Our series through Isaiah entitled “The Holy One of Israel”, name/description of God used 25 times throughout book. Almost evenly dispersed – half of occurrences first 39, other half last 27 chapters. Same author throughout Isaiah, yet when turn page from 39 to 40, almost as though color of paper changes. Much of what Isaiah had to do first: rebuke and correct. God’s people, leadership included persistently doing wrong thing. Trusting in anything and everything but God. Looking for national security in political/military alliances. Worshiping anything and everything but God. Trying to please anyone but God. Page after page of black paper filled with dark and troubling words of correction and judgment. The last page, the sentence issued in chapter 39: to Babylon.
Turn page to chapter 40, darkness of judgment and disobedience no longer prevalent theme. Instead, “The Holy One of Israel” adds to name: Redeemer (Isa. 41:14; 43:14; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5). On pages now scarlet, light of salvation and redemption bursts forth, blinding in its glory and majesty. Yes, are allusions to deliverance from Babylon but that’s not the big deal. Far greater importance than bondage in Babylon is bondage in sin. The red of these pages not from blood of God’s people but from their substitute, the Servant: despised and rejected, wounded and afflicted, crushed by the Lord himself as God the Son offered himself a sacrifice for others.
As “Holy One of Israel, Redeemer” commissions prophet to proclaim new message to captives, makes it plain he is compassionate and merciful God. Not merely words on his name tag, describe who God is and how he relates to his creatures. Compassionate God treats his people with compassion; merciful God shows mercy to his people. God of the Bible does both through prophet Isaiah and others including his present-day people.
A. Threefold comfort 1-2
you comfort them (1)
God could do it directly, often works through means, here through prophet Isaiah. God knows people who need comfort need people – need something from God, yes, but made real by someone “with skin on”. That’s why Paul could say, 2 Cor. 1:3-5 God comforts us so we can then go comfort others.
here’s how to comfort them
“speak to the heart of Jerusalem. Comfort her!” (2a) Not merely intellectual exercise in philosophy or persuasion. Genuine comfort comes from the heart, reaches to the heart, goes places and accomplishes what bare logic cannot. “Comfort points to relief afforded by the communication of positive pleasure, hope, and strength.” Webster, 1913 Instructs prophet – Here’s what you need to tell them:
warfare is ended (2b) hardship and misery intended to correct bad behavior is done. Will have served purpose: bring people to end of self so they cry out to God as only one who can help. At least for a time Israel would experience relative peace.
iniquity is pardoned (2c) order here is important – pardon not dependent on Jerusalem’s making satisfaction but that of another. Babylon was not equivalent of penance or purgatory or pillars of a religion that earned favor with God. God pardoned them as he always does because of what Lord Jesus accomplished at Calvary.
satisfied God’s purpose (2d) Israel’s experiences not random, not fault of poor leadership or bad military strategy or lucky enemies. Were outworking of God’s purpose to bring people to repentance, turn from sinful idolatrous ways and trust in him. When his purpose for them was served, captivity would end.
B. three voices 3-11
Not only Isaiah’s voice heard bringing message of comfort; a message that needs to be proclaimed in every generation, to every people. God uses voices of all kinds to bring message – single voices, corporate voices. Lonely voices, questioning voices, confident voices – each have time and place according to God’s wise providence.
lonely voice – one crying in the wilderness (3-5) Ever have something on your mind, begin talking, then wonder “is anyone listening?” Voice of John Baptist crying in wilderness where few believed truth about God. Far more important than identity of speaker is content of message: Isaiah had promised comfort, John declared the one who would bring comfort was on his way. The Comforter himself was coming, nothing would hinder his progress through the world. The Gospel would have a straight and level road on which to travel. Obstacles to presence of God among his people would be removed and they would see God.
questioning voice – what should I say (6-8) You tell me to cry out, to be a witness, but I don’t know what to say. As before, message more significant than messenger: mankind is like grass, flowers – here today, gone tomorrow. If you count on yourself to have answers to ultimate questions, future is hopeless. On the other hand, God and his word – they’re forever. You want right answers that will bring true hope and comfort? Don’t look to yourself or man’s wisdom, look to God.
strong voice – lift your voice with strength (9-11) Now not an individual but entire city, Zion, God’s dwelling place with his people. Prophet reminds them: You’ve got the goods, you have the answers, you have good news; don’t be afraid of the truth, truth can stand on its own. All you need to do is proclaim it. Message of comfort and hope: Look, here is God! You want answers, you have needs, here is God. A strong God, victorious God, conquering his enemies and enemies of his people.
This magnificent, glorious victorious warrior displays incredible tenderness toward his people. Loves his flock with affection beyond our understanding, from which nothing can separate us. Cares for his flock, carrying when necessary, providing for needs – physical, spiritual, emotional. Guides his flock by gently leading, always considering strengths and weaknesses of individuals. Guards his flock from harm: those dangers from without that would attack the weak, those other dangers into which wandering sheep might fall. Retrieves his flock, those who stray from the group and his leadership, going their own way. Feeds his flock with the best, most nourishing food in abundance.
C. needy exiles
exiles in Babylon – alienated from homeland
news of an end to hostilities, granting of pardon by God, Jerusalem coming to prominence again all good news for exiles in far country. It’s hard to sing when far from home and return is impossible: “For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, And those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the Lord’s song In a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:3-4)
exiles in sin – alienated from God
bigger problem for many Jews than being far from home: being far from God. Remember why they were far from home – had turned away from God, refused to trust him, to worship him exclusively, to obey his commands, preferred their own solutions to God’s. Was their sinful rebellion that earned them God’s chastisement. Do you have friend or loved one determined to do their own thing? Is life tough for them? Perhaps it’s God’s way of calling for their attention.
both situations exceeded ability of individual to solve – required God’s power
Jews couldn’t just up and decide to return to Judah; were required to wait until God moved heart of Cyrus to issue his decree. No amount of pleading or whining or bribing could make it happen, only God could change heart of the king. Nor could they of their own volition take themselves out of their sinful condition, make themselves presentable to God – were absolutely powerless to save themselves from either slavery in Babylon or bondage in sin.
The good news brought by voices God provided answered both needs: He would provide a deliverer, God; only one with all resources necessary to supply genuine comfort and hope and security for the future. World today still filled with those enslaved in various ways, powerless to change their circumstances – God still provides same answer. Yes, they need the cup of water, but don’t forget the rest of the phrase – Mark 9:41 “in My name” – greatest need is for Christ.
Only one source of true and lasting safety for nations and individuals – his name is Jesus. Only one who can give genuine comfort in any situation – time of national tragedy, natural disaster, personal loss – his name is Jesus. Our job as his hands and feet in the world to bring him to the world: by words as well as deeds. Should season our words with Scripture salt, weaving truth and principles from God’s word into our conversation; at the same time providing tangible help and encouragement to those in need. That’s what Beth does in her work with WLM; what we all should be doing as God gives us opportunity.