Each year, from November 5 to 11, Canadians join together to celebrate Veterans’ Week. During this week, hundreds of commemorative ceremonies and events will take place across the country to remember and recognize the achievements of our Veterans and honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Throughout our history, in the face of injustice, Canadians respond. (http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/veterans-week)
As great as the sacrifice and dedication has been, we continue to live in a world with ongoing conflict. People living in impoverished and war torn countries wonder if the world has forgotten them. Canadians still have work to do and therefore, Canada continues to be a force for justice and care.
In the midst of difficulty and perceived failure, when we experience trials and afflictions, we tend to feel that we have been forsaken and forgotten. Life’s trials trouble us and cause us doubt, confusion, and anguish. We ask: “Where is God now when I need him?”...God’s people need to hear the sweet message of God’s love for them as long as they live in the chaos, confusion, and conflict of human history. (Braun, J. A. (2001). Isaiah 40-66. The People’s Bible (180–181). Milwaukee, Wis.: Northwestern Pub. House.).
During the sixth century B.C., God’s people we driven from their homeland and wondered if God forgot about them. Isaiah perceives in the historic liberation of God’s people by Cyrus a model of a greater liberation by the servant of the Lord in this age of gospel fulfillment. We’re no longer waiting for something better. (Ortlund, R. C., Jr, & Hughes, R. K. (2005). Isaiah : God saves sinners. Preaching the Word (327). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.)
God does not forget His people. Now is "The Time of God’s Favor". He shows his wondrous love and provision through His 1)Covenant (Isaiah 49:8-10), 2) Care (Isaiah 49:11-14), and 3) Compassion (Isaiah 49:15-16)
1) God’s Covenant: (Isaiah 49:8-10)
Isaiah 49:8-10 Thus says the LORD: "In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners, ’Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ’Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.
In verse 8, the meaning of time of favor is based upon the year of Jubilee, described in Leviticus 25:8ff. That time when the captives were freed, and inheritances restored to the rightful tenants under God’s ownership (see also Isa. 62:2) (Oswalt, J. N. (1998). The Book of Isaiah. Chapters 40-66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (297). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)
• It is that time when God shows favor to His people, namely, the period when Christ was upon earth, the fullness of the times (Gal. 4:4).
God says that in the past: I have answered you. That God has answered here has the sense of respond to with support, as the parallel help shows. This and the preceding parallel verb refer to continuous action rather than to an act performed once for all. The words time and day are significant, for they make clear that God does not act capriciously or haphazardly. At the time determined He performs His work.
In the statement: " in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people," "The Time of God’s Favor" is now explained. Christ himself the very embodiment of God’s pledge of grace to us. He is how God pours out favor upon us and how we are bound to God in return. From the beginning, God has given himself to us through covenants, through formal agreements we can bank on (e.g., Genesis 15). God is not ad-libbing his way along. He has a plan. He is a serious person who takes us seriously but who also knows how weak our faith is. He knows we need the strong assurance that he has given himself to us by oath. This is the way of God. And now Isaiah shows us that Christ is himself God’s covenant with weak people who have failed to keep their end of the bargain. Jesus said at his last supper with his disciples, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Corinthians 11:25) (Ortlund, R. C., Jr, & Hughes, R. K. (2005). Isaiah : God saves sinners. Preaching the Word (327–328). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.).
For the original audience, under the imagery of the restoration of a devastated land, the gift of salvation is described. The description reflects upon the division of the land under Joshua, and leans upon the expressions used in verse 6. To raise up the land has primary reference to the land of Palestine, and the parallel expression desolate heritages/inheritances reflects upon the desolation that has come upon the land of promise. These heritages/inheritances had been distributed by lot under Joshua (cf. Josh. 13ff.). The picture refers primarily to the reestablishment of the Davidic kingdom under the Messiah, when all the true seed of Abraham will receive their promised inheritance.
Please turn to 2 Corinthians 6
By quoting Isa. 49:8 to summarize his own appeal to the Corinthians, Paul identifies his apostolic ministry with Isaiah’s prophetic role of calling Israel to repentance and perseverance in view of the coming day of redemption and judgment/salvation. Paul declares that this time of salvation has already arrived in Christ! Amazingly, God is already pouring out many of the blessings of the age to come (Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (2231). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.).
