Reading through the Bible together
Comfort, yes, comfort My people! This is God’s plea to Isaiah at a time of deep distress, when the Assyrians were threatening the take-over of Judah at the start of the 7th cent. BC. This chapter in Isaiah became the Scriptural foundation put to music by Handel in his famous Messiah, sang by a thousand choirs around the world each Christmastime. At the end of his 259-page oratorio, composed in a mere 24 days, Handel wrote simply, and famously, “SDT” or Soli Deo Gloria—to God alone the glory.
Indeed, the entire last section of Isaiah, particularly chapters 40 to 55, are so awesome, so grand, so filled with hope and the goodness of God, that Handel’s response is appropriate to the occasion. God, and God alone will make things right, He will finish what He’s started, and will bring hope out of chaos!
Judah was afraid. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, had fallen to their enemies just a couple of decades earlier due to their great sins (2 Kgs. 17). King Ahaz had led the sinking of Judah to a new spiritual low. Hezekiah was a good king, but the constant invasions of Judah by the Assyrian armies just wouldn’t stop. The people of Judah, leaders as well as the poor, had become idolatrous, selfish, and corrupt; they had forgotten righteousness (see Prophets and Kings, 305-306).
Yet, Isaiah’s message was “Behold your God!” (v.9), and “Wait on the Lord” (v.31). It is God who ends his people’s warfare and pardons their iniquity. He gives His own “double” for their sins: pardon as well as peace (v.2). It is He Himself who will come one day, as John the Baptist “prepares the way of the Lord,” so the glory of God will finally “be revealed” (vv.3-5). It is God’s own word that will outlast all flesh on the earth (vv.6-8).
“Lift up your voice!” (v.9). God will come with tender care over His flock (vv.10-11). He is very big—bigger than the oceans and the mountains and bigger than all understanding (vv.12-14). God is bigger than the nations that may threaten you (vv.15-17). He is not a mere idol of gold or wood (vv. 18-20). God is bigger than the mighty (vv.21-24). He Himself made the universe! (vv.25-26).
It is remarkable than in the midst of Judah’s apostasy, God’s message through Isaiah is to speak tender words of hope to her heart. How often have we charted our own course and found ourselves in trouble. How often have we lent deaf ears to the wisdom of God and sank ourselves so low we cannot see the light any more. It is while in this pit of experience that God tells Isaiah to cry out to you and me: look to Me now, let’s forget the past, I will make all things new.
“Why do you say…My way is hidden from the Lord?...Have you not known? Have you not heard?” The Creator’s understanding is unsearchable. But He will give “power to the weak…Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, (eagles use the wind to glide, instead of fighting it to fly) they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (vv.28-31).
May Today be the beginning of hope, stronger hope than ever before.
Ron E M Clouzet
NAD Evangelism Institute Director
Professor of Ministry and Theology
Andrews University Seminary