Comfort My People

The Prophet Speaks to the Returning Exiles (Chapters 40-66)

Isaiah 40:1-9, Calling the prophet: “Console my people.”
Isaiah 40:1-11
Isaiah 40:21-31
Isaiah 41:8-16, 21-24, God, the only God, is with Israel
Isaiah 42:1-9, The Servant: First Song
Isaiah 43:1-13, Israel is liberated by God, the only God
Isaiah 44:6-20, God is alive; idols are ridiculous
Isaiah 45:9-25, God is God, and in time everyone will acknowledge that
Isaiah 46:1-13, Idols are ridiculous; God is God
Isaiah 47:1-15, Lament for Babylon
Isaiah 48:12-22, God calls Cyrus of Persia to free the people of God
Isaiah 49:1-6, The Servant: Second Song
Isaiah 50:4-11, The Servant: Third Song
Isaiah 52:1-12, Return to Jerusalem
Isaiah 52:13-15, 53:1-12, The Servant: Fourth Song
Isaiah 54:1-17, Reassurance to Jerusalem
Isaiah 55:1-13, Conclusion of the Book of Consolation
Isaiah 56:1-8, God welcomes everyone
Isaiah 58:1-14, An indictment of Israel
Isaiah 59:1-8, 15b-21, A Further indictment
Isaiah 60:1-7, 19-22, The resurrection of Jerusalem
Isaiah 61:1-11, The Prophet? The Servant? Both?
Isaiah 62:1-12, More on the resurrection of Jerusalem
Isaiah 63:7-14, A psalm first praises God’s goodness ...
Isaiah 64:1-12, ... but goes on to ask why God is absent
Isaiah 65:1-7, 17-25, God answers
Isaiah 66:10-24, God will comfort his people personally

More of Here Am I – Send Me: Isaiah

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Isaiah 40:1-9, Calling the prophet: “Console my people.” (4/13/15)

Chapters 40 – 55 of Isaiah are known as the Book of the Consolation of Israel. It brings words of hope – both immediate and messianic – to the exiles as they return to Jerusalem and Judea after forty years in Babylon. It begins with God’s calling of the prophet, as do many of the prophetic books.

Now, you may say, “Wasn’t Isaiah called back in Chapter 6?” Ye-es, but King Uzziah died around 742 B.C. The exiles returned around 539 B.C. That’s 200 years. Most scholars think that this second part of the book was written by a different fellow from the one who wrote the first part of the book. I personally don’t have a problem with that: how many guys do you know named “Dave”? Couldn’t there have been two prophets named “Isaiah”? However, if you don’t like the idea, it’s not worth arguing about. Content is more important than authorship.

Isaiah 40:1-11 (2007, 4/13/15)

There's a joke about a little old lady who went to see a play by Shakespeare.  Asked how she liked it, she said that she wasn't impressed, because "all he did was string together a bunch of clichés."  She didn't realize that people quote Shakespeare all the time, and the "clichés" were original with him.

This chapter has several well-known verses that were original with Isaiah. The Messiah, for example, quotes from this chapter for five different songs, and church bulletins frequently quote vs. 31.

I'm sure you all know that the description of John the Baptist as "a voice crying in the wilderness:  Prepare ye the way of the LORD" is quoted from Isaiah (exactly, in the Greek). Jesus refers to vs. 11 (among others) when he says, “I am the good shepherd.”  Very often, though, we don't recognize the numerous
New Testament quotations from the Old Testament.  If your Bible doesn't have cross references between the various parts of the scriptures, I encourage you to get one that does.

Isaiah 40:21-31 (2007)

There are a lot of different ways to ask questions:
Isaiah asks the people of Israel a series of rhetorical questions in today’s scripture. Mostly he is not looking for information. He already knows the answer, but he wants the people to think about it and answer for themselves.

Isaiah 41:8-16, 21-24, God, the only God, is with Israel (4/14/15)

It may surprise you that the Jewish people weren’t particularly monotheistic until after the Exile, which in fact is the main reason they were sent into exile. Two recurrent themes in the rest of the book of Isaiah are that God alone is God, and idols and idol-worshippers are just plain silly. In Chapter 41, vss. 1-16 are devoted to the first theme, with the emphasis that God is continually with his people Israel. Vss. 21-24 are devoted to the second theme: Come on, bring on your idols! Let them show us what they can do. What? They can’t do anything?

