Therefore the LORD . . . exalts himself to show mercy to you. (Isaiah 30:18a)
Why We Don’t Like Self-Exalting People
Most of us have a natural aversion to self-exaltation. We tend to be turned off by people who make a practice out of parading their self-importance. And rightfully so. Man’s blatant self-exaltation is, by its very nature, quite ugly. And this is probably so for two main reasons.
First, human beings are, in large part, instinctively attracted to humility. For instance, we often find it refreshing when we meet a famous person who exhibits humble qualities, remarking on how “down to earth” they were.
On the other hand, there’s most likely a much darker reason for our dislike of self-exaltation. Although it’s uncomfortable to admit it, our aversion to other people’s self-exaltation stems from the fact that our sinful hearts tend to perceive it as a threat.
To give a personal example, I’ve often found that, when I’m irritated by those whom I see as being self-exalting on Facebook or Twitter, it has more to do with my secret fears of inconsequentiality than anything else. Their impressive self-presentation makes me feel small and unimportant. And that, when you boil it all down, interferes with my own self-exaltation.
How God Puts Us Back in Our Place
If we look at it from a theological perspective, human self-exaltation is symptomatic of mankind’s ambition to be God. But God is God and therefore we are not, nor will we ever be. And thus Scripture accurately explains that this conflict between Creator God and us, His creation, is essentially why the world is such a mess (see Gen. 3:5; Rom. 1:21-23).
In Isaiah 30, we see how this played out when the people of Judah were being bullied by the much-stronger Assyrian Empire. The tried-and-true solution to such a problem would have been for Judah to humble itself and seek the Lord. But they insisted on taking matters into their own hands by clamoring before the powers of Egypt to provide them with protection and security (v. 1-2).
By riding on Egypt’s coattails, the people of Judah exalted themselves and belittled the Lord. Thinking they would be saved by brown-nosing a world power, they forsook their covenant-keeping God whose power made the world. And instead they chose to rely upon self-made schemes that served their interests rather than God’s mission.
By God’s estimation, such self-reliance was a flagrant act of self-exaltation. And as a result, He opposed them (v. 12-15).
When we, like Judah, devise schemes that exalt our wisdom and demean His, God will resist us by doing something that may seem counterintuitive to us. According to verse 18, He “exalts Himself.” In other words, the Lord’s strategy in the face of man’s exaggerated self-importance is to magnify His infinitely superior glory.
Now this, as I said, seems counterintuitive, given our aversion to other people’s self-exaltation. After all, doesn’t the Bible command us to be humble? Then why would God think it’s okay to exalt Himself?
To answer that question biblically, we need to understand that God’s self-exaltation is nothing like ours. You see, when we exalt ourselves, we’re living as imposters, foolishly making ourselves out to be someone we clearly are not—God. This is dishonest and sinful. And it stems from the inaccurate self-estimation embedded in our sinful nature.
But when God exalts Himself, it is righteous because, remember, He actually is God. His estimation of His own nature, character, and attributes is completely free of any error. There is no darkness in His self-understanding, which means that it is good and right for Him to exalt Himself as the only God. In fact, if God did not exalt Himself as such He would be living a lie. And God does not lie (Num. 23:19; Heb. 6:18).
With this in mind, we’re ready to see God’s self-exaltation exactly as Isaiah 30:18 presents it—as wonderful news for sinners like us. This comes into focus when we consider the verse in its entirety: “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.”
Notice here that by exalting Himself in opposition to Judah, God did not do it for vindictive reasons, but for merciful ones. This demonstrates that God does not exalt Himself to condemn or devalue us in some way. Rather, He exalts Himself for our ultimate good.
That’s exactly what the people of Judah needed to hear. And us, too. Isaiah 30:18 shows us that while we’re busy exalting ourselves in an effort to belittle others, God is exalting Himself to be merciful to us. He commends to us His power and glory so that we might come to our senses. John Piper thoughtfully clarifies this when he says, “The love of God for sinners is not His making much of them, but his graciously freeing and empowering them to enjoy making much of Him.”
Really, it all comes down to this: God’s own self-exaltation puts us back in our rightful place by reminding us that He is God and we are not. Only then will we become sober enough to receive His mercy with humility, gratitude, and enjoyment. And that’s when we come alive in true worship—the kind of worship that makes self-exaltation seem absurd and unthinkable.
So what about you? In what ways has your own self-exaltation hindered you from experiencing more of God’s mercy in your life? I pray that His Spirit will use that question to lead each of us to prayerfully and honestly examine our lives in light of Isaiah 30:18. If we will do that, LifePoint Church will be better prepared to experience a glorious outpouring of God’s mercy among us.
I want that—don’t you?
To help us along, LifePoint’s worship ministry has made plans to introduce a new hymn this Sunday–“His Mercy Is More” by Matt Papa. The main lyric of the song says, “Our sins, they are many; His mercy is more.” As sinners who have received mercy in Christ, that’s a lyric we must sing often; which is why I believe this song is fitting for LifePoint’s worship gatherings.
So I invite you, press play on the video below and let the lyrics of this song lead you into greater amazement of God’s measureless mercy toward you in Jesus Christ.