks of fearing what man can do to us. Thou “hast
feared continually every day because of the fury of the
oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy” (13). The
indications given by the wicked as to what they may do to us
may be in the form of threats or examples; they may be
spoken or unspoken; they may be subtle or not so subtle.
One way or another, our ungodly enemies leave this definite
impression with us: “This is what we will do to you, to your
home, to your spouse, to your children, to your family, to
your church, to you legally. This is what we will do to you
in your neighbourhood, in your employment, in the press, in
By God’s grace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not yield
to the fear of an ungodly law, requiring them to bow down to
a golden idol (Dan. 3). They did not capitulate to the fear
of Nebuchadnezzar or to his fury (for he was enraged) or to
the threat of the burning, fiery furnace. Maybe they had
read or had been thinking about Isaiah 51:12-13 (or 43:2)?
So do not fear what the wicked can do to you, child of God!
Do not spend time imagining what they may do to you.
Probably 99% of such threats are not fulfilled anyway.
Remember that the Lord stands with those who stand for His
Our text asks, “where is the fury of the oppressor?”
(51:13). Mighty Babylon is long gone. The beast-like empires
of Greece and Rome were destroyed many centuries ago. All
the wicked and their powers will be crushed by the Almighty!
“The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed, and that
he should not die in the pit, nor that his bread should
fail” (14). What a picture of Israel: in exile as a captive
in a pit with starvation rations! But deliverance from
Babylon was coming soon (“hasteneth”) and so Israel’s fears
By the way, Isaiah 51:14 is a figurative and spiritual
presentation, and proof that Isaiah 51 was not written by
someone in the Babylonian captivity long after the real
Isaiah, for the physical conditions of the Israelites in
exile were not too bad (cf. Jer. 29:4-7) and so many stayed
in Babylon when they had opportunity to return to Judah.
The believer must remember who he or she really is. Our text
puts the question to the child of God: “who art thou”? It
asks, “who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man
that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as
grass ... and hast feared continually every day because of
the fury of the oppressor” (Isa. 51:12-13)?
You know the Son of man, Jesus Christ, and are joined to Him
who has atoned for your sins, has risen from the dead and is
alive for evermore! You are immortal, for you will live
after death in your soul with Christ in heaven and you will
be raised from the dead in your glorified body on the last
day to inhabit the new heavens and the new earth, a new
world of righteousness and joy!
Why then are you worried about “the fury of the oppressor”
(13)? What about God’s fury against sin? Think about
Jehovah’s fury displayed and satisfied in the cross of Jesus
Christ when He bore God’s wrath against us for our awful
You are elect and beloved, redeemed and ransomed, adopted
and called by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So do not fear man!
God charges Israel: Thou “forgettest” Me (13; cf. 49:14)!
What is the relationship between fearing man and forgetting
God? Both the fear of man and forgetting the Lord are sins
against the first commandment. These sins are related in
that they are inversely proportional. The more you fear man,
the less you fear God. The more you fear God, the less you
In our text, God reminds Israel and us of three of His
names. First, He is “the Lord,” Jehovah (51:13). In Himself,
He is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable. To us, He is
true and faithful in Jesus Christ. Second, He is “the Lord
thy God” (15). Jehovah is our covenant God, according to the
covenant formula: “I am thy God and thou art My people.”
Third, He is “The Lord of hosts” (15). He is sovereign over
the hosts of heaven and earth and the sea, and His visible
and invisible hosts. They are all in the service of Jehovah
their master who uses them in the service of His church.
“So how could you, Israel? How could you forget Me? How
could you forget My names?” asks Jehovah. Let us not be
guilty of this, beloved! Rev. Stewart
“Listen and Wake Up!” 10 sermons on Isaiah 51:1-52:12, in a
handsome box set (CD or DVD), is available from the CPRC
Bookstore for £12/set (inc. P&P). Free videos and audios of
these sermons can also be found on the CPRC website and
“We are often rightly told that God will not remember our
sins and has removed them from us to an infinite distance
(as far as the east is from the west) and buried them in the
deepest sea. So how can those same sins be brought out into
the open on the judgment day, with every believer being
rewarded according to his works? Are our sins not to be
brought up again as they are all atoned for and simply our
works judged? Because surely the quality of the works will
expose the sin inherent in them?”
As our readers will recall, I have been discussing the
theodicy in the last two articles. I intend to end the
discussion with this article. The question quoted above
prompted me to widen the answer to include a discussion of
the theodicy because 1) it underlies the question and 2) the
theodicy is rarely discussed in today’s insipid theological
world. Yet it is a truth that lies at the heart of Reformed
I am convinced that the lack of teaching on this subject is
due to a wrong emphasis on man in preaching and writing in
today’s church world. This is not the emphasis in Scripture.