Isaiah 42:1-9, The Servant: First Song (4/15/15)

The Book of Consolation describes a “Servant” of the Lord. Is this “Servant” the prophet, the nation of Israel, or the Messiah? Opinions in favor of each one are strongly held, and a very many scholars, theologians, Jews, and Christians hold the opinion, “yes: all three.” The Servant is one of those symbols that can and probably does have multiple layers of meaning. Certainly Matthew considered it to be a prophecy about Jesus, the Messiah, as shown when he quotes it in Matthew 12:15-21.

Isaiah 43:1-13, Israel is liberated by God, the only God (4/16/15)

Our reading today is clear. The Israelites have been liberated from their exile by God. This was possible because their God is God, and there is no other.

Isaiah 44:6-20, God is alive; idols are ridiculous (4/17/15)

Most of Isaiah is poetry, but today’s reading includes a prose section (vs. 9-20) that is a satirical comment on idols and idol-worshippers. “Look over there,” the prophet smirks. “That guy cut down a log, burned half to keep warm, and made the other half into a ‘god.’ Snicker snicker. Now he’s bowing down to the thing he made. Chuckle. He thinks the thing he made is more powerful than he is. Is he stupid, or what? HAHahahaha!”

Isaiah 45:9-25, God is God, and in time everyone will acknowledge that (4/20/15)

A recurrent theme of the prophets in general and the Book of Consolation in particular is that there is only one God, who is the LORD. This seems like fairly straightforward stuff to us, but even among the people of Israel it was an idea that took a long time to get established. Nevertheless, Isaiah is confident that eventually all the nations will acknowledge the LORD as the only God. Pray for missionaries.

Isaiah 46:1-13, Idols are ridiculous; God is God (4/21/15)

Over and over, the Book of Consolation makes the point that there is only one true God. The other so-called gods, idols of stone, metal, or wood, are nothing – even less than nothing. Far from protecting and supporting the people who worship them, they have to be made and carried by those people.

In contrast, God is the one who has made and carried his own people, although sometimes he had to punish them to show them the error of their ways. As the children of Israel returned to Judea after the Exile, God and the prophet continually reminded them of the importance of ignoring idols and clinging only to God their savior. As near as I can tell, the survivors that returned from the Exile had finally gotten the message, and they’ve been monotheistic ever since.

Isaiah 47:1-15, Lament for Babylon (4/22/15)

One of my paper Bibles calls this a “lament” for Babylon; another one says it is a taunt in the form of a dirge. It sure looks to me more like a taunt, and if it’s supposed to be a lament, it certainly is a sarcastic one! Babylon – capital of a great conquering nation that defeated Judah, razed Jerusalem, and deported the children of Israel – has been brought to her knees by the Medes and Persians. Nya nya nya! An important point for us is that God’s prophets speak to other peoples than our own.

Isaiah 48:12-22, God calls Cyrus of Persia to free the people of God (4/23/15)

An important thing to know about both the books of the prophets as a whole and the content of any particular book is that the material is not arranged chronologically, except sometimes by accident. This part of Isaiah, the Book of Consolation, is late in time – when the Exile is just ending – even though Isaiah is the first book of the prophets. The topic of the chapter we’re reading today logically precedes what we read yesterday.

God called Cyrus of Persia to defeat the Babylonians and end the Exile. Yesterday we read a dirge for the defeated Babylon. Clearly the call to action was prior to the defeat of Babylon! Whenever you are reading the prophets and things seem a little out of order, it’s probably because they are.

Isaiah 49:1-6, The Servant: Second Song (4/24/15)

Who is the Servant – the prophet? The Messiah? Or the nation of Israel? Christians tend to take this as a Messianic prophecy. This passage is referred to or quoted in Galatians, Hebrews, Revelation, 2 Thessalonians, John, and Philippians, so apparently many in the early Church thought it was Messianic.

Others, particularly Jewish scholars, tend to think it’s talking about the nation, partly because the Servant is addressed as “Israel.” Good point, although it’s often hard to tell who exactly is meant by “Jacob” or “Israel” – sometimes it means the nation, and sometimes the ancestor. I’m interested in the two references saying that the LORD formed the Servant in his mother’s womb and the fact that the Servant calls himself “I.” Those also could mean the nation; Genesis 25:23 says that two nations are in the womb of Rebekah, and in Psalm 129:1, the “I” speaker is the nation.

