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GIVE THANKS AND SING TO THE LORD

Isaiah 12:1-12:6
Key Verse: 12:5

Happy Thanksgiving! There are many beautiful people in the world. But who can be more beautiful than thankful people, people of thanksgiving? In our time smart people seem to be recognized and valued. However, we believe that before God, thankful people are truly recognizable and valuable. But thankful people are rare. We know that it is not easy to become men and women of thanks, because of our sinful nature. Ingratitude is embedded in our hearts. This is the very sinful nature we must fight against, especially as the people who have received God’s grace. Isaiah 12 well expresses the heart of thanks and praise to God for who he is and what he has done. May we study this passage with a prayer that we may become better people of gratitude.

First, His anger has turned away (1). Verse 1 begins with the words, “In that day you will say” and also verse 4, “In that day you will say.” So this chapter is written in anticipation of the future. In the book of Isaiah “in that day” many times refers to the day of the Messiah’s coming. For example 11:10 says, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.” Here “the Root of Jesse” refers to the Messiah who was to come in the line of David, the son of Jesse. So Isaiah 12 is written in expectation of the coming of the Messiah (7:14; 9:6). As for us “in that day” is today, since Jesus has already come, and we have Jesus.

Look at verse 1 again: “In that day you will say: ‘I will praise you, O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.’” Isaiah chapter 12 is very appealing to us, because it is written in the first person personal pronoun form (I, me, my). God is a personal God. The LORD is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob (Ex 3:15), before becoming the God of Israel.

In verse 1 God’s anger is mentioned. His anger is different from men’s emotional anger. God's anger is holy and righteous anger. People do not want to hear of God’s anger or wrath. God’s wrath is hard for us to talk about. The story of God’s love is welcome, but not that of his anger. However, without knowing God’s wrath, we cannot truly know his love. The wrath of God is clearly demonstrated in the Bible because of his righteous character and man’s sin of unrighteousness. In the time of Noah the whole world was corrupted. Then the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth…for I am grieved that I have made them,” and he indeed carried it out (Ge 6:7, 11). His wrath was poured out on all the inhabitants of the earth to destroy them by the flood caused by a 40-day and 40-night downpour of rain. Only Noah and his family were saved from this wrath of God’s judgment. And Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed in a day by burning sulfur from the heavens, sent by the Lord because of their grievous sin of immorality (Ge 18:20; 19:5,24). When God’s chosen people forsook the LORD their God and followed other false gods and were utterly corrupted with no hope of repentance and restoration, God punished them by using strong nations as his instrument. God’s temple was burned and the wall of Jerusalem was broken down; neither young man nor young woman, old man nor aged was spared, as God handed all of them over to the king of the Babylonians (2 Chronicles 36:17). In the New Testament, when the people persistently rejected him as the Messiah (Lk 19:43-44), Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. According to Jesus’ prediction, Jerusalem fell at AD 70 by the Roman general Titus. God’s wrath and judgment are real, and all the judgments of God point toward the final judgment. 2 Peter 3:10 says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” Lastly, the Bible talks about people’s suffering in the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Re 21:8). God’s wrath is dreadful and no one can escape it (Ro 1:18).

Look at verse 1 again. “…I will praise you, O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.” God was angry with you and with me, for each of us has turned to his own way, so becoming an enemy of God and by nature an object of his wrath (Isa 53:6; Ro 5:10; Eph 2:3). But what a grace it is that his anger has turned away! How could this be possible? Did the LORD compromise his holiness and righteousness? Not at all! No way! His holiness and righteousness cannot be altered. Then what happened? He would do something crazy in the eyes of human beings. He would pour out all his wrath upon his Son, who would be sent to die on the cross. God’s punishment upon his Son would be the displacement of his punishment upon all sinful mankind. This would be an enigma, a puzzle to human kind, a mystery of all mysteries in human history. According to God’s promise, God’s Son Jesus came. While alive, he knew that he would be killed on the cross and taught this secret to his disciples at proper times repeatedly. When he was hanging on the cross, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was pierced and crushed in the crucifixion. God’s punishment upon his Son was thorough with no mercy. The cross of Jesus is the vivid display of God’s wrath and terrible judgment. This punishment is sufficient; God’s holiness and righteousness were satisfied in this punishment. The meaning of this wrath and punishment of God is written in Isaiah 53:5, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” So in Christ Jesus there is no wrath of God. This is the true comfort. So verse 1b says, “your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.” This comfort includes the grace of forgiveness of our sins and peace with God and healing of sin-sick souls. We can also say, “I will praise you, O LORD,” for his anger has turned away in his Son Jesus Christ.

