THE BOOK OF ISAIAH
A Message of Comfort to God's People
ISAIAH 40 9/29/13 SCC
The message would fit the exiled community as they were being encouraged to leave Babylon and return to the land—a message they would need later when they were in exile. The Jews had been taken into captivity in three waves, in 605 B.C., 597 B.C. and 586 B.C. when Jerusalem was destroyed. They knew that they were to be there for 70 years, and so toward the end of that exile they were to be prepared to leave. Isaiah did not know these dates, because he is writing beforehand. He probably thought his audience would be in exile, and she he was giving them the message of comfort. Even if Isaiah’s immediate audience never went into captivity, they would have learned from the sermons to repent (and hopefully stave off the exile), and to know that even if they went they were still the covenant people (if they believed) and would be coming back. That would have encouraged them.
The promise of the coming of the Lord brings comfort and instruction to God’s people (40:1-11)
1. “Speak: Comfort to my people” (1-2)
These imperatives, "comfort, comfort" are in the plural meaning that the prophet or perhaps even the whole faithful remnant, are to announce comfort to the people in general. The verb suggests that the people are discouraged, depressed; suffering--and the prophets will bring them hope, encouragement, good news, to ease and soothe their troubled hearts.
Verse 2: literally says "speak to the heart." In this context, the three reasons for this kind of speech were war had ended, iniquity had been pardoned, and judgment was over. Note that it is "Jerusalem" that is to be spoken to in comforting words. Jerusalem being the main city would represent the nation--but we still mean the people in it. This oracle would certainly be comforting to the exiles in Babylon.
2. “Calling: Prepare the way of the Lord” (3-5)
Verse 3: This section begins with the voice of one crying. We learn from the New Testament that this is ultimately a prophecy about John the Baptist--although others could have cried this message in the original period, and others in our age could also be such a voice. The speaker is a mystery--only a voice. His identity is not important; the message is. John represented this so well: "I am a voice" (Mark 1:3).
Verse 4-5: Isaiah announced that someone was calling out to prepare a highway in the desert because the Lord was coming to His people’s aid. It was customary to construct processional avenues for approaching dignitaries and for idols carried in parade. The wilderness and desert represent the barren waste of Babylon where God’s people dwelt, complete with obstacles and impediments to overcome, and through which He would come to them with refreshment, as He did formerly at Mount Sinai. The idea is that He was certainly coming and His people should prepare for His appearing. All flesh would marvel at His liberating the Israelites and bringing them back into their land.
3. “Cry: The Word of our God shall stand forever” (40:6-8)
The mortal messenger will bring the good news of comfort and forgiveness; but there is no comfort in mortal flesh. Flesh changes and dies like grass; its beauty like that of flowers cannot last. To see the vivid picture, you need to be familiar with what grows and what does not grow in the land. These comparisons show the fading and transitory nature of human lives. One cannot find comfort there. Humans fail; they cannot save themselves. But the contrast is with the eternal Word of God that cannot fail. So the message of hope comes from God's word. That is truth. That can be trusted.
4. “Say: Behold — your God” (9-11)
Now the heralds are people who bring good tidings to Zion, possibly the returning remnant if not the faithful who live in the expectation of divine intervention. They can point to the reason for the restoration, the comfort, the hope--God will make Himself known to deliver them. "Here is your God." Two images are presented here of God's presence. First, He is the sovereign Lord coming with power and His arm rules for Him. The idea of the powerful arm is a powerful majesty will be the pattern of His dominion as King. He will bring rewards to dispense to His faithful subjects. The second image presented here is that of the shepherd. "He tends His flock" "like a shepherd." The figure of a shepherd was commonly the natural figure for any culture with much animal husbandry. And the New Testament will use the images of the Great Shepherd in heaven today (Heb. 13:20) and the Chief Shepherd who is coming again (1 Pet. 5:4) to go along with the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep (John. 10:11). The figure in each case does signify the care, leadership, and provisions that the Lord will bring to His people.
God is fully capable of bringing deliverance to his people (40:12-16)
1. He is the sovereign Lord of creation (12-14)
What kind of God is He whose coming is so expected? After all, the hope of His coming and the promise of deliverance from bondage will only be as great as the God in whom we believe. So the prophet Isaiah begins to think about His greatness by thinking about His work of creation. Through a series of questions the prophet portrays God as the Mighty Creator. No mortal could even think to do this. In verse 12 the questions show that only God could create. The language shows the Lord to be like a workman working with His hands, baskets, and scales. Of course, Scripture makes it clear that He spoke and it came into being. In verse 13a we have the second stage in the thought--no one could even understand the Spirit of the Lord, for His thoughts are so much higher than ours. In 13b and 14 we have the next level--no one gave God any advice, ever! God created everything by His own design and counsel.
