Isaiah 45:10 - Does God Hide Himself?
Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Saviour of IsraelIsa. 45:15.
Does our God hide himself? Does he purposely conceal himself and remain silent? Is he a God who withdraws so that he cannot be found? We usually maintain the opposite: he is a God who lets himself be found. He is a God who lets himself be known. He is a God who reveals himself. He does not clothe himself in silence, but he speaks.
A Hidden Way
The second part of the book of Isaiah begins with a lamentation of the people: “My way is hidden from the Lord” (40:27). They believe themselves deserted and think that God pays no attention to them. But the Lord announces his intervention triumphantly. He uses king Cyrus as his instrument to intervene. That man causes a great furore. He conquers country after country and is welcomed as sovereign. God even calls Cyrus his anointed, his messiah. God lets Isaiah exult about his instrument. For it is the Creator himself who has ordained it. He caused this man to appear on the world’s stage and has guaranteed his success. And his purpose is to bring those “Godforsaken” exiles from Babylon! Rejoice, the way is open.
But the people complain. They have great difficulty with God’s hidden way. It is a complete mystery to them. They are confronted with a God who conceals himself. How on earth is it possible for God to use Cyrus as a messiah. The messiah, the saviour, can only be the crème de la crème of Israel. This uncouth Persian does not even know the God of Israel (45:4-5), let alone acknowledge him! How can God call such a world conqueror, one who causes calamity, a messiah? The people do not experience God in this. Even stronger, they refuse to see the God of Israel behind Cyrus. It is incomprehensible, unfathomable. Is this how it is to be? They are stung. They feel that God is hiding from them. He is alienating them by introducing a foreign messiah, a stranger. Someone who does not know God becomes his instrument. At best that Persian will acquire a notion of God: “so that you may know that I am the Lord” (45:3). But that is all!
God notices their grumbling. He reacts and lets Isaiah respond. Do children call their parents to account: What have you begotten (45:10)? Can the clay say to the potter who forms it: What are you making (45:9)?
In a certain sense the people are right. God does indeed follow a hidden, unexpected and unforeseen way. But thereby God demonstrates that he is God. He makes surprising turns. They are unpredictable and unfathomable. For who still paid any attention to a little group of exiles who were transported years ago? In the regions of the old near East the peoples quickly drew the conclusion: you can write off that people as a lost cause, together with their god! In their eyes such a god was finished and no longer represented anything. Just look at what is happening. Thanks to Cyrus, these Israelites are allowed to return to the country of their birth. They do not have to pay anything for it. It is all for free (45:13). It is even the case that other peoples want to do business with them (45:14). Other peoples are now attracted to this amazing God of Israel. Only you have a God, a unique God who works in secret. No one has a hold on this God. He was ahead of all of them. He was too smart and too quick for them.
Now they, outsiders, say triumphantly “Truly you are a God who hides himself”! It is indeed true; it is now clear. This God acts in amazing ways. His ways are unpredictable, untraceable, unfathomable. We never thought this would happen. We never expected that those Israelites would be restored. This portrays a hidden plan. That plan of God is unexpected. How did he devise it? It displays a marvellous, totally exceptional way! Although Israel is annoyed by and takes offence at God’s mysterious ways, outsiders sing his praises. They are full of admiration and amazement.
That is how God reveals himself as the Hidden God. He goes his own hidden way. He always works in a way that differs from what we had expected or planned. And at the same time, that is characteristic of his being God. Solomon says: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter” (Prov. 25:2). He does not have to explain everything. He finds human beings along hidden paths. That is his free choice. His mysteriousness is his sovereignty. He determines what way he goes. He does not let himself be robbed of his free choice. He does not let anyone filch his divine secrets.
God is present in his mysteriousness. He reveals himself as the Hidden One. He can reveal himself where you do not expect him. People may think: It is not possible for God to be here; he cannot hide behind anything and cannot concern himself with anything here. But he can also reveal himself by hiding himself. On purpose! He lets himself be found in unlikely places and on unexpected pathways, in suffering, darkness, loneliness, and contrary to all human expectations. What purpose does God have with those darkest periods? It is his incomprehensible guidance of history. We can never know him completely and can never get a hold on him. That is not necessary either. For it is characteristic of his being God. Experiencing God’s mysteriousness is also an experience of God.
Joined to Us
Isaiah was fully convinced of this. God does indeed let himself be known. “He does not speak in secret” (45:19)! God may be the Hidden One, so that we cannot get a hold on him, but we can hold fast to what he has said! The connection lies in his phraseology. Deuteronomy 29:28 says: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us!” He is and remains the Hidden One who is with us! We can hold fast to his promises. No matter what, he honours them. We do not know him completely and do not have a hold on him. God is the Hidden One. He cannot be known and is incomprehensible apart from Christ (Luther). He has hidden himself behind Christ. In Christ all the treasures of his wisdom are hidden (Col. 2:13). In Christ this word of Isaiah is opened fully. Hidden in a manger, hidden on the cross, the Hidden One who is with us! Hidden and yet joined to us.