Peace like a river! We’ve all heard the song and the comparison to peace like a river. In Isaiah 48:18 it says, “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.” This verse is talking about judgment on Israel, a nation who chose not to follow God. If you had paid attention to my commands …but they didn’t, instead, they chose to turn from God and do their own thing.
I started writing this sermon before I started reading the book The Harbinger. Interestingly enough the book focuses on God’s judgment of Israel because they had a covenant with Him and turned away from God. Harbinger means warning and the author compare America, a nation founded on God and on Godly principles, to Israel, a nation who had a covenant with God. He suggests that 9/11 and the economic crash in 2008 were harbingers (warnings) from God to America because we have turned so far from God.
You may be thinking that this is just another conspiracy book; I had my doubts going into it. But as I read I saw that the author directly connected Scripture to events that happened on 9/11 and in 2008 when the economy crashed. Everything he refers to can be backed up by researching the events and looking in scripture. It really is one of the most interesting, thought provoking books I’ve read in a while. If you’re looking for something good to read, I suggest this book.
I don’t think I have to spend much time convincing you that America has turned from God. There are constantly news articles pointing to this. The legalization of Gay Marriage, our schools eliminating God more and more each year, people shooting people in a church and every other place too, the increased acceptance of abortion, the list goes on and on.
America was founded, One Nation under God, and has been a blessed nation for that reason. It’s a scary thing to take that verse in Isaiah and apply it to America today. “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.” We can agree that America is not as peaceful as it once was!
So, how do we have peace in a Nation that’s turning from God? How do we have peace when everything we believe seems to be more and more the minority of opinion? Isaiah 48:18 is only scary if you aren’t following God’s commands. God says he will extend peace like a river to those who follow Him. Peace like a river …
Peace like a river is a weird phrase to me. At first glance and thought it doesn’t really make sense. When I think about rivers in the Bible one story stands out. Let’s look a story in the Bible about a river, in Exodus 2:1
2 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket[a] for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.
Who are we talking about here? Moses of course, Pharaoh had ordered that all the Hebrew babies be killed back in Exodus 1.
15The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16“When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. 22Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
So Pharaoh (the Government of the day) ordered that all the Hebrew boys be thrown into the Nile to eliminate them. Moses and his family were being targeted by the government. They were following God but it seemed that no one else was. Moses ended up in the Nile but not in the way Pharaoh had intended.
Think about this story, Moses’ mom could hide him no longer so she hid him in a river in a basket. He was on the Nile, the Nile Nile Crocodile River! Nile Crocodiles are the biggest species of crocodile and kill over 200 people on the banks of the Nile each year! Why did she do that? She was looking for peace in her situation, freedom from the laws of the government that she didn’t agree with. As I continued to think about peace like a river, I started to question …
Do you ever question the Bible? Not question if it’s true, or right, or appropriate for our society today but question the details we aren’t given. Pastor Steve, our Superintendent gave this example recently, at the feeding of the 5000, they were out in the middle of nowhere with no access to food. The only thing available was a little boy’s lunch. I get that, what I don’t get is where the baskets came from that they collected all the extra food after Jesus multiplied the food. Did someone just bring multiple very large baskets just in case they needed them for a miracle?
This story of Moses is the same. The Bible doesn’t tell us that Moses survived a near crocodile attack but we know the Nile is infested! If we can get past a mom giving her baby as crocodile bate we have to think of the other obstacles he faced in the river. His basket could have sprung a leak, or flipped, he could have been spotted by someone who would kill him, or found by no one and left to die.
I don’t know but I don’t think that the verse in Isaiah or the hymn that we sing at church would have given Moses much comfort! Peace like a river? Like a river infested with crocodiles, like a river that he could have drowned in, like a river that could have swept him away never to be seen again?
Isaiah 48:18 says, “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.”
So what do we make of this? God doesn’t make mistakes and we know the Bible is infallible, without error but wouldn’t peace like a pond be better? There aren’t any terrifying pond stories in the Bible, right? But that’s not what the Bible says; it says peace like a river or an ocean.
When life gets crazy and we just need peace, peace of mind or peace and quiet. When life gets so hectic and busy that we don’t really even have time to think, when our society is making decisions and laws that directly oppose how we believe and think, when people are shooting each other for no reason, God offers us peace. He offers us peace like a river?
How is peace like a river going to help me when my life is a crazy mess and I’m just trying to stay afloat? I’d rather God give me peace like a life vest to keep me floating or peace like a pond where I can just stand with no resistance and less possibility of danger. How does peace like a river with currents, and predators, and deep water help in a time of need?
How can a river be like God’s peace? Well, a river is constant, the level of a river may rise and fall, but it is always flowing. A river flows over all sorts of terrain. You can find rivers flowing through the mountains, valleys, plains, and even through deserts. The Nile flows right through the desert in Egypt.
