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Comfort for God's People

Isaiah 40:1-11, 27-31

1 Comfort, comfort my people,

says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and proclaim to her

that her hard service has been completed,

that her sin has been paid for,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

double for all her sins.

3 A voice of one calling:

“In the desert prepare

the way for the Lord;

make straight in the wilderness

a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be raised up,

every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

the rugged places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out.”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,

and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.

7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,

because the breath of the Lord blows on them.

Surely the people are grass.

8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of our God endures forever.”

9 You who bring good news to Zion,

go up on a high mountain.

You who bring good news to Jerusalem,

lift up your voice with a shout,

lift it up, do not be afraid;

say to the towns of Judah,

“Here is your God!”

10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and He rules with a mighty arm.

See, His reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him.

11 He tends His flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in His arms

and carries them close to His heart;

He gently leads those that have young.

27-31

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?

Why do you say, Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord;

my cause is disregarded by my God”?

28 Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and His understanding no one can fathom.

29 He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.


A New Song

A dramatic change in tone: comfort and hope for the worst of times

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. 40:31


You can sense the change in the very first words of chapter 40. "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed." Soft, reassuring words replace the harsh warnings of Isaiah's earlier chapters.


• During much of Isaiah's life, Judah was confident and strong. But the prophecies beginning and chapter 40 project forward to a radically different scene. The land of Judah has been devastated, and the Jews have been taken captive. Jerusalem lies in ruins. Some 200 years separate what is described in the first part of Isaiah from the latter part. (Many scholars believe these later prophecies were given by another prophet).


What happened in the meantime...

• To understand the rest of the book of Isaiah, you need to understand what happened in those 200 years. The confident nation Isaiah once knew slid further and further downward. At the same time a new empire, Babylon, gained strength. This new enemy invaded Judah.


The armies of Babylon did something no army had accomplished since King David's time: they conquered Jerusalem itself. Siege engines breached the walls. Judah's king was led out of Jerusalem, blinded. Their homes destroyed, most of the city's inhabitants followed their king in chains. The dark period of Babylonian captivity began. Prophets of this period, and those who prophesied in advance about the coming catastrophes, faced huge questions. Was God abandoning His eternal throne of David? How could He watch in silence as His own nation, His own temple, was ripped to shreds by pagan armies?


Three Great Hopes...

• Reflecting the change in circumstances, Isaiah 40-66 shifts into a new key. Gone are the bleak predictions of judgment on the Jews. Instead, a majestic message of hope and joy and light breaks in, beginning with the opening words of comfort. The prophet sets out to re-establish faith in God. What happened to Judah, Isaiah teaches, was not God's defeat. God had in mind a new thing, a plan far more grand than anything seen before.


The author of Isaiah expresses the plan as a series of wonderful reasons for hope. First, he says, will come deliverance from the Babylonian captivity. A new star, a ruler named Cyrus, will arise in the east and set the Jews free. He will allow them to return to Jerusalem to begin the long task of rebuilding a city and a nation. Chapters 40-48 detail God's confident predictions about Cyrus and the relief he would give captive Jews. Indeed, just such a ruler did ascend to the throne in ancient Persia (present-day Iran). Cyrus smashed Babylon's armies in one decisive battle. As recorded in Ezra 1:1-4, he granted the Jews permission to return to their city and rebuild. In words that have become very familiar, the book of Isaiah tells of to further hopes for the future. A mysterious figure called "the servant" appears in chapter 49. That servant, through His suffering, would provide a way to rescue the entire world. Finally, in conclusion, the prophet turns to a faraway time, when God will usher in peace for all in a new heaven and new earth. "The Holy One of Israel" (one of Isaiah's favorite names for God) will rule as the God of the whole earth.


Surviving Tough Times...

• Isaiah 40-66 had immense practical value for the people who first heard it, the Jews, facing a series of great crises, needed the prophets message of hope: forgiveness was on the way; the Jews, though scattered, would one day be gathered "one by one." Further, Isaiah teaches that no matter how difficult the circumstances, God can use them for our benefit. Again and again in the Israelites' history, good times led to decadence. In contrast, times of suffering tested and refined the true people of God. Ultimately, suffering would lead to the salvation of all the world.


Life Questions: Try to put yourself in the circumstances of the Jews back then. Would you have found the prophet's words comforting?

The Helper of Israel...


Isaiah 40:1-4

1 "Be silent before me, you islands! Let the nation's renew their strength! Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment.

2 "Who has stirred up one from the east, calling Him in righteousness to His service?" He hands nations over to Him and subdues kings before Him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to windblown chaff with His bow.

3 He pursues them and moves on unscathed, by a path His feet have not travelled before.

4 Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning?

I, the Lord - with the first of them and with the last - I am He."


Chapter 41:4 - How to Understand God...

Chapters 40-66 echo the majestic chapters at the end of Job. God shows Himself as Master of the universe. Before Him, nations are like a drop in a bucket (40:15) and people are like grasshoppers (40:22). He taunts all other so-called "gods"; such idols are carved of the same tree used to cook supper! (44:12-20). The true God, the God of the Israelites, is the One who created the universe (45:12,18), who called Abraham (41:8), who rescued the Jews from slavery in Egypt. For the dispirited Jewish survivors of Babylon's invasion, this exalted view of God was a reminder that God had neither vanished nor ejected them.

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