Second, the LORD is my strength, my song and my salvation (2-3). Look at verse 2a. “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.” This is the natural flow of the passage after verse 1. God’s salvation is not like the temporary relief of Tylenol or Advil. God's salvation has a solid foundation based on his long promise and its fulfillment in his Son Jesus Christ. His salvation is sure and trustworthy. We don’t need to be afraid of Satan and his accusation and condemnation, nor of any man. So Paul said in Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us?...Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?” (8:31,33-34). Anyone who is in Christ Jesus can confess, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.”

Look at verse 2b. “The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” This expression is written three times in the Bible. Exodus 15:2 reads, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” and Psalm 118:14, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” Exodus 15:2 is a part of the song Moses and the Israelites sang to the LORD after they crossed the Red Sea while all the Egyptian army drowned. They truly experienced that the LORD was their strength. They had had no strength at all to fight against the Egyptian army, who chased them in chariots. The LORD fought for them and gave them victory. They would continue to fight with any enemies with assurance of victory, because the LORD is their strength. David always felt that his enemies were stronger than he. But with the help of the LORD he could defeat them. Even when he was pushed back and was about to fall, the LORD helped him. According to Isaiah 40:28-32, “…The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth…He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” The LORD’s mighty strength was exerted when he raised Jesus from the dead (Eph 1:19-21). His incomparably great power is for those who believe. For some people, their own physical health can be their strength, or their intellect, social position, money, or family background. However, all human strength has limitations and will be gone in but a matter of time. Only the strength of the LORD has no limitation and will last forever. When people have no such strength, they become sorrowful and fatalistic.

And “the LORD is my song.” When Moses and the Israelites thought of the LORD for his unfailing love and power, this song came out of their mouths: “I will sing to the LORD…In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed…In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling” (Ex 15:1-2, 4, 13). There is also the song of Moses, one whole chapter, Deuteronomy 32, “Listen O heavens…hear O earth…I will proclaim the name of the LORD…Oh, praise the greatness of our God!...his words are perfect and all his ways are just…” (32:1-4). David also said in Psalm 118, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever…” There is also the song of David in the whole chapter of 2 Samuel 22, who sang to the LORD after the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies. “The LORD is my song” means the LORD himself is the object of my song and the theme and subject of my song. Apart from him there is no song. There are many people who cannot sing, although they have everything in the world. For without the Lord Jesus, the things of the world only makes people sigh and cry. Isaiah 40:6-8 says, “A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breadth of the LORD blows them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall…” And according to the Teacher of Ecclesiastes, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (1:2; 12:2). However, when we have the Lord Jesus in our hearts, we can sing at any human situation. Even when imprisoned, after being beaten much, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God, most certainly because Jesus was in their hearts. Then a miracle happened: the foundations of the prison were shaken in a violent earthquake, and they were set free. More than that there was a great work of God: the jailer and all his family were saved by believing in the Lord Jesus (Ac 16 25-35).

And “The LORD, the LORD…he has become my salvation.” Here is the emphasis on salvation: “God is my salvation;...the LORD has become my salvation.” The LORD’s strength and his salvation are closely related. Salvation can have a broad meaning. As we thought, salvation meant deliverance from enemies in battle. When King Hezekiah and his people were in great fear because of the Assyrian army, God gave them a victory one night by letting the angel of the LORD go out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp (Isa 37:36). Such is God’s salvation. Also, in the Bible the ultimate salvation is salvation from sin and Satan. In that sense it is much more true that there is no salvation apart from the LORD. God is our Saviour. He sent his Son Jesus into this world according to his promise to be our Saviour. When the Son Jesus was born, an angel said, “Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you.” And Jesus is named a horn of salvation. Salvation is most important to all mankind who are perishing in sin and under the power of Satan. There is no salvation apart from Jesus. Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” And God said in Isaiah, “…my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth…my salvation will last forever…my salvation through all generations” (Isaiah 49:6; 51:6,8). God’s salvation is for all people of all generations (Lk 2:31), and God wants his people to bring salvation to the ends of the earth (Acts 13:47). When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Peter confessed, “The Christ of God.” This confession surely includes, “You are my salvation.” “The LORD is my salvation,” this should be our unambiguous confession of faith at all times.

Look at verse 3. “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” This is a beautiful, picturesque, and unique expression in the Bible. In the Middle East, wells were rare. Jesus said in John 4:14, “…whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” When we have the Lord Jesus, who is my salvation, he becomes a well or spring or fountain in us. It is a well of salvation. Our Christian life is drawing water from this well of salvation through his words and prayer each week and each day. This gives us joy. Without this joy, life is joyless, even in this world which seems to offer much fun. Fun is different from joy. God wants us to maintain joy and joyful life in Jesus.

