One of God’s major pet peeves is when we rely on ourselves or other people more than we rely on Him. Now of course we all have relationships that are important to us. Sometimes we even say things like “I can’t imagine my life without ___.” But if we’re Christians, then we’d better be exaggerating when we make such an extreme statement. God is very jealous by nature and He wants to be the only One we truly can’t live without. If He starts feeling like He’s having to compete with other things for our attention and trust, He’s going to get agitated. When God gets agitated, the people we’ve become too dependent on have a way of suddenly dying.
In the prophetic books of the Old Testament, we find the theme of misplaced dependency coming up over and over again. God doesn’t like it in individuals or in nations. Naturally we humans feel safer when we’ve got a well-armed country for a political ally. But Israel got in all kinds of trouble with God for putting more trust in political alliances than she did in Him.
“Why do you need them if you’ve got Me? Don’t you think I’m good enough?” These are the kinds of questions God starts asking when He sees us putting our security in other people instead of in Him. Because many Christians hide out in the New Testament and refuse to read books like Isaiah, they don’t realize just how sensitive God is on this issue of dependency. But ignoring certain qualities about God that we don’t like doesn’t make those qualities disappear. God is very jealous and He doesn’t like to share our trust with others. If we refuse to face this fact, we won’t get out of being disciplined, we’ll just be confused about why we’re suffering.
God is so touchy about His creatures depending on Him that He even comes down hard on unbelievers for failing to meet His requirements in this area. As God rails at pagan nations in the Old Testament for refusing to acknowledge Him as the One who sustains them, He repeatedly lists self-reliance as one of the main reasons He is pounding them into the ground. God is the One who takes care of us, therefore He is the One we should be praising and thanking. When we start saying “Look what I did” and go about patting ourselves on the back, we can expect a spanking.
Isaiah 20 is a very short chapter that illustrates the futility of relying on people for protection in life. At this time in history, the Assyrian Empire dominates the biblical world (the part of the world we now refer to as the Middle East). Assyria is greedy and constantly trying to expand. They’ve just conquered the city of Ashdod in Philistia. Philistia is a neighbor of Judah and Egypt and home of the famous Philistines. Naturally such a triumph makes everyone a bit nervous. The mighty Assyrian army is getting uncomfortably close to Egypt’s border. Well, God’s got some bad news for Egypt and another nation named Cush: they’re next in line to get conquered by Assyria.
Speaking a message is all fine and well, but a powerful illustration can really drive a point home. God decides it’s time for Isaiah to do a little role playing, so He tells the prophet to strip. Yes, Isaiah has to take off everything: even his underwear and shoes. This is awkward, but the fun is only beginning. God then orders the prophet to walk around in his birthday suit for three long years as a not-so-pleasant preview of the miseries that will soon come to both Egypt and Cush. God is going to give the Assyrian army victory over these two nations and plenty of Egyptians and Cushites are going to be dragged off in their birthday suits to foreign lands.
Then Yahweh said, “Just as My servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt’s shame. Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be dismayed and put to shame. In that day the people who live on this coast will say, ‘See what has happened to those we relied on, those we fled to for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! How then can we escape?’” (Isa. 20:3-6)
This is the end of the chapter and it should also be the end of any delusions we have that people can protect us from God’s discipline. When we try to use human allies as stand-ins for God, He will either take those allies away from us or turn them against us. We see Him exercising both options all throughout the Old Testament. God is jealous. He does not want us trusting in anyone or anything more than we trust in Him. He demands to be first. If you know that you’re not there yet in your personal life, ask the Holy Spirit to get you there and He will. God wants us to live very conscious of the fact that we are dependent on Him for all things. As long as we are open to desiring His will in this area, we will find Him gentle, gracious and patient even when our priorities keep slipping. But if we scoff at the notion that we need God in every moment, and if we start arrogantly thinking that we can take care of ourselves, then we’re asking for trouble.