God Is Our Strength

God Is Our Strength

January 18th, 1976 @ 10:50 AM

Isaiah 41:11-14

Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish. Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought. For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
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GOD IS OUR STRENGTH

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Isaiah 41:11-14

1-18-76     10:50 a.m.

We welcome you who are sharing the worship of God with us by radio and by television.  In these morning hours, we are preaching through the great prophecy of God’s greatest Old Testament emissary, Isaiah—the courtly, princely preacher of Israel.  And in the forty-first chapter, beginning at verse 10, the Lord says to Israel and to His people today:  “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness” [Isaiah 41:10].  Verse 13:  “For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not, I will help thee.  Fear not, thou worm Jacob… I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” [Isaiah 41:13-14].

We cannot but look at that address:  “Thou worm Jacob; I will help thee, I will hold thy right hand, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit of God” [Isaiah 41:14].  But the address:  “Thou worm Jacob” [Isaiah 41:14]—what an insult, says the humanist.  What an insult, says the rationalist; these who magnify human nature.  For, says the rationalist and the humanist, “I am no worm.  I am a man.  I can do anything.  I can do everything.  I can write my own Bible.  I can fashion my own ladder.  I can lean it against the battlements and balustrades of heaven.  Have I not walked on the moon?  My own hand shall bring me salvation, and my own sword shall win for me the victory.”

Not only do you find that attitude of superiority and self-sufficiency in the world of the humanist and the rationalist, you will find it spill over also into the world of the ecclesiastics and the theologians.  It is a strange thing, this humanism, that worships at the shrine of human nature.  For example, in our Baptist hymnals, the new Baptist hymnals, as in so many other of the hymnals of modern church worship; the old beautiful hymn of Isaac Watts:

Alas! and did my Savior bleed

And did my Sovereign die?

Would He devote that sacred head for—

and Isaac Watts wrote it—

for such a worm as I?

[“Alas, and Did My Saviour Bleed,” Isaac Watts]

But the new modern hymnals will change it, “for sinners such as I.”  For the reproach and the delineation of a worm does not fit a man who exalts human nature, but God wrote it, “Thou worm, Jacob” [Isaiah 41:14].  And when we consider the helplessness of a man before God and before Providence and before life and death and the judgment, how else could God describe us but “thou worm, Jacob”?

“What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou visitest him?” [Psalm 8:4]; so cried the psalmist thousands of years ago.  Nor have we cause to change the judgment since.  In the face of the ages and the ages of eternities, the life of a man is like a moth, in the morning, it passes away.  Before the great infinitude of God’s creation, our very existence is like a passing atom.  A man may be boastful and proud among his fellow dwarfs and his fellow Lilliputians, and a man may be proud of his accomplishments and prosperity, but what does he do in the day of sorrow, and adversity, and anguish, and hurt, of age and senility and death?  “Thou worm, Jacob” [Isaiah 41:14]; how helpless does a man feel before these providences that overwhelm his life?

Sin, sin, sin—how does a man wash the stain of sin out of his soul?  There is a black drop that courses in our human veins that we inherited from those who lived before us.  And I cannot obviate it; I cannot help it.  I am a sinner, and I cannot save myself [Ecclesiastes 8:8].  Nor am I any more able in the face of the pale visitor, death; what is my strength against the victory of death and the grave? [Psalms 89:48].

We who bury our loved ones visit the cemetery, and going away leave a part of ourselves behind.  Death, wasting our families; destroying our home; and finally, laying us in the dust of the ground; “Thou worm, Jacob” [Isaiah 41:14].  How can I take arms to battle against that last enemy, death? [1 Corinthians 15:26].  “Thou worm, Jacob.”  I am even overwhelmed by the providences of life over which I have no control; sometimes drowned in a sea of sorrows, sometimes swept away in a flood of disappointment and frustration.  In these last two or three years, some of the most affluent and successful men I know are now bankrupt; some of them in penury and poverty.  “Thou worm, Jacob.”

How does a man find himself equal to the providences that sweep us away in this life?  And to those of us who have attempted to do great things for God, “Thou worm, Jacob” [Isaiah 41:14], how can we do it?  If a man does not attempt anything, does not try anything, then he does not need any help, but if a man attempts a great work for God, oh, how he bows in the presence of the Almighty.  How he is laid low in the dust and ashes of the ground.  Who can do God’s work in himself and without God?  “Thou worm, Jacob” [Isaiah 41:14].

