Summary: Outline: Purchased consolation, vss 1-2 Coming consolation, vss 3-5 A Word of consolation, vss 6-9 Our Consoler, vss 10-11
Most people in Israel weren’t especially thrilled when a prophet showed up. That usually meant some bad news, a critique, and harsh warnings of impending judgment. In fact, the previous 39 chapters of Isaiah were just that. But here in chapter 40, things change; the welcome news is of comfort. When we turn from Isaiah 39 to chapter 40 it’s like stepping from the darkness of judgment to the light of salvation. Isaiah must’ve been smiling when he spoke these words; something prophets didn’t do a lot of! He speaks a message of encouragement for his people. It’s been said, “If the person is breathing, they need encouragement.” So this is a message for us all.
A) Purchased Consolation, verses 1-2…
Israel was enduring harsh suffering in captivity. In verse one, God breaks the silence of Israel’s exile with words of consolation to the afflicted: “Comfort, comfort my people”…the repetition indicates a sense of urgency and the gravity of this message. The Hebrew word “comfort” means to “encourage” or “speak tenderly”. Hope has come! The seeds of comfort often take root in the soil of adversity. Israel’s been through a lot, but what will happen matters more than what has happened. There is a tone of certainty in these words. Plus, the original language conveys that this comfort will continue. The “hard service” of verse two refers to Israel’s punishment: the Babylonian Captivity, a time of misery and distress, paid for in the currency of affliction. This exile was not to destroy the Jews but to correct and restore them. So it’s time to spread the good news: the exile is over! The debt has been paid.
In Bible times, if a man owed a debt he could not pay, his creditor would write the amount of the debt on a piece of paper and nail it to the front door of the man's house so that everyone passing would see that here was a man who had not honored his debts. But when the debt was paid, the creditor would double the paper over and nail it to the door as a testimony that it was paid-in-full. Israel’s debt, according to verse 2, has been doubly paid.
Regardless of what may be going on in or around us, we are accepted as God’s beloved, and our sins have been paid for. Jesus has chosen us and will not abandon us. Consolation comes by the presence of God in our hearts. When we’re discouraged, it’s a comfort to know that we have support: people we can to go to with our burdens, and the assurance that God is always nearby. We need not despair. Like the Jewish exiles, we are promised a homecoming. Frederick Buechner writes: “No matter how much the world shatters us to pieces, we carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons us.”
B) Coming Consolation, verses 3-5…
Isaiah offers a prophecy of another prophet who will announce the advent of God’s Kingdom rule. We know the rest of the story, as these words were fulfilled in John the Baptist. God’s coming will be not be hindered by obstacles; and His glory, His sovereign majesty, will be revealed. Nothing will stand in the way of God’s deliverance; all spiritual barriers will be removed, and Israel will be redeemed.
Before the days of interstate highways, when a monarch set out on an official visit, the route was prepared; all obstacles were removed so his travel would go unhindered. God’s coming was to deliver Israel from foreign captivity and lead them home--the greatest comfort possible, and the end of Israel’s sorrow.
“The glory of the Lord will be revealed,” verse five. The Hebrew word for glory conveys the idea of weight. In Middle Eastern culture, a “weighty” person has wisdom, stability, reliability, patience, and substance. The Latin term has recently gained popularity—gravitas. God has the weight of glory. We can add to that glory; John Piper notes that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
Do you sometimes feel like you’ve reached the end of your endurance? Consolation is coming. Alexander Solzhenitsyn suffered for years in a Soviet gulag, a terrible Siberian prison. At one point he was so weak and discouraged that he decided to stop working. He knew this would mean the guards would beat him to death, but he had given up. So one day he stopped working and simply leaned on his shovel. But then another prisoner, a fellow-Christian, quickly drew a cross in the dirt at Solzhenitsyn’s feet, then erased it before a guard could see it. That encouragement enabled Solzhenitsyn to keep going. All around us are people in need of consolation.
C) Word of Consolation, verses 6-9…