Like a river, God’s peace continues, it keeps flowing in all sorts of circumstances. It is constantly available regardless of the situation or circumstances! Rivers may be deep but where there is “depth,” there is peace. In the Christian life, our depth comes through a relationship with God and getting into the Word. Isaiah 26:3 promises that the believer who is able to focus and fix his or her mind on the Lord will be kept in perfect peace. Paul in Philippians 4:6-7 promises the believer that the more he or she refuses to be anxious about things, but instead prays about them, “the God of peace which passes all understanding” or comprehension, will keep their hearts and minds through Jesus Christ! The peace that Jesus gives, is not the absence of trouble but is rather the confidence that He is always with you. It’s the confidence that He is in control and knows the end of the story. It’s the confidence that God will always be the same God no matter our situation or circumstance. He is unchanging! That should give us incredible peace!
We can’t say the same of a pond. Ponds can easily dry up. Many times they are manmade, without flowing water they can get stagnant and infested with mosquitoes. God is not a wimpy little pond; he is a majestic river or ocean able to provide us will deep, continuous, limitless peace no matter what we are facing. Peace like a river sounds better when you look at it that way! God used that river to provide Moses’ mom with peace and to provide Moses with life, a life he never could have dreamed of!
Let’s look at that verse again, “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.”
When I think of Bible stories that have to do with rivers, Moses is the first to come to mind. When I think of stories that have to do with oceans, Jonah tops the list. So, if we obey God we can have peace like a river and like a sea. Let’s look a story in the bible about a sea. Go to Jonah 1:2
2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” Nineveh, like Israel, and like America, had become wicked in the sight of the Lord. God cannot bless evil because if He did, there would be no distinction between good and evil. God is the standard for good; if He blessed evil things (people or nations) He would be lowering the standard for what is good. God judges people and nations not to exhort His power but to give the opportunity for those people to change from evil to good.
God blesses people who follow His command; He blessed Moses’ Mom’s obedience and blesses people who follow Him today. We can have peace if we obey God, but it’s all too easy to say, well I’m a Christian and I can have peace like a river because I follow God. Too bad for the rest of America, guess they’re doomed. I have too much to worry about in my own life to worry about everyone else’s problems, have you ever said or thought that? That’s exactly what Jonah was doing here, he was following God but got pretty mad at God for asking him to go to Nineveh to warn the people that God’s judgment would come on them if they didn’t change their ways. Jonah was so mad that he ran away and God eventually sent a whale to swallow him, a harbinger or sorts to show Jonah that He meant business. To give Jonah an opportunity to stop the wrong he was doing and start doing what was right. Judgments and warnings are usually thought of as negative, but when God Judges and warns, he is giving us a second chance.
“Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: notice here that God gave Jonah a second chance. Thank God He gives us second chances too, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.” Is God asking you to go? He may or may not be asking you to go to “Nineveh” or even to Slovakia; He may be asking you to change how you’re living so others can see God through you. If you’re living in sin and telling people you love Jesus, you are misrepresenting Jesus. We all sin but there’s a difference between sinning and choosing to live in sin. He may be asking you to get involved in a ministry or outreach that has a goal of
Is God asking you to go? He may or may not be asking you to go to “Nineveh”; He may be asking you to change how you’re living so others can see God through you. If you’re living in sin and telling people you love Jesus, you are misrepresenting Jesus. We all sin but there’s a difference between sinning and choosing to live in sin. He may be asking you to get involved in a ministry or outreach that has a goal of bringing lost people, doomed for destruction, back to Him. Be careful that you aren’t running like Jonah was if you are running, watch out for the whales.
Jonah survived the storms and the whale and then obeyed. I’m sure when the fish spit Jonah out, he was glad that God’s peace covered him in all situations, just like a river or an ocean. You know the rest of the story, Jonah went to Nineveh, told the people what he was sent to tell them, in chapter 3:8, the king of Nineveh says,
“Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
America isn’t the first nation to turn from God, but I think we can learn a lot from those who have in the past. Israel didn’t turn back to God and was eventually taken over by their enemies, Nineveh listened to the warning and God’s judgment did not land on them.
Don’t wait until your circumstances demand you to change. You can have peace like a river right now but it may require a change, a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of behavior. That change starts with you and your relationship with God.
Peace comes through obedience to God and His Word. We need to spend time in God’s Word! That’s how we know and are reminded of what God commands us. “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.” Since God is peace, we must obey His voice, place ourselves in His will for our lives, and surrender to Him, to experience His peace. If there is something you are doing that is contrary to God’s Word and will, then stop doing it! If there is something you are not doing that God’s Word and Spirit has commanded you to do, then start doing it! True peace comes when we obey God’s commandments!
Moses was facing crocodiles, Jonah was facing whales, Nineveh was facing judgment. What are you facing today that robbing you of peace? In Philippians 4:9 Paul writes,9 “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” When we live in harmony and unity with Jesus the Prince of Peace, we can experience that peace that surpasses all understanding! By surrendering ourselves to Jesus, His strength can become our peace! What do you need to deal with in your life? Does it seem impossible? If so, remember, God loves impossible situations! He rescued Moses from death and then from crocodiles, He rescued Jonah from a whale, He rescued Nineveh from judgment. God doing the impossible starts with you!
We’re going to listen to “Peace Like a River” one more time. This time, while it’s playing, I want you to pray for peace. Pray for peace in our Nation, for peace in your own life. Ask God what areas of your life you aren’t experiencing peace because of something you need to change.