6/22/2016

The God of Comfort (Isaiah 40:1-11)

God is undefeated even by our most grievous sin. The Sovereign God is never more sovereign than in the work of mercy and salvation. It is those who know they have most signally erred and strayed from his ways, who, within the blessed arena of salvation, feel most gently the warmth of his shepherding arms around them. They know for sure to be the lambs of his flock.

Isaiah 40 answers the question, "Who is your God?" God is:
  1. The God of Comfort (1-11).
  2. The Incomparable God (12-26).
  3. The God Who Makes Man Fly (27-31).

40:1-11 are often referred to as the "prologue" to "Second Isaiah." No longer is the prophetic message to be primarily one of judgment (in contrast to ch.1-39), for it has been quenched in the fires of the Exile (Isa 40:2). Now the message is to be one of hope. Although the people have withered and fallen like dried grass (Isa 40:6-7), God's word as spoken by his prophet will not fail (Isa 40:8). Just as God has said judgment would come, and it had, so he now says restoration will come, and it will. No sooner has Isaiah pronounced judgment on Hezekiah's sin (Isa 39:6-7), he is directed to organize messengers of comfort. At this darkest of moments with doom been pronounced on Hezekiah, the call goes out:
  1. To speak the word of comfort (Isa 40:1).
  2. To proclaim hardship finished and sins forgiven (Isa 40:2).
  3. To announce that Yahweh himself is on his way with worldwide significance (Isa 40:3-5).
  4. To declare that his word and promises can never fail (Isa 40:6-8).
  5. To affirm that Zion's people are the flock he has worked for and now holds in his tender care (Isa 40:9-11)
40:1-2 provide an introduction and set the tone for the following three 3-verse stanzas (3-5, 6-8, 9-11). The idea of "comfort" (1) is to "encourage" as is "speak tenderly" (2). Isaiah sees a day when his people will be crushed to the ground under the burden of their sins. They will feel sure that all is lost and that all the promises have been nullified by their rebellion. But the message to be proclaimed to them is that this is not so. The Exile is not to destroy them but only to punish them. Now that punishment is complete ("double"), God has a word of hope for them.

A highway (40:3-5). In the first stanza, some of the language of ch.35 is resumed. There is a "highway" in the desert/wilderness. But in this case the highway is for "our God." As in 52:7 and 63:1, it is God who comes to helpless Zion to set her free. Nothing can prevent his swift coming to his people's aid, neither mountains nor valleys. The highway will be level and straight, so that God can come quickly. If there is to be deliverance for God's people, it must come from God's direct intervention. There is no other hope.

God's word (40:6-8). The second stanza has a twofold implication. Judean flesh is like grass. They have been consumed by their sins and there is no permanence in them at all, nor is there anything they can do to help themselves. But Babylonian flesh is also like grass. If the Judeans are to be delivered from Exile, God will have to do it. If God does decide to do it, there is nothing the Babylonians can do to prevent it. There is no permanence in anything human. If God speaks a promise, that "word" will stand, and nothing on earth can alter it (Isa 40:8).

Good news (40:9-11). The third and final stanza commands that a messenger not only proclaims "good news to Zion" but also shouts it from a high mountain (Isa 40:9). Zion is not merely a recipient of God's grace but also a messenger of that grace to the surrounding world. What is the good news he is to shout? As stated later in Isa 52:7--"Your God reigns!"--it the intervention of God in the world. The Creator "comes" (Isa 40:10) and breaks into his world, both to break the power of evil with his "mighty arm" (Isa 40:10) and "like a shepherd," to gather up the broken in his gentle "arms" (Isa 40:11).

The Geneva Bible of 1560 comments Isa 40:9: “He shows in one word the perfection of all man’s happiness, which is to have God’s presence.” Behold your God today!

Reference: Oswalt, John N. Isaiah: The NIV Application Commentary. 2003.