I have been thinking especially this week, brooding over the text, asking God to help us in this holy hour.  I have been thinking about what we are attempting for the Lord in this sacred place.  O Lord, have I made a mistake in leading our congregation into assignment and into responsibilities that are too big, too vast, and too great for us? “Thou worm, Jacob.”  I have led our church into an indebtedness over five millions of dollars.  The interest alone on what we owe amounts to more than four hundred fifty thousand dollars a year; taken out of our church budget, out of our tithes and our offerings and given to the bankers for interest.  And I think of our Academy and the responsibility that is laid upon us in building up that teaching to the children and to the high school teenagers.  And I think of our Bible Institute, and the young men and women who call me and talk to me and to the president of our school—from the ends of the earth they ask about our Bible Institute.  And then I think of our expanding TV program.

It is our purpose and our prayer to take the service of worship and exposition of God’s Word and call to salvation in Christ; to take the broadcast and place it in every large populated center of America and finally beyond the seas.  Lord, who is equal for these things? “Thou worm, Jacob!”  How we need God’s help, and how we need to pray, and how we need to look up to heaven for strength.  Who is sufficient for these things?  “Thou worm, Jacob” [Isaiah 41:14].  But look at the promises of God: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee … I will strengthen thee; I will help thee; I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness” [Isaiah 41:10].

And as though one time to say it were not enough, God repeats it again:  “For I am the Lord thy God … and I will help thee [Isaiah 41:13].  Fear not, thou worm Jacob … I will help thee, saith the Lord, saith the Redeemer, saith the Holy One of Israel” [Isaiah 41:14].  All three in the Godhead, avowing to that worm Jacob.  I will help thee, saith the L-o-r-d—capital letters [Isaiah 41:14].  Written like that in this version of the Bible that we might know that the word is Yahweh; in the American Revised Version, “Jehovah,” God our Father.  “I will help thee…saith the great Mighty God,” and then, “I will help thee…thy Redeemer” [Isaiah 41:14].  That is the Lord Jesus Christ, the second in the Trinity [Job 19:25].  “I will help thee saith…the Holy One of Israel” [Isaiah 41:14]; that is the Holy Spirit of God poured out upon this world and in our heart [John 14:16-17; Acts 2:17].  “Thou worm, Jacob [Isaiah 41:14], do not be afraid, do not be timid.  Be bold!  Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might [Ephesians 6:10]…for I will help thee!”

Think of those ambassadors and emissaries of God in heaven:  the cherubim, the seraphim, God calling a cherub before Him or a seraph before Him and sending him upon some mission in the created universe.  Did you think of that cherub or that seraph bowing before God and saying, “O God, I cannot do it?  I have not the strength to do it.”  It would be inconceivable to me.  When God would call the cherub or the seraph and give to the cherub or the seraph some great mission in the universe, I can well imagine the great, mighty angel bowing before the High God in meekness and saying, “O, my Lord, I fly!  I fly!  I fly!”

If God has mandated the assignment, it carries with it ableness for the mission.  “Thou worm, Jacob, fear not, for I am with thee [Isaiah 41:14].  I will strengthen thee.  My right hand will hold thee.  I will help thee” [Isaiah 41:10]; and what a mightiness in a man’s arm when God is with him.  With the jawbone of an ass Samson slew a heap of Philistines [Judges 15:15-16].  God was in his arms.  With what might in a man’s hand if God is with him.  Holding just a sling in his hand, the little shepherd boy David brought down the great giant Goliath! [1 Samuel 17:40-50].  When God is in a man’s words in his mouth:  Simon Peter at Pentecost, winning thousands into the faith [Acts 2:14-41]—some of them had even crucified our Lord [Acts 2:23].  “Fear not, thou worm, Jacob, for I am with thee.  I will strengthen thee.  I will help thee” [Isaiah 41:10, 14].

During these present days, as some of you know, I am preaching through the state evangelistic conferences of our Baptist Zion; this last week, in Florida and Alabama, this coming week beginning tomorrow, in Tennessee and in Ohio.  Wednesday night of last week, closing the conference in Florida, they gathered together a vast hosts of Floridians in a great civic center and there shared in a patriotic and spirit convocation.

