From time to time I’ve heard people testify that they “tried” Jesus but it didn’t work; something else eventually filled that gap for them. Why is it that there are people who seem devoted to pursuing God but never find Him? How is it possible for someone to read so many books, attend so many conferences, indulge so many discussions, yet never arrive at the right place with the Son of God? As with most things in life, WHY we engage in an activity often dictates the outcome. In other words, can you pursue God on your own terms, or do you need to do so according to His?
Read verses 1-3
Q: What is the goal of those who pursue God, of those who seek the Lord?
A: Righteousness. (v.1)
Point: The pursuit of God is not merely to find Him, but to seek how to become like Him, changed according to His standards. In biblical terms this is actually the pursuit of righteousness, to acquire His characteristics so that we might stand firmly in His presence. People can seek God for other reasons and largely experience failure because they’re wanting God to conform to their own image instead of conformed to His.
Q: Why is Abraham given as the example of the kind of righteousness which should be pursued?
A: Abraham was not justified by works or even the Law (since the Law through Moses had obviously not been given yet), but was declared righteous by his faith.
Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
— Genesis 15:6
This is a teaching about how God is gained by obedience from the heart.
Q: Why is Abraham and Sarah called “the rock” and “the quarry”?
A: They were the basis from which all others followed. Just as a quarry is the source of a consistent type and quality of material, so we are to be of the same nature.
Q: What is the definition of “comfort” as given by God’s examples in v.3?
A: It’s not merely reassurance or emotional support, but complete physical and spiritual restoration, even to the point of blessings over and above the expected.
Q: How does this definition of “comfort” relate to the previous example of Abraham and Sarah?
A: In the manner of God’s blessings which multiplied Abraham from a lone, single individual to entire, countless nations. It reinforces the definition of God’s “comfort” as connected to restoration and blessings.
Application: Why do you pursue God? Like most things in life, you’re most likely to get in return what you put into it. Why do those that pursue Him for alternative reasons to righteousness often fail? How well do seek Him on HIS terms rather than our own?
Read verses 4-8
Q: What is the dual meaning of “the arm of the Lord”?
A: On one level it is the strength and authority of God which He promises to use to bring about salvation from earthly circumstances. But it has a dual meaning as also representing Christ, the one through whom salvation will come to all mankind. So for the people of Isaiah’s time, there would be hope in God’s deliverance from their current circumstances, but Isaiah’s words would also apply to the coming work of the Messiah in a much larger and final sense.
Q: How is the work of the Messiah articulated in these verses?
A: On the one hand as a Judge of those who reject God, and on the other hand as the Savior and Deliverer of those who accept Him.
Q: What are the two main characteristics which describe God’s working according to v.4?
A: “Law” (the Word) and “light”. (Does this sound familiar?)
Q: According to v.7, what are the main characteristics of those who actually listen to God, who are living according to His righteousness?
God’s Law (the Word) is in their heart.
They don’t fear what man can do.
Q: What perspective enables someone to embrace God’s righteousness while rejecting the world’s?
A: They know that man’s ways are temporary (v.8), but that God’s are forever. The things of God they pursue in this life will last into the next.
Point: Those who pursue God embrace His Word and ways while shrinking from those of man’s. They see the reality of the godly pursuit, which is permanent, versus the earthly pursuit which is temporary.
Application: Are your spiritual pursuits rooted more in trying to get something here and now or to establish your eternal future beyond this life? If God seems unresponsive, is it possible that it’s actually WE who are unresponsive to seeking HIS ways rather than our own?
Read verses 9-11
Q: What is different about the calling in v.9 compared to how it is used to open each of the preceding sections?
A: The first two calls are to God’s people to listen to Him: “Listen to Me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the Lord” (v.1) and “Pay attention to Me, O My people” (v.4). This time it’s a call to God.
Q: Who is “Rahab” and when did God engage a dragon?
A: These are names for Satan as symbolized by “Rahab”, a mythical monster of the deep, and by the dragon, a common biblical symbol of Satan’s use of persecution. The point is that God has already defeated Satan.
Q: To what is v.10 referring?
A: To God’s miraculous salvation of Israel out of Egypt, the apex of which was the crossing of the Red Sea.
