The God who holds everything in his hands - Isaiah 40:12-17

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 7th February 2021.

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Is 40 v 12-17 “The God who holds everything in His Hands”


One of our primary reasons for choosing to spend time in Isaiah 40 during this term is because there is great comfort to be had when we believe the truths about God that the chapter sets before us and hammers home again and again. And we do really need comforted right now. But even though the subject matter itself is intended to bring comfort (after all, God’s first words through Isaiah in this chapter are “Comfort, comfort my people) and even though we have already looked at some amazing things like God himself coming to rescue us, like God’s people themselves being the prize that God desires to win, like God being a mighty yet tender shepherd, despite all those wonderful things, the reality is, we often still manage to feel full of fear, anxiety and trepidation.

This was put into honest words really well by one of the church family last week in the zoom time after the service when they said something like this; ‘the difficulty I still face in feeling comforted by Isaiah 40 is wondering why God is doing or allowing certain things in my life.’ The why question really bothers us doesn’t it? God knows this to be true – Isaiah 40 doesn’t finish at verse 11, cracking though it is; “He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” We might be tempted to say to somebody who reads that and still says they are struggling “are you deaf, there’s nothing to worry about, he is our shepherd after all.” But God knows us better than that and so has more to say.

But what he has to say really challenges us about the why questions we ask. Because in summary, in verses 12-17 God says to us, “you don’t need to know why, you do need to know me.” How difficult this is for you to accept will partly be shown up by how you normally respond when you pluck up the courage to go and tell somebody that you need help with something, and they answer like this; “Don’t worry about it anymore, leave it with me.”  To some people that can sound patronising but if you are in a real jam, those words can be a sweet relief. Imagine you are driving out Brough direction and you skid on some ice and your car goes off the road into a ditch. Can you think of anyone better to come along right then than Matt and Becks – ‘don’t worry about it’ Matt would say, ‘I will tow it out of the ditch and get it sorted for you – Becks will take you home, leave it with me.” There is something so great about being able to confidently put your trust in someone else who knows what is needed and is capable of getting it done.    

That, on a divine scale, is where verses 12-17 take us today. God says to his little lambs in the middle of trials and difficulties, “Don’t worry about it, leave it with me.” Those arms that lifted up the little lambs in verse 11, the hands that held the helpless sheep close to his heart - See what else those arms can achieve, realise the magnitude of what those hands are currently doing. And then, we can stop asking God why and instead rest knowing who God is, because when we know who he is we can have peace that whatever he is doing in our lives right now will be the right thing for eternity.   

  • We need the correct view of God’s might (BIG) (v12)

So firstly, in verse 12, we need to have the correct view of God’s might (and that is a BIG view).

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?”

This is not a complicated argument is it? Instead it is a simple declaration of the truth of God’s strength and scale. God’s people are to look around at the enormity of creation and realise what that says about God. As a family we went to Hornsea for a walk while the tide was coming in and we had brilliant fun standing behind the sea wall and trying to avoid the waves crashing over the top (Needless to say, we didn’t avoid them). As I was standing there near some steps which led down into the waves I kept warning the kids to step back – why? Because of the sheer power of the water that could easily snatch one of them away from us forever. Those waters that God dwarfs are waters that we cannot conquer. Going up several scales from Hornsea seafront, think back to the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 and the carnage across a whole continent caused by those waves. The scale of the power of the ocean is breath-taking and frightening and yet, our God measures the waters in the hollow of his hands (Shepherd’s hands).

We are so easily intimidated by the opposition of people and so easily shaken by difficult circumstances in our lives when our view of God is wrong, when it is small and inadequate. Let’s for a moment do a bit of comparison work;


We are impressed when people do something out of the ordinary;


  • Swimming across the channel amazing (God measures the oceans in the hollow of his hand)
  • Landing on the moon was the very peak of human achievement for so long (the breadth of God’s hand marks out the heavens)
  • The Paris-Dakar rally engrossed people for decades; it was seen as such an impressive feat of endurance for man and technology to get across the Sahara desert (God holds the dust of the earth in a basket)
  • Great mountaineers die one after the other as they try to outdo each other’s achievements climbing Everest with no oxygen and K2 solo (God weighs the mountains and hills on scales and balances)


We are supposed to ponder the size, scale, strength and might of God and be amazed. But more than amazed, be comforted. Why is this a comfort? Because our Shepherd God is strong enough to do the right thing. Right now in your circumstances, amidst fear and illness and sin and death, in a world full of fighting and hate, the God you can belong to in Jesus, is bigger and stronger than anything that would try to compete with him. We need to have the correct view of God’s might.


2. We need the correct view of God’s wisdom(BIG)(v13-14)


But I guess that by itself might not bring the comfort we so badly need. Because it is one thing being strong enough to do the right thing, it is another thing to know what exactly the right thing is to do. There is a footballer who plays for Man Utd at the moment who is one of the most talented players in the world, with all the strength and skill needed for success. But he must be a nightmare to have on your team because so often he doesn’t seem to have a clue about what he should be doing in different areas of the pitch and at different stages of the game. That’s my opinion anyway, make room for me on the Match of the Day sofa.


In verses 13-14 though, God is not like this. Not only is God unimaginably powerful and great (v12), but (v13&14) he is absolutely, infallibly wise, he makes the right decisions; “13 Who can fathom the Spirit[d] of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counsellor? 14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?God is strong enough to do the right thing and is so wise that he knows exactly what the right thing is to do, for all of the billions of individuals past present and future as well as for creation as a whole. And we need to have the correct view of God’s wisdom (a BIG view).  

