Summary: The arm of God rules, and the arms of God are tender.
These are words of comfort for a rejected and downcast people. They are words of comfort for a sinful people; for God’s people.
They are words of comfort! “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (40:1). Are you and I prepared to be instruments of God’s comfort to rejected people, instruments of encouragement to downcast people, and tangible signs of God’s forgiveness to people weighed down and tormented by sin? “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” (40:2).
Speak tenderly. Will you be tender in your speech? Will your manner, your body language, your speech and your attitude be tender? Will you be tender without partiality, whoever the person may be?
Sin has been paid for!
God is holy! Sin cannot be, and is not overlooked by God. Sin must be dealt with. “The Sovereign Lord comes with power and his arm rules for him” (40:10). The arm of the holy God rules in power because he is righteous. The sins of men and women, and the sins of organisations, companies and nations cannot and will not go unpunished. However, the ruling arm in verse 10 is the tender arm in verse 11 where God gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.
The God Of justice and righteousness is also the God of tender compassion. It is from the Lord’s hand that Jerusalem receives “Double for all her sins” (40:2); and I have it on good authority (Alec Motyer) that this means the action of God whereby he folds or doubles over, like the folding of a cloth. It is the God who remembers our sins no more.
Later in Isaiah chapter 43 we read this: “You have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offences. I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (43:24-25). So, God folds over, he doubles over, he blots out and remembers our sins no more.
Will we speak tenderly to the downcast, to the rejected, and to those burdened with sin?
And what of us? What of God’s people? This prophecy was for Israel, God’s chosen people, the Jews. It is still for them, but it is also for us, because we have put our trust in Jesus, Israel’s Messiah. So God speaks to us as a God of holiness, not prepared to put up with sin, but also a God of tenderness tending his flock like a shepherd (40:11). Do you know God as a God of tenderness, or are you constantly terrified of his holy anger? He is tender!
We change but God does not change. Our faith shifts and wobbles but God stands firm. Our gifts and abilities may come and go, but God graciously gives gifts to the church in abundance in order to serve our local community and the people within it. Outwardly, we might be attractive, impressive, handsome or beautiful, but there will come a time when outwardly we are none of those things. We change but God does not change.
“Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (40:7-8). Without doubt, even God’s people are like grass or flowers that come and go, but God’s word stands for ever, unchanging, for ever faithful, dependable and steadfast.
Is there an area of your life, an aspect of your Christian commitment that is withering and falling? If so, let the unchanging God minister to you. Amen.