There were two speakers, the governor of the state and then I.  First, the governor spoke.  His name is Ruben Askew, a tall, handsome, fine-looking man, and what he said made the headlines of the papers the following morning.  The governor said, “After my election I moved to Tallahassee, the capital city, coming early in order to choose the men who are to work with me in my commission and to form my new government.”  He said, “As I began to work, the pressures and the burden of my responsibilities were so heavy upon me that I could not sleep and I could not keep down my food.”  He facetiously added, “I thought I was going to be the first governor in the history of the state who resigned his office even before he was inaugurated.”  He said, “In my desperation and despair, under the heavy burdens and responsibilities of forming the new government,” he said, “I bowed down in my room and thought to myself, ‘What am I doing wrong that I cannot sleep and I cannot eat?’”  And he said, “It came to me as though it were a revelation from heaven.  You are doing it in your own strength.  Ask God to help you.”  And the governor said, “I knelt down before the great, High God, and I asked God to help me.  And I had an answer,” he said, “from heaven, and when I stood up, I stood up in the power of the Lord.”  And he said, “From that day until this, I have slept like a child every night.  And I am in strength and in health.”

Then he added, “You know,” he said, “people ask me everywhere:  ‘How is it that you are so bold to speak for Christ?  In the legislature, in all of the political convocations of the states, you are so bold to speak for Christ, being a politician, how is it you’re so bold to speak for the Lord?’”  And he said in his address, “I reply, ‘I was a Christian before I was elected governor.  I shall be a Christian after I cease to be governor.  And I see no reason to change in between.’”

“Thou worm, Jacob, I will be with thee; I will strengthen thee; I will hold thee by My right hand” [Isaiah 41:10, 14].

Do you see in this passage what God has promised to those who look in faith and assurance to Him?  In verse 13 He likens us to a man who is in a service, and He says, “I the Lord will hold thy right hand … I will help thee” [Isaiah 41:13] in the assignment given you.  In the fifteenth verse, He likens His servant to a man who has gone to war.  And He says, “I will make thee a sharp threshing instrument having teeth: and thou shall thresh the mountains and beat them small, and make hills as chaff” [Isaiah 41:15].

Then He says to that worm, His servant who is on a mission for God—and he’s out in a desert, he’s in the wilderness and there is no water to drink—“their tongue faileth for thirst” [Isaiah 41:17].  Then He says:  “I will hear him … I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and dry land springs and fountains” [Isaiah 41:17-18].  Then He likens God’s servant who is out in a desert place without food, He says:  “I will plant in the wilderness the oil tree … That they may see, and know, and understand that the hand of God has done it” [Isaiah 41:19, 20].

The Lord delights in taking weak instruments and magnify them in His holy power.  “Thou worm, Jacob; I will be with thee” [Isaiah 41:14, 10].  How true is that in our own lives?  Here is a young Christian; he has just been saved.  And sometimes a young convert will have the persuasion that, you know, “I have it settled now.  I have given my heart to Christ.  The Holy Spirit in regeneration has made me a child of God [Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6].  I’ll never have to fight or to war again.  I can be at ease and at rest.”  What the young Christian learns is that, having been saved, he has just put on the uniform of the Lord, and the host of hell assail him!  Ah, the temptations that overwhelm a young Christian!

And many times, just beginning his pilgrimage, the young Christian will say, “The war is greater than I can win, and the journey is farther than I can go.  The goal is beyond my reach.  I can never do it.”  And he thinks within himself, “I shall return to the old life and I shall return to the world.”

“No,” says the Lord God, “thou worm, Jacob, thou tiny, timorous, young Christian, no; do not be afraid.  I will help thee, saith the Lord God.  I will strengthen thee,” saith the Redeemer Christ [Isaiah 41:14].  “And I will hold your right hand,” saith the Holy Spirit of heaven” [Isaiah 41:13-14].  Even us, even for us who are veterans in the Christian faith, we have been long years on the pilgrimage; it is sometimes easy for us to fall into a sea of failure, and inadequacy, and disappointment, and frustration.  “Thou worm, Jacob” [Isaiah 41:14].

“Lord, here I am.  Having served Thee and followed Thee and now look at me—Lord, Lord, the Egyptians with their cracking whips are behind me, and the rolling Red Sea is before me, and beyond that is a wilderness, trackless, and beyond that the swelling of the Jordan.  Lord, Lord, what shall become of me?”

“Thou worm, Jacob; fear not, I am with thee, I will help thee [Isaiah 41:14].  The waters of the Red Sea shall divide and thou shalt walk over dryshod [Exodus 14:21-22].  And in the trackless wilderness I shall be for thee a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night [Exodus 13:21].  And in the strong vacuity of an empty desert, I will feed thee with manna from heaven [Exodus 16:12-16].  And when you come to the swelling of the Jordan, its waters shall part and triumphantly, victoriously, thou shalt enter the Promised Land [Joshua 3:7-17].  Thou worm, Jacob.  Do not be afraid.  I will help thee,” saith the Lord God [Isaiah 41:14].

