‘The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever’ (Is. 40:8).
At the beginning of 2014 it is good for the Lord’s people to stand back and remember what we are all about. Some verses of the Bible, like this one, stand out as texts for the New Year, or for any occasion that marks the passing of time. Grass withers, flowers fade – but the word of our God stands forever.
The grass doesn’t tend to wither in the cool and damp climate of Shropshire, where I live, nor in the even cooler and damper climate of neighbouring Wales! But we can understand the picture perfectly well. Grass and other plants are here today and gone tomorrow, and generally the most beautiful ones are the most fleeting of all.
What is meant in this passage by ‘grass’? We are told in verse 6 that it is ‘flesh’, mankind in his frailty. In Psalm 103:15 David says ‘As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field, the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.’ All flesh is grass, and the grass withers. Margaret Thatcher and Sir David Frost may have seemed permanent fixtures in the life and times of some readers of the magazine, but both these public figures died in 2013. So did Seamus Heaney and David Jacobs. Our much-loved brother Graham Harrison went to be with the Lord. The grass withers.
We know this withering in our own experience. We face the inevitable deterioration of our minds as well as our bodies. The beauty of mankind and all his works is fleeting. The apostle Peter, in quoting Isaiah 40:6, brings out its meaning. ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever’ (1 Pet. 1:24).
What would a time-traveller make of our society today? He would see people taken up with materialism, crowding the department stores during the sales after clothes, household accessories, electronic gadgets. He would see people taken up with the rich and famous, the beautiful and popular, with their work, hobbies, families or pets. And more pointedly, what would he see in the church? Is the church leading the world, or being led by it? We need to ask ourselves whether we are guilty of worshipping fading flowers – those things that blossom and flourish for a short time, but are soon gone.
In its time
Why does the grass wither and the flower fade? We are told that it happens ‘because the breath of the LORD blows on them’. God, who is ‘the Lord and the giver of life’ (Ps. 104:30) is also the Lord and the giver of death. God will allow everything to be beautiful in its time, but not for ever. Nothing and no-one in this world is to be gloried in for ever. The LORD will not share his glory with anyone or anything else. Individual people, those whom the world regards as great, and the buildings, institutions, nations and empires they establish, all crumble and fall eventually.
Professor Brian Cox is the new bright, young, smiling face of BBC astronomy. Yet the outlook he presents for the earth and the human race is as pessimistic and dismal as anything that has ever been said. He talks about ‘our brief moment on planet earth’ and then says that ‘life is just a temporary structure on the long road from order to disorder’. And that’s just about it! Being human is about being able to understand our place in an increasingly disordered universe – but what will happen to me when I die? This question can only be followed by a despairing silence. Science can agree with the Bible that ‘the grass withers and the flower fades’ but it can’t tell us what lies beyond this – or if there is any hope for me or for you once we have withered and faded.
God’s word stands for ever
But the one who believes the Bible must say much more than this! ‘By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth’ (Ps. 33:6). It was the very word of God that brought everything into being in the first place. It is because of the word of God that there is something rather than nothing. Behind all the events of life – the tragic, the confusing, the unexpected, the joyful – there is something rather more substantial: the abiding and eternal word of God.
And God trains us to rely on that word. The generation that came out of the land of Egypt did not believe the promises of God, and their bodies fell in the wilderness. In Deut. 8:3 Moses addresses a new generation: ‘He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD’. It is like a New Year sermon to them.
Of course we know that Jesus himself quoted these words when he was in the wilderness many years later. He later said that ‘the Scripture cannot be broken’. Jesus took the theme of Isaiah 40:8 even further when he said ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away’. It is the words of Jesus that stand for ever. Are you prizing them highly enough? Are you paying heed to their warnings? Are you encouraged and assured as you read and hear the word of God? It is the word of God that gives you life and which will sustain your life, throughout this year which has just begun, and for ever.
Paul Yeulett is the pastor of Shrewsbury Evangelical Churc