Third, “Give thanks and sing to the LORD” (4-6). Look at verses 4-6. “In that day you will say: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.’” There are seven commands in these verses. “Give thanks”, “call on”, “make known”, “proclaim”, “sing”, “let this known”, “shout”, and again, “sing.” These commands are directed to those who know who the LORD is and have received his love and grace and have a personal relationship with him. These are in summary: giving thanks, singing in joy, praying and witnessing.

“Give thanks to the LORD” comes first in the list. This is of foremost importance as the response to his grace. Give thanks is again a command and vital in our relationship with God. As we know, when Adam and Eve lost thankful hearts, they fell and lost Paradise. Not giving thanks to God was the main cause of the fall. Isaiah wrote about the corruption of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, “Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken, ‘I reared children and brought them up, but they rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.’” And Isaiah lamented, “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt…” When they did not recognize God as God nor gave thanks to him, they became no better than animals. According to Romans 1:21, when men neither glorified God nor gave thanks to him, their thinking system began to malfunction and their life degenerated into the mere physical level, only gratifying their sinful desire. Nowadays the Ebola virus is spreading more and more, killing thousands of people. One Spanish nursing assistant contracted the deadly disease while treating a patient in West Africa. While her husband has been placed in quarantine, the couple has a 12 year old dog, which Spanish officials said would have to be euthanized in order to limit the possibility of any transmission to other human beings through it. But surprisingly, many people are responding with outrage, focusing on the right of the animal rather than on the public health crisis. It seems that there is a profound confusion; a confusion about the worth of a human being versus the worth of an animal. Now the dog is making headline news around the world and the fact is an indication of a horrifying worldview confusion. Human minds seem to be moving farther and farther away from normality, when they neither glorify God nor give thanks to him. We should be really positive to give thanks to God (or: intentional and active in giving thanks to God). We cannot overemphasize the importance of giving thanks to God. And those who give thanks to God can also be truly thankful to others.

“Give thanks to the LORD” and “sing to the LORD” go together. Singing is the expression of utmost thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:19, 20 say, “…Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And in Isaiah 12 there is an emphasis on singing, “Sing to the LORD”, “Shout aloud and sing for joy.” When we sing to the LORD, he is very much pleased. In 2 Chronicles 20:21-23, when the Israelites sang to the LORD in battle, God gave them victory by making their united enemies fight one another and destroy each other. When we shout and sing, the evil spirits flee away. Psalm 135:3 says, “Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant.”

Look at 5. “Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things…” We can never forget two glorious things among so many glorious things God has done, they are: the work of creation and the work of salvation, which is new creation work through his Son Jesus Christ. These are uniquely the works of God. We can ever praise him for creating me and saving me through the sacrifice of his Son. These two are the main praising and singing topics of the multitude of saints in the kingdom of heaven written in Revelation: “You are worthy, our Lord and God…for you created all things…Worthy is the Lamb…you are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God…” (Re 4:11; 5:9,12).

Also, glorious things are things that reveal God’s glory. When we live by faith in a difficult situation, God’s glory is revealed. It revealed God’s glory that in order to serve the 2014 joint SBC and support the Hong Kong SBC, Jemmie prepared the message and then life testimony in her own difficult situation. As for Emily, when her long-term relationship with her boyfriend was broken, it was a critical time. But she did not give in to her feelings and desires. Rather she kept her heart for Bible study and worship service, serving the Lord as a piano accompanist. I believe that this pleased God. This year was a tough year for Sara because of the unexpected aftermath of the burn incident and the unexpected rejection from medical schools. But she bore all those times with faith and even made a decision to live as a full time intern shepherd. Thus God’s glory was revealed. There are also other glorious things God has done in and among us. For this we can sing to the Lord.

Those who know the LORD call on his name for his help. And those who know God and have received his grace are to be his witnesses: “make known to the nations what he has done”, “proclaim that his name is exalted”, “let this be known to all the world.” Only the LORD God and the gospel is to be known to the nations of all the world. Only his name is to be proclaimed and exalted.

We thank God that he did not pour out his wrath upon us though we deserved it, but upon his Son, to truly comfort us. The LORD God is my strength, my song and my salvation. May we give thanks to him and shout and sing to him for the glorious things he has done and proclaim his name to the whole world. This is the true life and the life of blessing and victory in this world.

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