Overall, however, it sounds to me like an individual, which would mean the prophet or the Messiah. This is one of those places where you have to read carefully and make up your own mind.

Isaiah 50:4-11, The Servant: Third Song (4/27/15)

The Servant speaks in vss. 4-9, offering his constant faith and patient suffering to God. Vss. 10-11 exhort the rest of us – both the people of God (who fear the LORD) and the pagans (who walk in darkness) – to follow the Servant.

Isaiah 52:1-12, Return to Jerusalem (4/28/15)

Wow! Look at the contrast between the lament for Babylon that we read in Ch. 47 on April 22 and this song for Jerusalem in Ch. 52: I can’t believe this is a coincidence. I think the poet is purposefully contrasting the defeated Babylon with the restored Jerusalem. I tell you all the time that you need to read before and after to get the context, but normally I don’t think you need to read five chapters before and after!

Isaiah 52:13-15, 53:1-12, The Servant: Fourth Song (4/29/15)

I spent some time investigating the question of whether both Christians and Jews consider this section of Isaiah to be Messianic, that is, whether it considers the Suffering Servant to be the Messiah, not the nation of Israel. The answer appears to be that virtually all Christians and quite a lot of Jews equate the Servant and the Messiah.

One source said that all “authoritative” rabbis in the time of the Talmud, and indeed the Talmud itself, said it is Messianic; this source suggested that the idea of the Servant as nation is fairly late, like Medieval. Some authoritative rabbis argued that the plain reading of the text is that the Servant is not only an individual, but is also a man. (It’s worth noting that the nation of Israel is nearly always portrayed as the bride of God, or as the unfaithful wife, depending.) They said that you really have to read a lot into and out of the text to get it to mean the nation. I think they’re absolutely right; the literal, sensible reading of this passage is that the Servant is a man.

Then who? Christians and most Messianic Jews answer, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Most other Jews are still waiting for the Messiah. What we all agree on is that Isaiah prophesied that God acts in history to save his people.

Isaiah 54:1-17, Reassurance to Jerusalem (4/30/15)

I noted yesterday that Israel is commonly portrayed as the bride or wife of God, and we see an example of that today. Speaking to Jerusalem, God assures the repentant and restored city that he is her husband and defender. He will array her in precious jewels, and she will raise her children in peace.

Isaiah 55:1-13, Conclusion of the Book of Consolation (5/1/15)

God’s overwhelming love and generosity is like water to the thirsty and food to the hungry. The only appropriate response is for us to turn to God, which will make us fruitful and give us joy and peace.

Isaiah 56:1-8, God welcomes everyone (5/4/15)

We come to the third and final part of the book of Isaiah, a collection of post-Exilic poems. This first poem emphasizes the universality of God’s offer of salvation. All those who keep God’s law may be saved. Two of the most excluded groups are given specific reassurances. Not only whole men but also the mutilated will be remembered. Not only the Jews but also the foreigners may come to God’s house. Everyone is welcome!

Isaiah 58:1-14, An indictment of Israel (5/5/15)

Not everything went smoothly as the Jews returned to Judea from the Exile. They came back from Babylon as a monotheistic people (finally): they had stopped worshipping other gods. Apparently, however, they still didn’t understand what God wanted from them in the way of true worship. They wanted to substitute knowing right for doing right, fasting for feeding the hungry, and self-mortification for fair treatment of others. So do we. Love God; love your neighbor.

Isaiah 59:1-8, 15b-21, A Further indictment (5/6/15)

God is still explaining to the returned exiles what they are doing wrong and how he expects them to do right.

Many knowledgeable and devout people have argued that sometimes God separates himself from us, chiefly so that we have the opportunity to grow in faith. Maybe so; however, vss. 1 and 2 are among the scriptures that convince me that God never separates himself from me, but rather that my own sins frequently separate me from God. Fortunately, God is always holding out a hand, just in case I decide to turn around.

Isaiah 60:1-7, 19-22, The resurrection of Jerusalem (5/7/15)

God is light. So says David (Psalms 27:1), Isaiah (vss. 9-20 today), Micah (7:8), John (1 John 1:5; Revelation 22:5), and Jesus (John 8:12, 9:5). The Jews have been through some dark times in Babylon, but as they return to Jerusalem, God encourages them to turn toward him to be enlightened. God’s light will make them grow like a plant, and they in turn will shine so brightly that all the peoples of the world will turn toward them.