Scripture is God-centred. It teaches what God does, why He
does what He does, and that His name alone ought to be
praised and given all the glory. With today’s theologians,
one hears only man, man, man. In Reformed theology, the
emphasis is God, God, God. Read Ephesians 1:3-14. While the
passage, only one sentence in the Greek, tells us of the
astounding gifts that God gives His people, the purpose is
always to show that God gives them and that He does so that
He alone may be praised. The truth of the theodicy brings us
to the foot of God’s throne in humble adoration.
The questioner wants to know whether our sins will be
revealed in the judgment day. He apparently hopes that they
are not. In that wish, he is like all of us, for our sins
are so many and so great and so terrible that we really do
not want anyone to know them. That they will be publicly
revealed in the judgment day makes us cringe in fear.
The questioner argues that all our sins are covered by
Christ’s blood and that they exist no longer. In addition to
that, the questioner argues that our good works will
themselves reveal their inherent sinfulness. The point is,
however, not whether our sins will be revealed in the
judgment day (they will be) but whether God will be
justified in saving His people, who are in themselves just
as wicked as anyone else in the world, and why they are
saved. That is the theodicy.
In the theodicy, God justifies Himself in election, not only
in reprobation, as we saw last time. God justifies Himself
in a seemingly arbitrary choice to bless in Christ only some
of our fallen race equally involved in spiritual ruin.
God did not choose those whom He elected because they were
morally superior to others or because they performed more
good works than others or because, out of the whole of
fallen man, they were found more noble and of more worth.
Election is absolutely free and sovereign. God chooses whom
He wills to choose. His basis for electing some and not
others is His own sovereign good pleasure. He has mercy on
whom He will have mercy, and whom He wills, He hardens (Rom
As I said in the last article in connection with
reprobation, God has the right to do this and He is under no
obligation to explain to us why He does what He does. He is
infinite; we are specks of dirt. He is the Creator of all;
we are created. He gives life and existence to every
creature; we depend on Him for every breath and every beat
of our hearts. Paul again: Does not the potter have power
over the clay to make a good vessel or a bad vessel (Rom
9:21)? Of course, He does. So it is with God.
The Creator may do with those He creates as He pleases. This
is the basic truth. God does all His good pleasure. No one
may question His right to do it.
If the church is pictured as a temple, as it is in Ephesians
2:20-22, God chooses to build the temple of the elect on
Christ. He chooses the reprobate as scaffolding to make the
erection of the temple possible. When the temple is fully
built, the scaffolding is no longer needed and is discarded.
But there is more. To show the great wonder of God’s work of
salvation, He saves from sin in the death and exaltation of
His own dear Son. To demonstrate His grace, He must and does
show how wicked His people are in themselves. To show the
greatness of the wonder of salvation, all our iniquities
will be publicly revealed.
In the death of Christ, as the satisfaction God requires to
save His people from their sins against Him, God punishes
His Son and not His people. The light of God’s holiness
shines the brighter against the background of our dreadful
sin. One can see the beam of a torch only in the dark; one
can see God’s great glory especially as it shines in the
darkness of our sins.
Our sins will never be manifest in all their horror until
the last day. They will be publicly revealed as all covered
by the blood of Christ. We stand as sinners, who are made
into saints by Christ’s death. God does it all that He alone
may be glorified as the great eternal author of all His
works. Therefore, John tells us that we need not be afraid
of the judgment because we know that God loves us (I John
This is the theodicy. God justifies His work of salvation by
grace alone by showing us as we are in ourselves and as
saved by Christ.
God reveals as gloriously as possible that He alone is
sovereign also in the work of the salvation of His elect.
The greatest glory of His name is achieved through revealing
all His attributes in the highest possible way. He reveals
His (what we call) incommunicable attributes): sovereignty,
omnipotence, eternal unchangeableness, the blessedness of
His own Triune covenant life He lives as the Triune God.
He also reveals His (what we call) communicable attributes
in the highest way in Christ and in all His work: His mercy,
grace, love, longsuffering, patience. God reveals all these
attributes when an innumerable host of elect sinners stand
before Him, clothed in the white robes of Christ’s
righteousness. We, who are dreadful sinners, just as bad as
everybody else in the world, are saved by God and blessed
Our sins must be revealed, for only in this way can the
greatness of God’s mercy be shown and can we appreciate the
wonder of Christ’s work and the greatness of a God who sent
His beloved Son to hell to save His people. Prof. Hanko
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