Isaiah 40=Comfort! Comfort!
Bible Background: Isaiah 40 marks a completely new section of the book, written to offer a word of hope for exiles who are returning to Jerusalem. (Scholars refer to chapters 40-55 as “2nd Isaiah”, because it appears that the book is the work of more than 1 author over a span of 150 years.) Theologically, chapters 1-39 express God’s judgement for Israel’s sins. 40-55 are surprisingly good news-that God’s judgement is “over”, and that God comes to save.
Digging Deeper: 1. “Comfort, Oh, Comfort!” is a double command God issues to a heavenly messenger. God’s people are in serious need of comfort, after years in exile; after years of living with the consequences of their sins. It’s time for relief!
2. So the messenger proclaims: “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make his paths straight!” The image is of a highway for God to come directly to the people. (Ever wish for a ‘direct line’ to God?) What does God’s coming bring? Not judgement, like so many other readings suggest. God will come to “feed his flock” and to “gather the lambs in his arms” and to “gently lead the mother sheep”. What Psalm shares a similar image? Are we ok with being God’s “sheep”?
3. The verses in between the announcement and the actual comforting describe the human condition: “like grass” that withers and flowers that fade. We are temporary; unable to rescue ourselves or guarantee the future. In contrast, Isaiah describes a God whose word stands forever and who comes with might! This is the kind of God people need!
4. Both Calvin and Luther read this chapter as clear Gospel, with Calvin boldly asserting that “this passage comprehends the whole Gospel in a few words.” How appropriate is it that Matthew, Mark, and Luke quote Isaiah “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight” as John the Baptist gets the people ready to meet Jesus! Jesus is the most powerful, and most gentle way that God has come to God’s people!
5. Advent is a good time to ask for ourselves: “In what ways do we need God’s comfort?” In the face of Vegas and Sutherland Springs? Harvey and Maria? Wildfires and wild politics? Opioid deaths and personal loss? And it’s important to ask “To whom can we bring God’s comfort?” Because we are those messengers sent by God to comfort hurting people too!