Handel’s “The Messiah” –

Comfort Ye My People

Isaiah 40:1-40, Comfort ye; Every Valley; And the Glory of the Lord
Haggai 2:1-9, Malachi 3:1, Thus saith the Lord
Malachi 3:2-5, But who may abide; And He shall purify
Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:23, Behold, a virgin shall conceive
Isaiah 40:9-10, 60:1, O thou that tellest

More of Handel’s “The Messiah”

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The city of Jerusalem on Mt. Zion. Click to enlarge. See below for provenance.
Isaiah 40:1-40, Comfort ye; Every Valley; And the Glory of the Lord (11/26/12)

I remember clearly the first time my father heard “The Messiah.” After a few moments of listening to the recording, he turned to me and said, quite seriously, “What language is it they’re singing in?”

Between the King James English, the four-part singing, and the orchestra, it can be difficult to hear the words of Handel’s oratorio. Between the buying, wrapping, mailing, and cooking, it can be difficult to understand the message of comfort that God sends to us at Christmas and every day of the year.

This Advent, thanks to a great suggestion from fellow-reader Terri L., we will work our way through the lyrics of the “Messiah” and their scriptural basis. We’ll read the King James Version so that we can hear the words being sung.

The first announcement is Isaiah the prophet’s message of comfort and urgency: The LORD is coming! Get the road ready!

Haggai 2:1-9, Malachi 3:1, Thus saith the Lord (11/27/12)

Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, is the same person as Zerubbabel son of Salathiel, ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:12-13 and Luke 3:27). Zerubbabel was descended from David in the direct male line, and if the Jews had been allowed to have a king after the Exile, he would likely have been it. As it was, he was governor of Judea under the Persians (see Ezra 4:3, for example).

After they got back to Judea, the Jews rebuilt the Temple, and most of the people were thrilled. Even so, the new Temple couldn’t hold a candle to Solomon’s Temple – they didn’t have the money or the skilled workers – and when the old people who knew the old Temple saw the replacement, they wept (Ezra 3:12).

God knew how the old people felt, but he said to them through the prophet Haggai, “This is my house, and I will make it greater than it ever was before!” Do the best you can, and God will bless the result.

Malachi 3:2-5, But who may abide; And He shall purify (11/28/12)

Changes will be made when the LORD suddenly appears in his temple. None of us will be able to stay on our feet. The sons of Levi – the priests and temple workers – were accustomed to make the burnt offerings, but Malachi says that when the LORD comes, they will be refined by fire. The LORD will mete out justice to the rest of us as well. As the writer of Hebrews said, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!” (Hebrews 10:31).

Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:23, Behold, a virgin shall conceive (11/29/12)

One of my fervent and repeated prayers is, “Lord, please don’t give me a sign!” I’d probably ignore it or misunderstand it, and then I’d really be in trouble!

Apparently King Ahaz felt the same way about signs. Jerusalem was under siege, and the people were afraid. God told Isaiah to go to Ahaz and say that God would give him a sign that things would be okay. Ahaz declined to ask for a sign, which made God a little exasperated with him. Isaiah said, “Fine! You won’t ask for a sign, but you’re going to get one anyway.” The siege was abandoned a short time later (2 Kings 16:5).

The sign given to Ahaz is also considered to be one of the Messianic prophecies. The thing about prophecy is that it often speaks both to the future and to the present.

Isaiah 40:9-10, 60:1, O thou that tellest (11/30/12)

When I went to my electronic King James Version, the words for today’s reading were not quite the same as in the Messiah. I also checked one of our own paper copies of the King James Version, published in 1865, with the same result. I looked at the Jewish Publication Society Bible, which turned out to be identical to The Messiah; that’s what we’re reading today.

The JPS and the KJV are identical in the vast majority of the text, so I am a little surprised – but not worried – by the difference. It’s worth knowing that Jewish and Christian scholars routinely work together to determine the best translation of the Old Testament. It’s also worth knowing that differences in translation do not affect our understanding of the good tidings!

More of Handel’s “The Messiah”
Comfort Ye My People
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth
He shall feed His flock
Thy rebuke hath broken His heart
Unto which of the angels

Copyright 2012 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.
The illustration showing the city of Jerusalen sitting atop Mr. Zion is from the Binns family Bible, now in the private collection of Regina Hunter.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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