Thursday, February 28, 2008

Isaiah, Chapter 40

In chapter 40 of Isaiah today we will see the prophet Isaiah move on from his prose style and back into poetic prophesy. We also see the focus shift from the Assyrian threat of the previous chapters up to the looming threat of the Babylonian exile. As king Hezekiah was promised in chapter 39, the kingdom of Judah would eventually be overrun and shipped off to exile in Babylon. Hezekiah reigned from 716 B.C. to 786 B.C., while the actual exile to Babylon began in 605 B.C. and continued to 581 B.C. The Israelites would not return until 537 B.C., so Isaiah is talking about an event today that would happen nearly 200 years after his own death.

Though his initial prophetic verses contain a warning about the suffering that the Israelites would face during their exile, there is also hope in them. In chapter 40 here Isaiah offers hope that any exile would be temporary. Eventually they would return to Jerusalem, and the exile itself would be used as a disciplinary action from God directed at Israel for turning away from God. Even though His people would suffer, God would not forget them.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD's hand
double for all her sins.

3 A voice of one calling:
"In the desert prepare
the way for the LORD ;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.

5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." – Isaiah 40:2-5

The unfortunate thing is that even forgiven sin has its consequences. The nation of Israel had sinned, therefore it had to suffer with the Babylonian exile. Isaiah clearly points out here that it would not be permanent suffering, however. God would never and will never forget His people even when it looks like He has. We can carry this over today when we see the quiet hand of God working in our lives even in the face of trouble.

During a conversation Tuesday night a friend of mine asked what it is like to feel the Holy Spirit. The way I explained it was that once you realize you are feeling for the first time, especially in quiet prayer and reflection, you can look back and see other times that it was at work in your life. That relates to today's reading because there is a promise here not only for the Babylonian exiles, but for everyone on earth beyond that because this relates to Christ's life as well. The voice calling in the desert here is a reference to John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus by preaching the need for repentance. He prepared the way for God Himself in human form to come to earth. We see this glory of the Lord in Christ, and we feel it with the promise of the Holy Spirit. As we saw in Acts, the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost and therefore it cannot be taken away. Isaiah prepares the way for this promise nearly 800 years before it happens, but it is still relevant today because we already have the Holy Spirit.


  1. What is your own form of exile as discipline?
  2. Could Isaiah himself be considered a voice in the wilderness?
  3. How do you interpret feeling the Holy Spirit?

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