The people of Judah were suffering greatly under Babylonian attacks. The people prayed to God for relief. Nothing changed. The people grew frustrated.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God asked the people a question: “Is My hand so short that it cannot ransom? Or have I no power to deliver?” (Isaiah 50:2).
This question hardly needs an answer. God is the Creator. He can do anything! Only a few lines earlier, in 40:28-31, Isaiah described God as One who never grows weary or tired, who in fact gives strength to the weary.
God knew the answer to His own question, but the people needed to ponder it. They were angry that God didn’t fix their problems. They could only figure that the gods of Babylon were too much for Him to handle.
What a ridiculous idea! Isaiah took up the theme again. He directly explained why God was not coming to their rescue:
Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God. And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear (Isaiah 59:1-2).
Is God’s Hand So Short that He Cannot Save YOU?
Have you ever experienced one of those moments where you wondered why God didn’t answer your prayers? We must quickly rule out God’s deafness or weakness. There are other possibilities that we must consider:
A sinful lifestyle. We must never think that prayer on Sunday morning cuts through sin Monday through Saturday. Isaiah insisted the people repent, so that God could bless them again (Isaiah 1:16-17).
Wrong motives. James 4:3 says, “you ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” If God doesn’t make that Ferrari appear in the driveway, the problem is not with God’s ability to make it appear, but with our hearts. We seek to gratify the flesh. God is not a heavenly vending machine that spits out treats when we push the buttons. We ask God to meet our needs (Matthew 6:11), but we must seek first His kingdom. Prayer is more about bending our will to God’s rather than bending His will to ours. Spending more of our prayer time saying thank you (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and offering praise (Matthew 6:9) will counteract the Christmas list mentality.
Benevolent refusal. While God invites us to cast all our anxieties upon Him (Philippians 4:6-7), it is important to recognize God’s will. Jesus asked for a way to save mankind without the cross, but He concluded, “Not as I will, but as You will … Your will be done” (Matthew 26:39, 42). The apostle Paul prayed three times that the thorn in the flesh be removed, but God refused. Thankfully, God also told Paul why this was for the best. Paul confessed “power is perfected in weakness” and rejoiced in the grace he already possessed (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
God is a perfect parent. He doesn’t give stones for loaves (Matt. 7:9). God has our best interests at heart (Romans 8:28). Sometimes that means saying, “No.” Just as a parent will not purchase every toy for a reaching child, God disciplines for our good (Hebrews 12:6).
Benevolent delay. Perhaps God is not saying, “No”; perhaps He is saying, “Not yet.” Jesus told the parable of the unjust judge to illustrate how “at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1-8). God promised Abraham a child, but He made him wait 25 years for the birth of Isaac (Genesis 12:2-4, 21:5). God promised Israel the land, but made them endure 400 years of bondage before the Exodus (Genesis 15:12-16). Jesus intentionally slowed His pace to Bethany, allowing Mary and Martha lose Lazarus to death, so that they could see the greater grace of his coming forth (John 11:6-15, 38-44). And of course, God promises deliverance to the saints, though He delays judgment for the good of all (Revelation 6:9-11, 2 Peter 3:9).
Sin and broken relationships. If our hearts are not at peace with others, it is difficult for our hearts to be at peace with God. A husband who fails to show honor to his wife can have his prayers “be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). It’s best to address these things before worshiping God (Matthew 5:23-24). –John Guzzetta