Making good decisions is very difficult – as a leadership team trying to respond to the different Covid restrictions this year we have felt this keenly. Can you imagine how heavy the responsibility must weigh on our Government as they attempt to do the right things at the right times in this current crisis? People make bad decisions because they can’t have all the information they need. At a particular point in time there are always unknowns and risks that the wisest people attempt to prepare for in their decision-making process. But the fact is we never have all the facts about the conditions right now and we can’t have the facts about what is going to happen in the future - so our decisions often lead to poor outcomes. Can you remember back in March last year when the worst-case scenario of Covid deaths in the UK was put at around 20,000 (we are over 100,000 now)? That’s not from lack of trying or lack of listening to experts.

But God is not limited in any way when it comes to knowledge. He knows all that was, all that is and all that will be. He knows the end from the beginning. He needed nobody to tell him how to make the oceans, he needed no counsel as to how the mountains and the hills should be crafted. No one taught God the right way to be or to act, nobody could help God understand anything – because God is the beginning and end of wisdom, God is the fount of knowledge. There is only information in this world because God spoke and it came to be. What this means for you right now is that the particular circumstances that are causing you to cry out “Why?” to God are circumstances to which God knows the outcome.

This is so comforting for Christians when we accept it and when we hold onto this as well as holding onto the truth that he is the good Shepherd. It means that there is no information at all to do with you and the ones you love (and the entire universe) that God is currently missing. He knows what has happened to you so far in your life, he sees clearly what is happening right now, and he fully understands how all of these things are going to be worked out by him so that you are safely brought home into his presence for eternity. We are back in Romans 8 again – this is the explanation behind verse 28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God is strong enough to do the right thing and he is wise enough to only do the right things. We need the correct view of God’s might and God’s wisdom.     


3. We need the correct view of humanity (SMALL) (v15-17)

And finally in today’s passage, we need the correct view of humanity (a SMALL view). In verses 15-17 Isaiah is explaining to the exiles why they shouldn’t take the might of the Babylonians into account when they decide whether or not to be comforted by God’s words to them. 15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. 16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. 17 Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.”

God is not proclaiming here that he doesn’t care about the nations – that’s not what verse 17 is saying when it describes the nations as worthless and as less than nothing. We know already from Isaiah 40 that God himself is going to come and show all the nations his glory. But what these verses are supposed to do for us is to hammer home to proud human hearts that God and God alone is in control and that our response to Him should be one of humility and worship and trust and dependence.

We don’t need to know why God does things, we instead need to know that what he does is absolutely right and absolutely righteous. Although we are a drop in the bucket, dust on the floor, sin has meant that in our weakness and foolishness and pride, even if God did tell us exactly why he was acting in particular ways in our lives we would disagree anyway. In Genesis 3 He told Adam and Eve why they shouldn’t eat the fruit and they did it anyway. ‘Why’ is such a natural question for sinners to ask but the answer to the ‘why’ question is not what we need. Instead, Isaiah 40 tells us that the answer in our pain and confusion and suffering is to know the one who knows everything.  

It is this correct BIG view of God and SMALL view of humanity that brings us once again to the cross of Jesus Christ. Because there God himself suffered the worst of what our sin and unbelief did to this world. There, God in flesh himself asked a ‘why’ question; “Why have you forsaken me?” And the answer is that God’s might and power, righteousness and goodness, wisdom and knowledge, God’s love for dust put him there. We don’t need to know the why’s we need to know him.

2 practical applications

  • Read Job (esp 28 and then 42) and read the Psalms. Read them every day when you are suffering. Job and then David and the Psalmists pray prayers there that are rooted in who God is. There is so much there that speaks of our smallness and of God’s greatness – there is so much depending on God to act completely independent of us for our rescue and salvation.
  • Do not try to defend God’s record to those around you, instead proclaim God’s name and character to believers in crisis and to unbelievers in their unbelief. Speak of him without fear and without embarrassment. People are so small and he is so great and yet, in that greatness, he desires small sinful little creatures to be saved and to become his children, safe now, secure for eternity. Speak of him boldly, speak of his great love for us that led him to the cross. Amen.

Is 40 v 12-17 “The God who holds everything in His Hands” HANDOUT


Intro: The WHY question

 “you don’t need to know why, you do need to know me.”


1) We need the correct view of God’s might (BIG) (v12)

Not a complicated argument.


A wrong, small view of God will mean we are;

  • intimidated by the opposition of people
  • shaken by difficult circumstances in our lives


Man’s accomplishments Vs God’s might


We need to have the correct view of God’s might: our Shepherd God is strong enough to do the right thing.



2) We need the correct view of God’s wisdom(BIG)(v13-14)


God knows exactly what the right thing is




People make bad decisions because they can’t have all the information they need but God has ALL the information, past present and future.



Back to Romans 8v28 again; And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”



3) We need the correct view of humanity (SMALL) (v15-17)



We don’t need to know the why’s we need to know him.




2 practical applications

  • Read Job (esp 28 and then 42) and read the Psalms.


      2. Proclaim God’s name and character to believers in crisis and to unbelievers in their unbelief.


Home Group Questions

1) Can you think of a time when you wanted to know why God was allowing certain circumstances in your life? What different answers might there be to that question?


2) “You don’t need to know why, you need to know God” - why does that not comfort us in our trials as much as it should?


3) Look at verse 12 and compare the greatest accomplishments of humans with the description of God. Do we have a big enough view of God’s power?


4) In verses 13 and 14 we see that God knows everything and needs no help. How does this complete knowledge and correct decision making comfort us in our suffering? How does it make sense of Romans 8 v 28?


5) How should the ‘smallness’ of the nations described in verses 15-17 lead us to the cross of Jesus Christ? How should God’s love and care demonstrated there help us to be comforted despite not having the ‘why’ questions in our life answered?       

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