Q: What do these two references combine to communicate?
A: That God has overcome not just the most powerful earthly powers (Egypt), but spiritual as well. He is the Redeemer that can save both physically and spiritually, both in this life and the one to come. He will therefore be able to easily effect what is promised in v.11.
Q: What is the difference in God’s people being called “the redeemed” in v.10 and “the ransomed” in v.11?
A: Actually there is no difference. The definition of “to redeem” is to purchase freedom at a costly price. This is illustrated in both His victory over the spiritual realm (Satan) and the earthly realm (Egypt).
Point: Those who pursue God may not immediately be freed from the enslavement of earthly circumstances, but they have the assurance of God – which is a future as sure as if it already happened in the past – that they will be. They know to Whom they actually belong.
Application: Do you struggle with the fact that earthly circumstances are less than ideal? To what degree does the fact that God will eventually effect restoration comfort and sooth you? How well does your faith rise above the current surroundings to focus instead on the future as it will come through God?
Read verses 12-16
Q: What are the key issues highlighted in v.12-13?
We sometimes fear man more than God.
We sometimes fail to fear and have regard for the Creator.
Q: What is the reality as revealed by God in v.14-15?
A: His people may be in exile at the moment, but He will change that situation forever.
Q: What does God say will be accomplished by His Word within us in v.16?
“To establish the heavens”
“To found the earth”
“To say to Zion, ‘You are My people’”
Point: The pursuit of God is not strictly limited to the things and events we see here on earth; they have corresponding effects and connections to things in the heavenly realm as well. This is why they replace their fear of men with a fear of the Lord.
Application: Do you ever allow your fear of others to overcome your fear of God? How well do you recognize that there is more going on that meets the eye? Do you see the need for patient endurance as the things working themselves out in the heavenly realm eventually become evident in the earthly?
Read verses 17-20
Q: This is the 4th calling out to take action in this chapter. How is this one yet again different from the previous three?
A: The first two were directed to those pursuing God and His righteousness, and the third was a call to God Himself. This time it’s a call to those who are spiritually “drunk”, a description of those so disobedient to God that they are completely distracted by His discipline. They haven’t yet responded correctly to His discipline so as to move on towards spiritual reconciliation with Him.
Q: What is the inferred difference between those who are seeking God and those who’ve allowed themselves to become spiritually drunk and unaware of Him and His ways?
A: The spiritually drunk are unaware of the lesson they were supposed to learn at the hand of God’s discipline, whereas the spiritually awake pursue God and come to experience His restoration. The one is still experiencing God’s judgment, the other already having submitted and moved on spiritually, even though BOTH parties may be in the same place geographically.
Point: Those who pursue God don’t have to learn things the hard way by God’s discipline.
Application: Have you ever battled or “argued” with God over the consequences of your sin so that you haven’t been able to “move on”? Have you ever considered that the “other side” of judgment has been delayed in coming because you yourself have been slow to accept and learn from it?
Read verses 21-23
Q: What is the greater work to which God is speaking here?
A: The final division between those that absolutely reject Him and those that absolutely accept Him. For His people there will come the final, ultimate reconciliation to Him at which time everyone else will bear the full weight of sin and judgment.
Q: What does the reference in v.23 mean, “Lie down that we may walk over you”?
A: This was actually a literal practice of the ancient world, to humiliate one’s enemies by having them lie down as the victors walked over them, as Sapor of Persia literally did to the Roman emperor Valerian. In the case of God’s people, it represents how everything will be ultimately and permanently reversed, the former captives coming to rule over their former rulers.
Point: Those who pursue God will not continue forever in being oppressed by the people and institutions of this present world.
The proper pursuit of God is a pursuit of His righteousness, to give up one’s own ways and desires for those of God’s. It’s a process that may not take us to the places our flesh desires, nor effect changes according to a schedule most pleasing to our self, but it fully completes God’s work within us, according to His timing, and for all the benefits of His kingdom. The reason some people “pursue” God but are ultimately unsuccessful is that they refuse to embrace the notion that the biblical definition of “pursue” involves forsaking one’s own ways for God’s.