Grass, Flowers, and God's Word

by Brian Overholtzer on May 03, 2021

Do you have any unfinished projects? In college, I was known as the guy who conjures up several ideas for papers to write and run out of time to finish them. Since my grade depended on their completion, I had to turn in a less-than-ideal paper. I slapped a conclusion on there to make it slide by. The greats were not as cavalier about their projects. Famous author Mark Twain left a few unfinished works due to his death in 1910. These included “The Chronicle of Young Satan,” “Satan’s nephew,” “No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger.” In an attempt to complete Twain’s work, Twain’s editors published two different versions of his books. These editors were able to complete Twain’s work, but they were not Twain. They were simply incapable of perfectly producing Twain’s thoughts, creativity, and style. While these books are considered great masterpieces, we can reflect on two observations. First, people are limited in what they can accomplish in life. Second, people are limited in communication.    

The insufficiency of human nature is the foundational principle for understanding that we need Scripture. However, this understanding falls short to what the Bible teaches. Within many evangelical churches and organizations, there is an increasing trend to add a humanistic voice to the Bible. Humanism is a movement that can be traced to the Renaissance. The system asserts the significance of man over religion. This plays out practically in several ways today, from Christian psychology, to the mission field, and to the local churches in America. 

I am convinced that no Christian who has a high view of Scripture would ever want to fall into such schemes. At this point you may be rightfully thinking, “How do I avoid treating God’s Word as insufficient?” and, “How do I recognize it when people are not treating God’s Word as sufficient?” These are important questions to ask because the latter will most certainly impact the former. 

God’s Word not only speaks authoritatively toward the matter of the sufficiency of Scripture but also to the insufficiency of man’s words. One rock-bed attestation of God’s sufficiency and man’s insufficiency is Isaiah 40:6-8. Isaiah 40:6-8 not only clearly states the sufficiency of Scripture but does so contrasting the sufficiency of God’s Word to the insufficiency of man’s word. We will see in the following part of the sufficiency of God’s Word is the insufficiency of man’s Word. 

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever (Isaiah 40:6-8). 

This declaration of the sufficiency of God’s Word is pronounced while Isaiah is giving Israel encouragement by explaining to them that Yahweh their God will one day deliver them from bondage. Isaiah then calls this announce the good news! So, what we are about to read was given in the very context of God’s ability to save His people.     

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” 

It doesn’t take thirty hours of study to understand the urgency God is calling for in these verses. To properly display the urgency and emphasis of the message to follow these instructions to “cry” or “proclaim,” you would need a megaphone. Now, before we dig into the meat of these verses, we have to keep within the major point of these verses which is the quality of God’s Word, “but the Word of the LORD endures forever.” This occurs as the last statement of this urgent cry God has given to the prophet. Everything in these verses informs on the nature of God’s Word. 

“All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.” 

Framing the declaration of the supreme sufficiency of Scripture are two descriptions of the insufficiency of the nature of mankind. The prophet first compares humanity to grass. It’s significant to note that Isaiah isn’t speaking for his own ethnic group or culture alone. This truth is bound to the fabric of the fallen condition of all humanity. Who is grass? Everyone. What is grass? Here, grass is defined by what it does; it dies easily. Can we rely on grass to accomplish a lot? No. Are we able to accomplish a lot? I think we get the idea. Grass doesn’t last long and neither do we because we have something called human nature. Now, most of us are keenly aware of the truth behind Isaiah’s first botanical illustration, but Isaiah doesn’t stop his gardening project. 

Isaiah’s second illustration paints a more specific quality of human nature that is insufficient. Many translations such as the ESV, reads “all its beauty is like the flower of the field.” At first, we might have the picture of a person’s outward beauty fading as he or she advances in years. While poetic, this is not the picture the original hearers of Isaiah’s message would have had in mind. The word translated as “beauty” is the Hebrew word hesed. Throughout the Old Testament, hesed is used in reference to Yahweh’s unfailing trustworthy commitment to His people based on His covenantal promise. In these verses, the quality of man’s hesed is in question. While the Word of Yahweh endures forever, man’s hesed or trustworthiness is as reliable as a flower that withers in the wind. 

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” 

Isaiah now contrasts the insufficiency of man’s words to the sufficiency of God’s Word. Grass represents the limitedness of human nature. Flowers represent the untrustworthiness of human nature. So, Isaiah takes puts his megaphone up to his mouth, takes a deep breath, and shouts “all people are limited, and all people are untrustworthy, but God’s Word is eternally trustworthy!” This is the SYST “Second Year Seminary Translation.” 

As Christians, we must be on guard against attempts to interject the nature of man into God’s Word. One common attempt is to integrate phycological methods such as behavior modification, cognitive brain therapy, and psychotropic medication with God’s Word. Is God’s Word sufficient for our spiritual life or does the Word need modification? One more example that is encroaching into American churches is the attempt to harmonize people’s stories with the story of God’s Word in order to understand the Bible more accurately. It’s one thing to get to know someone better for relational and communicational purposes. The “story” approach necessitates one’s life story as a prerequisite in order to understand God. Isaiah is screaming out to us that there is no room for the words or thoughts to intermix with the Word of the holy God of Israel. Our sinful nature and insufficiency will inevitably distort and disrupt the holy and pure nature of God’s Word. This is why God gave us His Word. Without it, we can’t know Him.

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