Human nature tells us when we’re overwhelmed by our workload or distraught over the disintegration of a dream that we just need to work harder, faster, longer. When a health crisis or family situation seems insurmountable, we may throw up a few hasty prayers but then quickly return to the business of thinking smarter about how to solve it ourselves. What might it look like if in every trial or challenging season of life and in every major (or minor) decision we chose a posture of rest rather than striving, quietness over frenzied strategizing, and trust in God over our own ingenuity and strength? As we begin a new year, can we learn to live by faith not fear?
These are the questions facing Israel in chapters 30-31 of Isaiah. On the verge of attack and certain defeat from the powerful nation of Assyria (present-day Iraq), Israel makes a strategic move—they enter into an alliance with Egypt. Egypt! The very nation that had enslaved them for four hundred years! By their own logic this unseemly alliance was better than the alternative—certain defeat by the Assyrians and deportation to a foreign land.
As we so often do, Israel put their trust in logic; but God doesn’t ask us to live by logic alone. He invites us to walk by faith.
And so, God wasted no time letting Israel know how he felt about their plan.
“Woe to the rebellious children,” declares the Lord, “who execute a plan, but not mine, and make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, in order to add sin to sin; who proceed down to Egypt, without consulting me, to take refuge in the safety of Pharoah, and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!” (Is 30:1-2)
When faith looks like resting in God
Our strength is not found in our creative solutions or alliances, nor is it found in what we can accomplish. We discover our greatest strength when our spirit is quiet because we trust in God.
“In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Is 30:15)
Let’s unpack this important verse together. This word saved means delivered, rescued, freed. The Hebrew word for repentance is suba. This is the only time this word appears in the entire Old Testament. This word doesn’t describe being sorry; it means a returning or a withdrawal, as from a war. Likewise, the word for rest, nahat, is also relatively rare. It only appears eight times in the Hebrew Old Testament, and it doesn’t mean to lay down and take a nap. It also differs from the more commonly used word for rest, sabat, from which we get the word sabbath, meaning to cease from work or exertion. Rest, in this verse, means quietness or a quiet attitude.
Putting these three words together we discover a beautiful truth. Our hope for spiritual freedom and rescue from all that overwhelms us is dependent on the quietness of our spirit that comes when we re-turn toward God, putting all our hope in him.
When we go through life like it’s a battle, we carry with us the weapons of control, logic, hard work, and reason. Wielding the shield of control and the sword of smart thinking, we hardly notice God’s presence drawing us into another way of being. God invites us to drop our weapons and turn once again toward him. Only when we’ve grown tired of fighting our own battles will we find our true strength. Rescue depends on repentance as strength depends on stillness of spirit.
Living by faith not fear requires radical trust
God longed for Israel to be willing to trust him, but they ultimately chose a logical path over one that required them to step out in faith. God still longs for us to rest in him, allowing him to fight the battles for us. When the situation is bleak, this requires radical trust. His reminder to Israel applies to us today: “The Egyptians are men, and not God, and their horses are flesh and not spirit.” (Is 31:3)
We’re not so very different from ancient Israel, are we? How often do we find ourselves going to our own modern-day Egypt for help? Don’t we too have horses on which we rely, chariots in which we trust?
The central question is this—Are we willing to put our full faith in God to work miraculously on our behalf or do we insist on muscling through, never willing to relinquish the reins?
The lesson of Isaiah 30-31 applies not only to our difficult times of struggle but also when we’re discerning life choices. Will we keep playing it safe—looking for swift horses and strategic alliances—or will we choose the far riskier path and let God lead? Choosing horses and chariots keeps us in charge while choosing a posture of rest, quietness, and repentance over self-directed action puts God in charge.
The rewards of choosing to return to God to find our rest in him are still available to us today. He promises us specific guidance from the Holy Spirit so that “your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21)
Are you ready to embrace a deeper level of returning and rest in God this year?