The rest of the Book of Isaiah, 40:1-66:24, is called the book of consolation. The rest of Isaiah provides a message of comfort and a revelation of God’s character. As Isaiah prophesied, Judah would experience judgement and exile. But from chapters 40-66 Isaiah prophesied from the vantage point of the exile having already become a reality. So, the Babylonian exile provides the backdrop for understanding these chapters. Remember, sometimes Isaiah prophesies as though something has already happened when if fact it hasn’t. This is one of those times. Isaiah lived approximately 700 years before the birth of Christ. He lived to see the northern kingdom of Israel over run by the Assyrians but he was not still alive when the Babylonians took the southern kingdom of Judah into exile. If you are familiar with Handel’s Messiah, some of the prophecies today will ‘sound’ familiar to you! Chapters 40-48 deal with the coming of Cyrus of Persia and the fall of Babylon as proof of the power of the God of Israel both to foretell and fulfill. We will see once again the power of God versus the lack of power of the idols of all the other nations.
When Isaiah speaks of comfort he is referring to God’s merciful way of dealing with people in the age to come. This includes strength, encouragement, and acceptance. God wants to rescue His people and is more than able to do so. The exiles need to believe God’s promises and then wait on Him for their rescue. The Lord speaks tenderly because his message was meant to encourage Jerusalem with the good news of His forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. From a prophetic perspective, the sad days are over because the exile had come to an end. Her warfare, or days of servitude in Babylon are ended. God’s people received double for their sins, meaning they had experienced the full brunt of God’s wrath. Good news is proclaimed, but by verse 3 the focus has shifted. Now comes the expectation of God’s coming, because the good news is grounded in God Himself. Isaiah portrays the Lord coming on the highway through the desert. The voice of one cries in the wilderness. We will see these words again when we reach the New Testament and these words are spoken of John the Baptist. This voice is the messenger, getting people ready for the Lord’s appearing. And as God made a way through the Red Sea for His people, now a way would be opened up for the Lord. In those days, it was a customary for a road crew to preceded a traveling dignitary. They would remove rocks from the road making it smoother. They would also eliminate sharp curves and turns, making the journey more pleasant.
The revealing of the glory of the Lord begins with the restoration of the captives from exile in Babylon. But that was just the beginning. We know the revelation of God’s glory also comes in Jesus Christ. But the ultimate revelation of God’s glory comes in His glorious kingdom where the Savior King dwells in the presence of His people for all eternity. We know this will in fact happen because God has declared it. Isaiah reminds all of us that we are mortal but the Lord is forever. His Word stands forever. That means the Son of God fulfills the Word, He is the Word, and He lives forever. All of His plans will succeed and everything will happen in His time. People are shouting the good news so all might hear. But, God is the good news! He may come like a warrior to reassure His people with power, but He will also hold His people tenderly, like a Shepherd would a sheep. God is coming to save and restore His people. His rule is not anything like the unjust and powerless rulers. Those are the ones God will judge. God’s rule is compassionate, just, righteous, and powerful. And the reward He brings describes the spoils of victory, namely the delivered people. Many times in scripture the image of a Shepherd is used to describe God’s care for His people.
The rest of chapter 40 answers five questions: Who is the creator, to whom may He be compared, Who rules the kingdoms of this world, to whom may He be compared, and Why are you despondent Jacob? The answer to the Who question is the Lord. The questions are somewhat rhetorical with the implied answer being, no one. There is no one like our God. He is sovereign over every nation of the world and over their human power structures. Earlier in Isaiah (16:12; 37:16-19) idolatry was shown to be foolish. But chapters 40-48 open up a much more extensive argument against idolatry. They are symbolic representations of false gods and at times other religious concepts. But they are nothing other than man made trinkets who are powerless. They give a false sense of security, delude people, and lead to significant disappointment. They can help no one and they are so weak they often fall down. Those who worship them fail to discern God. But God sits enthroned as King over all the earth and He is so immense that humans appear the size of grasshoppers. This belief contradicts both Babylonian and Egyptian beliefs that it is the sun, moon, and stars who represent gods. Creation is His work alone and He is unimpressed by human power and fame. All of us are invited to look up into the heavens, just as Abraham was directed to look up. It was for encouragement and to show just how amazing the Lord is. The cosmos bears witness to God’s great power and incomparable strength and glory. He is strong and will strengthen the weak. With all that God does, He still does not tire or grow weary. He is not susceptible to human limitations like many of the false gods were. The chapter ends with more rhetorical questions. Did you not know? He is not only everlasting but God is also transcendent over time. He is omnipotent and inscrutable. The Lord never lets His people down and His strength is a gift so that we may be strong. It matters not our age because everyone tires eventually, even the youth. For us to wait upon the Lord reveals our confident expectation and hope in the Lord. Mounting up, running and walking depicts the spiritual transformation that faith brings to a person. The Lord gives power to those who have chosen to trust in Him. Eagles depict strength that can only come from the Lord.
