Isaiah 55:8-9: Trusting and Knowing

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

-Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

Some years ago, I had a colleague who was in his office prior to an upcoming course in which he was planning to give an exam. The course was a senior-level capstone course in accounting and involved a plethora of rigorous calculations, procedures, and concepts. Nervous about the exam they were preparing to take, a group of students stopped by his office prior to class. My office was located adjacent to his and I was able to overhear the conversation which followed.

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The spokesperson for the group of students jumped right out and asked the inevitable question: “Professor, how hard is this test going to be?” My colleague responded without a moment’s hesitation. “Oh, it’s easy!” he replied. Stunned, the student replied with a combination of both skepticism and excitement. “Really?!” she asked. “Oh, yes!” my colleague replied. “I looked at it and I knew all of the answers!”

Naturally, the students were not as amused as my colleague and I…

The truth is that any exam – any task in life – is easy if you know the answers, procedures, and skills necessary. Not knowing the correct answer is what makes a test hard. Not knowing the necessary procedures and skills required is what makes a complex task hard. Not knowing what to do is, so often, what makes life hard. The problem is not the test, task, or life at hand; the problem is in simply not knowing. Ignorance – not an insult, but the simple absence of knowledge which is important to us – is not always bliss. It can be a terrifying thing.

This is a conundrum that never has been and never will be faced by God. As the Lord of the universe and the sovereign Creator of the heavens and the earth, God knows, understands, and comprehends all things. This is what theologians call the “omniscience” of God – His all-knowing nature. There is nothing which God does not know or understand. However, fortunately for us, God is not a “know-it-all” God who goes around the cosmos arrogantly bragging that He knows all and we know nothing for the sake of taunting, tormenting, and belittling His creation.

You may be reading this and thinking that you’re not sure you believe that. If so, you’re not alone in pondering that question. Let’s consider it in light of the Scriptures…

Is God Arrogant?

Take a very close look at the words in the biblical text above (Isaiah 55:8-9 in the English Standard Version). How do you read them? Do you see the words of a haughty, arrogant, egotistical God who lords His knowledge over creation in torment? Do you see the cold, reserved, distant academic-scholarly God, letting creation know that He is full of knowledge and wisdom but keeping that knowledge and wisdom reserved only to Himself? Or do you see something deeper – a God who knows, and yet, a God who loves with that boundless knowledge?

The context of the passage clues us in to the correct interpretation. Left alone and taken out of context, verses 8 and 9 could be (and have been) misinterpreted as the words of an arrogant and haughty God. However, when we examine what surrounds this beautiful, wonderful, and reassuring passage of Scripture, we are reminded that God knows all things and shares His endless knowledge with His creation for the betterment of their lives and, ultimately, the salvation of their souls.

The Answer: Found in Context

A few verses before, in Isaiah 55:6, the Lord through Isaiah instructed His people to, “seek the LORD while he may be found” (ESV) – reminding us that the gift of salvation is not extended to us, as individuals, forever. We must accept God’s offer of grace prior to the end of our lives – and the coming day of judgment. God’s gracious nature is eternal, but our lives on earth are not. God lovingly but clearly declares this reality in this remarkable verse.

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Then, in Isaiah 55:7-8, immediately before our passage for this devotion, God calls His people to repentance and trust in Him – the key to salvation. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” God’s plan of salvation is not secret or hidden; it has been boldly, triumphantly, and resoundingly declared throughout the ages. Salvation comes by turning from sin – rebellion and opposition to God, His plan, and His purposes – and turning to Him in faith and trust. In a world seemingly full of things so complicated, complex, and difficult to understand, God, in His infinite wisdom and grace, has made the way of salvation joyously simple – repent, and trust Him.

The Relationship Between Trust and Knowledge

Trust. What a remarkably simple thing, and yet something with which so many people struggle. In a very real way, trust is founded in knowledge. And, like so many of the problems we encounter in life, the problem with trust is the lack of knowledge concerning it. We often think of trusting as the opposite of knowing – that is, trusting somebody requires commitment without knowledge. For example, I trust somebody to keep something in confidence, regardless of whether or not I know that they’ll actually keep a secret. I trust somebody to show up to an event or perform a task, regardless of whether or not I know that they’ll actually show up or do what they’ve committed to do.

However, to think of trust in this way is actually to miss the whole point of trust. The very concept of trust is built on knowledge. We trust someone because, based on our knowledge of that person, we believe that they are worthy of our trust. While trust is an action unto itself, it is an action founded in knowledge.

More specifically, trust requires the knowledge of mutual commitment. Trust requires the knowledge of mutual understanding. Trust, ultimately, requires the knowledge of a mutual expression of love. All of these things are what God desires in His relationship with each of us. The problem most people have with trust is the fear that their commitment, understanding, and love will not be returned – the absence of knowledge that the other individual will hold up their end of the “bargain.” God has taken that fear out of the equation by reminding us that He has already expressed each of these things in an ultimate and complete fashion.

Commitment

The ultimate expression of God’s commitment was the giving of His only begotten Son. As John 3:16 so powerfully declares, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (ESV). Further, Psalm 55:2 reminds us, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (ESV). Jesus told us in Matthew 6:26, “Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?” (CSB). All throughout the Bible, we are reminded of God’s care and commitment for us as His children. God has already given His commitment. He calls us to commit to Him in return.

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Understanding

The ultimate expression of God’s understanding can be seen in how well He knows and understands His creation and, above all, His people. As the LORD declared to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5 ESV). While this verse is directed toward Jeremiah specifically, the principles behind it are echoed in numerous other passages, accounts, and teachings throughout Scripture. God knows and understands us more deeply than any other human being possibly can. In fact, God knows us better than we know ourselves! Psalm 139 conveys this truth in breath-taking terms. For example, the Psalmist declares:

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

            You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

            You search out my path and my lying down

and are acquainted with all my ways.” -Psalm 139:1-3 (ESV)

Love

God has shown His love for His people countless times all throughout the Bible and human history, but in no event was God’s love for His people shown more clearly than in what happened at the cross of Calvary. As Romans 5:8 declares, “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (CSB). Further, Scripture reminds us that God’s love was not a one-time deal; it continues throughout the ages. As the Psalmist declared, “Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:26 ESV).

Conclusion: The God Who Knows and Loves

Why did God choose to make the way of salvation so simple? Why did God chose to call us to simply trust in Him? Why did God prove his commitment, understanding, and love for us up front, rather than requiring us to “go first”?

Because He is both the God who knows and the God who loves. The call to trust Him brings us face-to-face with the reality of knowing and loving Him in return.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9 ESV)

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