Summary: A reassuring message from a long-silent God to all who need hope.
For some people, life is drudgery, and then you die. What are we resting our hopes and dreams on? Where is our peace in life and our security for eternity? The prophet Isaiah proclaims to our great relief that we can rest in God's care--now and forever. This is a wonderfully reassuring chapter, one we ought to treasure. This chapter is like stepping from the darkness of judgment to the light of salvation.
Isaiah speaks to a suffering Israel in behalf of a long-silent God, verses 1-2: “Comfort My people, speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned. Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over for all her sins.” God speaks to people who have lost hope. The only messages Israel has heard up to this point have been ones of judgment. Has God given up on His people? The prophet breaks the silence of exile with God's comforting promise. He speaks tenderly to a people, place and time where there has been no comfort. The exile in Babylon was to preserve Israel, and when it is over, there is nothing Babylon can do to prevent it. And God can do it--not because He is merely greater than the Babylonian gods--but because He is the only God.
God tells His people that, while He does not overlook sin, it “has been paid for” in full. The sacrificial system for Israel and the Cross of Christ have provided atonement for sin. Every time we look at the cross Jesus seems to say to us, “I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying” (John Stott). The Cross was “a God-forsaken death for a God-forsaken people” (J. Moltman). Pardon is spoken of as a certainty, with no room for doubt. God's offer of comfort doesn't require our deservedness but His resolve.
The prophet continues in verses 3-5 with words we associate with John the Baptist, who “prepared the way for the Lord.” John was the forerunner of the Messiah with a message of good news: “The glory of the Lord will be revealed!”
Isaiah is told in verse six to “Cry out.” We need to hear this message. He's told why in verses 7-8: “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” While humanity is fleeting, God's word endures--it is sure, unchanging, and unfailing. The Bible is not human speculation about God but divine revelation from God. The Bible is an invitation to know God. And it is a book that cannot die. God's word is permanent, imperishable, and it will be fulfilled.
Verses 9-10 proclaims good news about the One who is present with us: “Tell the towns of Judah, “Your God is coming!” Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power. He will rule with a powerful arm. See, He brings His reward with Him as He comes. He stands ready to love and rescue us from evil.” Paradise has been lost; there's no getting back to the Garden. But better than Eden is the coming new Heaven and Earth.
We then see the familiar image of God as our Good Shepherd, verse 11: “He will feed His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” He lovingly, tenderly cares for us.
And yet there is so much about God we cannot comprehend. God knows all of us; we can never know all of Him. Verses 12-14 remind us that there is more to God than we can imagine. God’s other name is “Surprise.” (Walter Brueggemann). Verse 13 asks, “Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord? Who knows enough to give Him advice or teach Him?” He is unique and categorically different from the world. God startles us with the massive wonder of creation, yet the world is small in comparison to His glory. We may gaze in wonder at the stars, but they do not control our destiny. They are witnesses to the power of the One who created them. God has measured His creation; yet the infinite God is immeasurable.
Before Him we are nothing, the sober truth of verses 15-26: “All the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket. They are nothing more than dust on the scales. He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand.” God is not impressed with the rulers of nations. He is self-sufficient; He has no equal. He exists apart from His creation. He made the world, but He is not of the world.