Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Oct 4 2019 - Isaiah 40 – Comfort for God's people

In August we spent a number of days in the first half of Isaiah where the prophet warned Jerusalem and Judah that their idolatry and lack of concern for the needy was inviting God's judgment. That judgment has now fallen; the city of Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Babylonians and the people have been taken off into captivity. From chapter 40 onwards the scene has changed as God addresses those who have been exiled from the Promised Land with words of encouragement as he declares his love for his wayward people and his determination to save and restore them.

Chapter 40 begins with God telling his prophet or messenger to go and proclaim words of comfort to his people. Note how God uses the words, "my people" and "your God" (v.1). He has not abandoned them, nor has he torn up the covenant he made with Abraham long ago. These are still his people and he is still their God. Note also that God tells his messenger to "speak tenderly" to Jerusalem. This is the voice of the lover to the one he loves. These are indeed words of comfort.

God reassures his people that their sin has been paid for (v. 2). We should not read this to mean that the suffering of God's people in exile was sufficient to wash away their sins. This verse points us forward to Isaiah 53 which has more to say about the one who has borne the sin and judgment of God's people. All that they need to know at this stage is that their debt has been fully discharged.

Secondly, God wants his people to know that a path is being prepared for them to return from exile (vv. 3-5). Babylon to Jerusalem was no easy journey, particularly for families travelling with children. God declares he will prepare a highway for them – a motorway in contemporary terms. Mountains will be levelled and valleys filled in and rough places made smooth so that God himself can come and lead his people out of captivity and into the Promised Land as he did in the days of the Exodus. God will do this to display not only his love and saving grace but also his glory (v. 5).

God promises his presence will be with his people (vv. 6-11). The people may be all too aware of their own weakness (vv. 6-7), but God's word, promises and purpose are unshakeable and sure. The messenger is told to run ahead and proclaim the good news to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judah shouting that God is coming, leading his people back home like a shepherd with his sheep:

He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. (v.11)

What a tender picture of God's care for his people – individual care for those in need.

The chapter ends with a wonderful picture of the incomparable power of the living God (vv. 25-31). The Israelites were filled with all manner of fears concerning their return. But God assures them:

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint. (vv. 29-31)

We also are on a journey towards the inheritance that God has promised us. Our Saviour has paid the price for our sins and has gone before us. He is now leading us on into the inheritance he has prepared for us. He is the Good Shepherd who will ensure that none of his sheep are lost on the way or fall through wounds or lack of strength. Our safe arrival in glory is dependent not on our own strength but on his almighty power. Read this chapter again and take to heart its words of comfort and reassurance. Put your trust in the one who has power to do more than we ask or imagine.

Lord, we thank you for this lovely chapter of your word and for all the promises and words of reassurance it contains. Help us to lift our eyes from ourselves and our weakness and to fix them on our wonderful Saviour and his almighty power. Help us to encourage others to trust in him.

Peter Misselbrook