Guests: Alden Thompson and Zdravko Stefanovic
Read: Isaiah 40
Background Considerations It is in Isaiah 40 that all students of the book recognize a dramatic shift. Whether one attributes this to another author or not, the shift is here. For the next several chapters (most would suggest through 55) one perceives almost unbridled joy, a sense of God’s forgiveness, mercy and positive attitudes toward the audience which has suffered extensively and now begins to feel the possibility of hope for a brighter future. What is the reason for the shift? What historical setting might be assumed to exist behind the words of comfort and encouragement. The prophets, as all biblical writers, did not write in a vacuum. What lies behind the scenes – a particularly disruptive period of Judah’s history; a battle from which Judah hoped to recover; the Babylonian captivity? If it matters to try to understand the background of a text in order to interpret it more correctly, then these questions matter. Most students of the book feel that chapters 40-55 assume the Babylonian captivity. What are the implications of this for our understanding and appreciation of this material?
Creation theology receives a boost in other literature coming from the Babylonian captivity, evidently because it gave renewed reason to trust in God during times of crisis. If God could create the world in the first place, maybe God could create something new for us, for me, to give us hope.
Relevant Biblical Passages
- Read quickly through Isaiah 40-55 during the week, maybe a time or two. But be sure to read Isaiah 40 in its entirety every day this week! This is one of the most majestic and marvelous chapters in the Bible and deserves our attention.
- Isaiah 40:1-2 – On these two verses rest the shift to uninterrupted comfort and joy. Comfort, tenderness, an end to hostilities, pardon, even the amazing note that God had punished her double for her sins – these are the reasons for renewed hope. What do we make of the last point? Does God here confess to something? Or is this prophets hyperbole for the affect of giving comfort and hope? Some of the exilic psalms (44 and 74, for example) complain about the exile as a bit much for the sins committed. Is this the response from God?
- Isaiah 40:3-11 – An amazing set of voices, making announcements and proclamations about God’s arrival to deliver Judah – from its prison, to its homeland. And we can trust the announcement because, while humans are transitory and like grass, God’s word “will stand forever.” The glory (honor, weight) of the Lord will shine forth, as God makes his way, unhindered by hills and valleys, to carry out his mission of rescue and return.
- Isaiah 40:12-26 – These verses, a creation hymn, are so extremely rich and majestic. They should simply be read over and over to be appreciated, perhaps set up for antiphonal, responsive readings in a worship setting, as they would have originally been performed. Who can compare with this God, the creator of the universe? Who has done these marvelous things? How powerful is this God? How should we worship this God?
- Isaiah 40:27-31 – But in the glow of the majesty of the celebration of the creator God, what is the real purpose of this chapter? And how do these verses point us in the right direction? It’s one thing to know and celebrate God’s majestic power and performance as creator of all; it’s the next step to base one’s hope for strength and a future on the fact that this same God pays attention to our needs and will provide the strength and hope we need to go on whatever the hurdles in the way.
Contributions to the study of Isaiah At the end of the day, which is more important – to be sure everyone is in line and behaves correctly and to say “I told you so” if they get out of line and reap the results of their folly, or comfort and joy?
Lessons for Life An interesting connection between paying attention to God’s good creation and finding encouragement in it. Hmmm.