From 41:1-42:17 the Lord puts the nations on trial to show them that he alone is God. He begins with a call for silence. This is usually in anticipation of judgement. Cyrus is the one coming from the East and he advanced so fast it was almost as though his feet never touched the ground. He was the one who conquered Babylon and set the Israelite exiles free to return home. He may have won the battles but it was the Lord who was truly in control. God speaks of who He truly is. From the beginning He has unfolded each stage of history according to His plan. In the Book of Revelation Jesus identifies Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. The Lord alone is God. God reminds the people that He is their God. He has chosen them, and they are His servants. He promises them His presence and even though they were in a lowly place God is still their redeemer. Their enemies will become like chaff, the worthless and dispensable part of the grain harvest. Picture the chaff at the bottom of your cereal boxes that you throw away. God’s people will once again be prosperous.
Verses 21-29 are written like a trial scene. This is the case of the Lord against the idols. God is the creator of all things but idols are created by human hands. They cannot speak, act, accomplish anything, or save their worshipers. Now Cyrus is the leader from the north who will trample Babylon, and a messenger is sent to bring the good news.
Chapter 42 brings the formal introduction of the Lord’s servant. My Servant is formally identified with Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Isaiah may have foreshadowed him but only Jesus brings universal justice and an everlasting covenant. This servant pleases God. We see very similar language when Jesus is baptized. God has given this servant His Spirit. Any leader can be called a servant but the presence of the Spirit suggests a king of David’s line. Establishing justice is the responsibility of a king and this king’s mission will be a greater mission to the nations rather than to just Judah. This servant has calm confidence in His message and calling from God. He will be gentle with the oppressed and discouraged. While Cyrus brought political deliverance, this servant will, in righteousness deliver Israel from sin. He will institute a new covenant binding Israel to the Lord. His will be an everlasting covenant. When He speaks of the people or nations here, God is referring to the Gentiles. This servant will open the eyes of the spiritually blind and free the spiritual captives from the prison of sin. He will also free those held captive in Babylon. In verse 8 God reveals His name to His people. He is Yahweh, the God of the covenant made with Moses. This is a show of His grace and a reminder that it is God alone who can bring about the things He predicts. Isaiah paints several pictures of the greatness of the Lord here, and what He will do. The people of Israel were deaf because they would not listen and blind because they would not see. The Lord turned the exiles implicit accusation that the Lord was deaf and blind against them. The Israelites who refused to listen to what God said and to understand what they saw God doing in history were rendered spiritually blind and deaf. They had knowledge of the truth through God’s Word and the prophets but their closed minds refused to act upon it. Throughout its history Israel’s sin made her fair game for foreign oppressors. Many nations, Assyria and Babylon to name a couple, became instruments God used to pour out His fury in His rebellious people. And it was generation after generation that did not learn their lesson, even when God disciplined them through military defeats.
There are four sections in chapter 43. Verses 1-7 contain the promise of salvation and here the Lord addressed His people in first person. God used the language of creation to speak of the formation of the nation Israel. At the Exodus God brought His people out of bondage.Now He planned to bring them out of exile and back to their own land. Ultimately Jesus gave His life as the ransom for all of humanity. And despite seeing God’s wrath, the people of Israel are still God’s people. In fact, He has called them by name. This shows an intimate relationship between God and His people. Passing through the waters is an allusion to walking through the Red Sea and the Jordan River. Walking through fire is a metaphor for protection in times of danger. Think about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The Lord of all creation declares Himself to be the God of the Israelites. God is promising to gather all of His people from wherever they have been in exile. His purpose for restoring His people was to display His glory.
The next section, verses 8-13, is where God calls on Israel to be His star witness in a mock trial against false gods and idols. Israel knew that the Lord was the only true God and the people had experienced His salvation. By their very presence in exile, Israel was evidence that God is truly God. He predicted this long before it happened and only God could make this happen because He controls all of history. In verses 14-21 the Lord assured Israel of their coming redemption from Babylon and it would look like Israel’s past redemption from Egypt. In some ways it would be even greater. God didn’t want Israel to forget the exodus from Egypt but they also needed to look forward in faith. One of the purposes of this redemption was for Israel to honor God through praise. Israel’s history of rebellion had led them into crisis after crisis and their rebellion was so great they refused to ask God for help. And when they finally did, their wickedness often caused their prayers not to be heard.
Here is the promise God gave Israel. He also gives it to us. God alone can and does blot out sins, no matter how many or how great. It happened through God in Isaiah’s time. For us, this unbelievable act of grace comes through Jesus Christ.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W