In 2018, singer/songwriter Lauren Daigle released the album, Look Up Child. As a vocalist myself, I think I've systematically sung through nearly every song of this album! The title song's (https://youtu.be/N90b4O3B-kY) lyrics include the following:
Where are You now When darkness seems to win? Where are You now When the world is crumbling?
Oh I, I, I hear You say I hear You say
Look up child, Look up child
Where are You now When all I feel is doubt? Oh, where are You now When I can't figure it out?
Oh I, I, I hear You say I hear You say, Look up child...
You're not threatened by the war You're not shaken by the storm I know You're in control Even in our suffering Even when it can't be seen I know You're in control
Sung in a kind of a reggae jive, the lyrics are pointed and psalm-like in their transparency, openly dealing with doubt and angst and then ultimately looking to the Lord for hope.
Isaiah 45 contains a pivotal verse about looking up/turning toward the Lord. It's the verse that saved Charles Spurgeon. That is, it's the verse that he heard when, as a 15-year old, he attended a gospel meeting during a snowstorm. The preacher's (actually a lay tradesman who was filling in for the missing speaker) delivery was rather weak but the words were straight Scripture, and they convicted Spurgeon, who would preach for nearly 40 years as the "prince of preachers." Spurgeon recalls the simple man emphasizing these words:
"Look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but to look and live.”
The passage itself reads, "Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other." (Isaiah 45:22).
Many modern translations read, "Turn to me, and be saved." Regardless, the root word is the same: Panah. It means to turn, to face, to look. Barnes defines it as, "Direct[ing] the attention to as we do to one from who we expect aid. It denotes a conviction on our part of helplessness--as when a man is drowning."
I wrote on the connection between trust and looking previously (https://www.isaiahfortoday.com/post/trust-and-double-peace). Faith and trust go hand-in-hand, and looking connects them both. Spurgeon, in talking about Isaiah 45, refers to the same source passage I mention in the above blog post: the book of Numbers, with the bronze snake being lifted in the wilderness. Jesus Himself references the bronze snake when He witnesses to Nicodemus about what it means to believe.
It means to look up.
Some passages of Scripture emphasize the holding onto of Christ. Others the leaning on and trusting in Christ. And the passages discussed here refer to looking to Christ. But they are all interconnected.
Although I was long familiar with the bronze serpent incident in the Bible, it was Simone Weil (before Spurgeon, for me) who taught me to think of it in connection with faith. As quoted in the blog entry above, she said,
"One of the capital truths of Christianity, almost unknown to anyone today, is that the look is what saves. The bronze serpent was lifted up so that people lying mutilated in the depths of degradation would look upon it and be saved...We cannot even take one step toward heaven. The vertical direction is forbidden to us. But if we look to heaven long-term, God descends and lifts us up."
We don't need to debate faith versus works. It is the look that saves, not because our look is a saving act but because it is the only act that we can do to fix our eyes on a God who has done the great act to save us.
Spurgeon says that we, like the rich leper Naaman with Elijah, want some big elaborate act, (or, I'd add, a spiritual ritual, or incantation/sinner's prayer phrasing to seal the deal) but God tells us just to look.
How incredibly sad it would be if we refuse to do so because we want something bigger.
This longing for something bigger that sidetracks us (or worse) from God's actual plan can perhaps be seen in how Isaiah 45 made national headlines over the past few years. Rather than emphasizing verse 22, pastors such as Lance Wallnau used Isaiah 45 to say things such as, "Isaiah 45 will be the 45th president...Isaiah 45 is Cyrus," in reference to his claimed revelation that Donald Trump would be president and that he would be a new King Cyrus on the earth. It is true that Isaiah 45 is a very detailed passage on Cyrus, King of Persia, and talks extensively about how God intended to use someone who did not call Him by name, but nonetheless was going to be used for God's purposes.
I'm not going to make a claim either way regarding President Trump and greater cosmic purposes. I simply want to point out that for many political activists and preachers, it was very evident that Christian nationalism was what was driving their passion rather than the ultimate meaning of Isaiah 45, which is not about the instrument being used but the One directing events. Following verse 22, this is the remainder of the chapter:
By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, 'In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.' All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the Lord all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.
Kings and presidents come and go. Cyrus himself lived and died. Persia rose up and then it fell. The United States will have its own trajectory as well. But, the ultimate focus, if one is a God-worshiper, is not who--from a human standpoint-- is in charge or should be in charge. The ultimate focus is on the One who truly reigns. Any instrument He uses is for His purposes, and no one can scrutinize and have a good handle on what His purposes ultimately are. Thank God that He is God and we are not! All we know is what He tells us directly, which is namely: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.
We are blessed that He is a good God, and all the qualities that we admire in good people are there and then some in Him. We can truly look to Him for our personal salvation as well as any trouble that comes our way.