2. He is sovereign over the nations (15-17)
God needs the counsel of no one--certainly not the nations. They are all insignificant. The prophet compares the nations (nations that terrorized the world) to a drop from the bucket, dust on the scales, fine dust if they are islands. They do not count; they do not tilt the balance of power one bit. Even in a religious sense God does not need the nations for sacrifice or worship. If a sacrifice were to make a difference with God, all the animals in Lebanon would not be sufficient. So mighty Assyria and Babylon are there merely to do God's bidding. But none of them can influence Him or challenge Him.
3. He is the incomparable One (18-20)
There is no one like God. He is the true and only God. To compare Him to idols is blasphemous. Even the materials for idols come from God. Humans who are weak and frail have made the idols; they look for ways to make idols that will last. No one made God; rather, God created humans. The nature of the question in verse 18 then is rhetorical to express that there is no one to whom we may compare God.
4. (Therefore) God alone is able to control creation (21-26)
Verse 21: begins this section with four rhetorical questions to remind the people of this that they already knew. The repetition is meant to be a rebuke, like hammering a point home: "Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?" They had centuries of time to have these truths sink in, but their weak faith and stubborn hearts had not taken it all to heart.
Verses 22-26: he picks up themes he has already introduced--creation, nations, and incomparability--but focused on how God controls. Verse 22 God is the Lord of creation and rules with providence. The heavens are like a canopy with everything in His tent. According to verses 23 and 24 He is sovereign over kings--he plants them and then just as quickly as He lets them grow to full flower and power He blows them away like chaff. But His reign is eternal and constant. Verses 25 and 26 reiterate the theme of His incomparable nature. There is no one like God--He is the "Holy One.’ The people are called to look and contemplate the heavens and see God's handiwork. By His power the starry hosts were created and keep their order.
We can renew our strength through hope in His promise to come and deliver us (40:27-31)
1. The prophet rebukes those who distrust God (27-28)
Here is a rebuke for the people because they were convinced that God had written them off. That was their complaint. But Isaiah affirms that God is the Creator and the Preserver of all things. He will not forsake what He has made. First, to prove this is that He does not grow tired like humans. No problems are hidden from God, or too much for Him to handle. And his second point is that God is incomprehensible. His ways are right, even though we do not know them. We will never understand Him, but He knows all about us. So how can anyone even suggest that our ways are hidden from Him? That reverses the whole matter. Some needed to come to faith, period. Most needed to rekindle their faith with this truth.
2. The prophet promises new strength for believers (29-31)
Verse 29: God will give strength to those who are exhausted and suffering under oppression. Even youths (v. 30) run out of energy and stumble. So human life is frail and transitory.
Verse 31: however, brings the contrast, and the climax of this message on comfort: those who wait on the Lord shall change. By waiting the prophet means a longing for the fulfillment of the promise by faith, but it is a longing or looking for that is characterized by confident expectation. Waiting requires patience; but it is never indifferent. There is always restlessness, eagerness, a looking for something, an inner vigil. The term describes the essence of confident, expectant faith. In the immediate context it describes the attitude and actions of those Israelites who believed the promises of the Lord and were ready to step out when God began to move. They believed the release was coming; they waited for it. They knew it would happen; they just did not know exactly when. And when the release would come, they would escape with energy and quickness like eagles mounting up.
1. Believers living now at the end of the age in the expectation of the coming of the Lord have the same kind of confidence. To hope for the coming of the Lord does not imply that there is a chance it might not happen; rather, it implies an active faith in the truth of His coming. It will happen; they are expecting it soon. Those who wait for the Lord will not be entangled by this life, but as they live out their faith in the light of that hope, they will find their strength renewed for life's difficulties along the way.
2. Those who have this blessed hope purify themselves. As we today look forward to the coming day of deliverance, the appearance in glory of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, we should comfort one another, especially those of weaker faith, with the blessed hope, we should instruct one another in the spiritual preparation, we should build our faith on God's Word, and we should see the fulfillment in the first advent as a sign of the second advent.
3. Isaiah 40 was applied to John and Jesus in their missions. Based on Isaiah 40 what John did as a voice
announcing the coming of Messiah (the fulfillment of the prophecy) we too can do since there is now a
second coming we anticipate. Isaiah 40 announced the "coming" of the Lord to intervene and deliver the people from bondage; so that the people were to prepare for this and to comfort others and to wait on the Lord. That was true on the eve of the departure from Babylon (where they expected divine intervention but not an actual coming of God into their midst). It was true on the eve of the first coming when John came preaching repentance because the Messiah was coming (and that Messiah actually was God coming into the world, but as a shepherd). And it is true today as we look for the second coming (when He will come in glory); must wait for it, prepare for it, and announce the comfort it brings.