Isaiah 61:1-11, The Prophet? The Servant? Both? (5/11/15)

Remember the skit the Sunday before last?  Johnnie B. said that he knew all that prophecy stuff cold, but Jesus still beat him in Bible Jeopardy.   While no such school competition is recorded in the Bible, it is true that both John the Baptist and Jesus knew the prophets extremely well.  We saw earlier in the week that John quoted Isaiah to explain his ministry (e.g., John 1:23).  Today we read the passage from Isaiah that Jesus used in beginning his own ministry (Luke 4:16-19).

This beautiful poem from Isaiah promises the overflowing love of God to his servant and to his people. Early in Jesus’ ministry he read from this chapter one Sabbath in the synagogue: Whereas Isaiah reads, Now we ask ourselves, he’s reading, right?, so why isn’t the material quoted exactly? The chief reason is that he’s reading from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament made around 300 B.C. by rabbis. The average Jew in the street no longer spoke or read Hebrew by that time, let alone by the first century; they used the Septuagint as their scripture, just as we use English* translations in our churches and daily study. If you compare the Greek of Luke 4 with the Greek of Isaiah 61:1, they are exactly the same, except for half a verse picked up from Isaiah 58:6. Most New Testament (NT) quotations of the Old Testament (OT) are from the Septuagint.

* Or whatever.

Isaiah 62:1-12, More on the resurrection of Jerusalem (5/8/15)

The people and nation of Israel, bride of God, is restored to her proper place. In the biblical tradition, a significant life change is often accompanied by a change in name (e.g., Abram/Abraham; Sarai/Sarah; Jacob/Israel; Simon/Peter; Saul/Paul). As God brings the exiles home, Jerusalem’s names change from Deserted and Destroyed to My Delight, Married, Sought After, and a City Not Deserted.

Isaiah 63:7-14, A psalm first praises God’s goodness ... (5/12/15)

Not all the psalms in the Bible are in the book of Psalms. Here the poet is calling to mind all the goodness that the LORD has shown to Israel in the past. “God loved us,” he says, “but we rebelled. Then we remembered everything God has done for us.” I’m pretty sure Isaiah believes that God can and will continue to love them and keep them safe. We’ll read the rest of the poem tomorrow.

Isaiah 64:1-12, ... but goes on to ask why God is absent (5/13/15)

Okay, today you get a poem from Isaiah and a rant from me. The poem we started reading yesterday starts out praising God and goes on to ask – in a rather whining way, if you ask me – where God has been all this time and where he is now. The key is right there in the poem: God is not going to force himself on us. If we don’t call God’s name or try to hold on to him (vs. 7), if we are happily or habitually committing sins (vs. 6), if we aren’t listening or paying attention (vs. 4), we can’t expect to be in God’s presence!

So when we are in that situation, do we repent and ask for forgiveness? I sure don’t see it in this poem, and all too often I don’t see it in real life, either. Instead, we blame God: “You have let us be ruined by our sins.” Excuse me? I sin, I’m ruined, and somehow it’s God’s fault? If I’m not looking for God, I’ve got a lot of nerve saying, “You have hidden your face from me.”

Isaiah 65:1-7, 17-25, God answers (5/14/15)

Isaiah, speaking with the voice of the people, wrote a poem saying, “God, where are you when we need you?” Today Isaiah – speaking this time with the voice of God – answers the question: “In spite of your obvious and continual sin, I’m right here. I want to forgive you and bless you.” All we ever have to do to find God is turn away from our sins.

Isaiah 66:10-24, God will comfort his people personally (5/15/15)

We’ve finally reached the last chapter of Isaiah. This book has been a lot gloomier than I remembered, probably because we normally only hear the cheery bits at Christmas and Easter. Remember, God only sends prophets when you are in trouble, so they are for the most part a gloomy bunch. Nevertheless, nearly every prophet also delivers a message of hope: God loves you! You can turn back! “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you,” God says.

More of Here Am I – Send Me: Isaiah
Isaiah Speaks During a Period of Decline (Chapters 1-17)
Isaiah Speaks During a Period of Decline (Chapters 19-39)
Isaiah Consoles the Returning Exiles (Chapters 40-66)

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