“All nations before him are as naught.” (Isa 40:17) On the face of it, this scripture is saying that God is great and the nations are but a mere speck in importance compared to him. If God chooses to set up a nation or bring one down, that is his prerogative. The United States may seem great now, but should learn the lessons of Rome, Persia, Greece, or Great Britain. Years (or months) from now, God may have used that nation for his purposes and given them to another nation. Certainly this was what Isaiah, or God through Isaiah, had in mind.
I heard a different interpretation, however. It makes sense on a national or personal level. It is unquestionably scriptural. If all before God is as naught, the closer before him we are, the more as naught we are.
In America, and many places in the world influenced by American thought or money, the most important letter in the alphabet is “I.” Whether yo, or ich, or any other first person pronoun, people tend to think that the world centers around them. The problem with this, besides being an essentially childish characteristic, is that this makes too many centers. A regular circle can have but one. The more “centers,” the more distorted the circle becomes.
Using that circle analogy we can see that the circle becomes more perfect as each of the centers gets closer to one point. When they all gather at that one point, it once again makes a perfect circle. So it is with God. The farther we are from him the more distorted our lives become. When I have “my way,” it conflicts with what another perceives as his way. It may even conflict with yesterday’s or tomorrow’s “my way.” When something happens to change my center, the circle gets distorted.
God has set a standard. He is the standard. “Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:16) He is the center of the perfect circle. What he desires is that we approach that center, that our lives may be harmonious. The more we are like him, the less we concentrate on “I.”
Jesus is one example of this. Although he is everything he was as nothing. In the garden he prayed, “Not my will but thine be done.” (Lk 22:42) “He was despised and we esteemed him not.” (Isa 53:3) That is just how he wanted to be. He would rather be “as naught” through being close to God.
Paul put it a little differently. Yet what he said to the Galatians means the same thing.
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
How, then, do we come more before God? David said, “bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.” (1 Chrn 16:29) The offering he wants is ourselves. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Rom 12:1) “Wherewith shall I come before the LORD? What doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic 6:6,8) Justice, mercy, and humility. These don’t sound like the words of one who is self-centered.
If our lives are hidden in Christ, how can we live the life of “I?” The more we are “as God,” the more we are “as naught.”