Is it not so in all of our lives?  So helpless, and God helps us.  What can a man do with his sin?  If I were to avow from this moment on, “I shall be perfect.  I shall never sin again,” O Lord, what about the sins of the days that are past; the sins of my childhood, and the sins of my youth, and the sins of my young manhood?  And Lord, how shall I live perfectly before Thee?  Dear God, what a worm, helpless and dying, I am.  Much less, how can I save myself?  How can I meet death and do it without fear, victoriously?  Lord, how can I ever stand before Thee, be accepted in Thy sight, be enrolled among the redeemed [Matthew 11:28-30], walk through those beautiful gates, mingle with God’s saints on those golden streets? [Revelation 21:21]. Lord, how can I be saved—“Thou worm, Jacob; fear not, I will help thee; I will speak to thee; I will save thee,” saith the Lord thy God.  It is something God does for us, poor worms of the dust [Isaiah 41:14].

As many of you know, I came to be undershepherd of this dear church from a pastorate God gave me in Muskogee, Oklahoma, the seat of the five civilized tribes that the government settled in eastern Oklahoma.  I love to visit those Indian people; to talk to them, to sit down with them.  One of the oldest Baptist associations in America is the Cherokee Association.  Over the trail of tears, when they sadly were driven out of their homes in North Carolina and in Georgia, they carried with them their pastors, and they carried with them their Cherokee Bibles and their holy commitment to Christ.  And they meet there today along those eastern countries next to Arkansas a great band of Christian people.

One of those old Cherokees was asked, “How is it you say God saved you?  How did God do that?  Tell me, how did it happen?”  And the old Cherokee Indian took some dried leaves and placed them around in a circle.  Then he took a worm and sat the little helpless thing in the middle of the circle.  Then he lighted a fire, and it ran around the circle of those leaves.  The little animal on the inside, the worm, crawled this way seeking a way out, crawled that way, this way, that way.  Finding the fire all around the little thing, the worm drew as far back from the fire as he could in the center of the circle and curled up to die.  It was then that the old Cherokee Indian took his hand and lifted the little thing up and out and placed it in safety and salvation, and said, “That is what He did for me.”

Oh, oh, oh, oh, what He’s done for me.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, what He’s done for me.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, what He’s done for me,

I never shall forget what He’s done for me.

He lifted me out of the fiery pit,

That’s what He’s done for me.

He lifted me out of the fiery pit,

That’s what He’s done for me.

He lifted me out of the fiery pit,

That’s what He’s done for me.

I never shall forget what He’s done for me.

[source unknown]

Could you sing it with me, if He’s done it for you?

Oh, oh, oh, oh, what He’s done for me,

Oh, oh, oh, oh, what He’s done for me,

Oh, oh, oh, oh, what He’s done for me,

I never shall forget what He’s done for me.

[source unknown]

“Thou worm, Jacob; fear not, I am with thee, my right hand shall hold thee” [Isaiah 41:14,10], saith God our Father who spreads the skies above us like a curtain; who laid the foundations of the world and the pillars of the earth, the God of election, the God of decrees, the God of covenant:  “I am with thee.  Do not be afraid,” saith the Lord God, thy Redeemer, the blessed Christ [Isaiah 41:14]. “Fear not; I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I, I have the keys of hell and of death” [Revelation 1:17-18].  Our blessed Redeemer Lord, “fear not, thou worm, Jacob; I am with thee,” saith the Holy Spirit of God.  “I brooded over the face of the deep and brought beauty and order out of chaos.  I brought from the dead that great Shepherd of the sheep, the Lord Jesus Christ [Hebrews 13:20].  I regenerate the heart [Titus 3:5].  I make new the life [John 6:63].  I encourage in the pilgrimage from this world to the world to come [Romans 15:13].  Thou worm, Jacob.  Fear not, for I am with thee” [Isaiah 41:10].

This is our appeal to you.  “By the Spirit of God, listening to the voice of the Savior, I also would join the family of the Lord [Ephesians 4:5].  May God write my name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], and may the Lord receive and welcome me, helpless as I am [Romans 10:13]; sinner as I am; facing death and judgment as I know I do.  I come to God for help, for strength, for forgiveness, for refuge, for salvation, for God’s help in every trial that I face and in every need of my life.”  If you will, if you will, would you come and stand by me.  “Here I am, pastor, I make it now.”  A family you, come: “This is my wife; these are my children; all of us are coming today, pastor.”  A couple you, or just one somebody you, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, make the decision now in your heart, and on the first note of the first stanza, come.  God be with you in the way, and the angels attend you as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.