Events in Ukraine and other “hot spots” in the world drive us to our knees (at least figuratively) in prayer. Graphic photographs portray grisly aftermath of armed conflict. Several people I know have traveled frequently to the Ukraine for mission trips. Two lived there for extended periods of time. These people have friends and worry how the events will affect them. They pray for them and hope they will see them again.
Isaiah lived and prophesied during a time when a large and powerful nation invaded its neighbors to the east and south. Its powerful army destroyed cities. Great suffering was experienced by the peoples of the nations invaded. Among the nations it destroyed was Israel. Judah, Israel’s sister nation to the south and Isaiah’s home, suffered greatly also. As Isaiah preached about the moral and religious implications of the invasion, as he recognized its impact on his nation, he stressed the power of God. While preached, he also prayed:
“O LORD, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress. At the thunder of your voice, the peoples flee; when you rise up, the nations scatter” (Isaiah33:2-3).
As the armies of superpower Assyria neared, Isaiah called for fire. He and his people longed for assurance of God’s presence and protection. He asks that God will be Judah’s strength; he requests that God will be their salvation in time of distress. He identifies a target: At the thunder of God’s voice, the peoples flee; when God rises up, the people scatter. The people in this petition are not Isaiah’s people; they are the enemy of Isaiah’s people. Indeed, a later chapter of Isaiah (37) records how God decimated an Assyrian army and caused its leader to retreat to his homeland, where he was assassinated. Isaiah called for fire and God responded.
Anxiety causes and accompanies conflict. Assyria may well have invaded the nations around it because its leaders were anxious about security or reliable sources of food for their nation. Assyria’s invasions caused great anxiety among the leaders of the victim nations and their citizens. Anxiety still motivates conflict today on the international, national, congregational, and personal levels. Trust trumps anxiety. The concluding sentence of the prayer reflects Isaiah’s trust in God – the enemy will flee when God acts. Today, we still need to trust that God will be our strength every morning and that he will be our salvation in time of distress. Like Isaiah, we must pray with confidence. Trust in God will reduce our anxiety. Let’s pray for people surrounded by conflict. Let’s pray that they will have renewed hope. Let’s pray that God will be their strength and salvation.