2 Corinthians 6:1-13 [6:1]Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, "In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. (ESV)
The day of Salvation, will most likely mean difficulty and hardship, as it did for the first audience of Isaiah and Corinth. Yet, it comes will the full resources of heaven and a realization, that what is lost is of fleeting value, but what is gained, is of eternal value. The glory of the gospel shines forth from a Christian’s life in the way he or she responds to suffering and opposition
The language in verse 9 is taken from the exile, but the release, to "Come out", is accomplished by the Gospel. The prisoners, bound in sin, are commanded to "Come out". The obvious and intended irony, is that through their own power they cannot, just as the primary audience was under physical captivity, the picture was to show the parallel of being unable under in human power, to escape the spiritual bondage to sin. They are in darkness and commanded to "Appear", in essence to: "Show yourself, step forward under the light of accountability".
The prophet Isaiah then describes the blessedness now for prisoners who had been in darkness. The Messiah will do personally what Israel failed to do corporately. Christ will “restore desolate heritages/inheritances,” by redeeming the chosen, freeing the prisoners, and enlightening those in darkness (McKenna, D., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1994). Vol. 18: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 18 : Isaiah 40-66. The Preacher’s Commentary series (127). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.).
God’s work of blessing is pictured for a flock that will pasture on ways that had formerly been without pasture. Now there is a complete change, and along the ways as they go the flock will find pasture. Likewise the previously bare hills where nothing grew now prove to be the pastures for the flock. Thus, the flock need not even turn aside far to find pasture, and where one would least expect it, it is present. In fact, the most unlikely places are the places of pasture.
• God will often negate the best efforts of those who try to achieve fulfillment apart from Him. For a season they may seem successful, but the greatest human resources will fail and heavenly resources will be found in the most unlikely places for those who trust in Him.
In verse 10, the prophet continues the figures of a flock. As a result of the rich pasturage they shall not hunger or thirst. The second half of the line states that the flock will be protected from the burning sun of the desert. Isaiah is apparently reflecting upon the exodus, for as Calvin well says, “… It is customary with the prophets to mention the departure of the people out of Egypt whenever they intend to demonstrate the kindness of God, either publicly towards all, or privately towards any individual.” In the second line of the verse the reason is given for what is stated in the first. The people will not wander through the desert aimlessly, nor will their leader be unconcerned about them; but He will show them mercy.
Please turn to Revelation 7
The participle expresses tenderness and comfort. He who leads His people through desolate places is concerned to show them mercy. Isaiah employs the beautiful figure of springs of water to express the truth that God provides for all the needs of His people and blesses them abundantly (cf. Isa. 35:7; Eccl. 12:6.). They find not merely a small stream, but flowing, abundant springs of water, even in desolate places.
John reveals that this condition is a foretaste of eternity:
Revelation 7:9-17 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. "Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (ESV)
Illustration There is a difference in care and commitment with God’s Covenant and a simple agreement. In modern times we define a host of relations by simple agreements. These are usually for goods or services. The Lord did not establish a simple agreement with Israel or with the church. He created a covenant. There is a difference. Simple agreements are broken when one of the parties fails to keep his promise. If, let us say, a patient fails to keep an appointment with a doctor, the doctor is not obligated to call the house and inquire, “Where were you? Why didn’t you show up for your appointment?” He simply goes on to his next patient and has his appointment-secretary take note of the patient who failed to keep the appointment. The patient may be charged a fee and find it harder the next time to see the doctor. He broke an informal contract. A covenant is more like the ties of a parent to her child than it is a doctor’s appointment. If a child fails to show up for dinner, the parent’s obligation, unlike the doctor’s, isn’t canceled. Out of love, the parent finds out where the child is and makes sure everything’s is alright (Larson, C. B. (2002). 750 engaging illustrations for preachers, teachers & writers (95). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.).
2) God’s Care (Isaiah 49:11-14)
Isaiah 49:11-14 And I will make all my mountains a road, and my highways shall be raised up. Behold, these shall come from afar, and behold, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene." Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me."
The prophet continues his description of God’s gracious work in verse 11, changing the figure to that of a marching people. In the way of their march there will be obstacles of all kinds. These obstacles are pictured as mountains. These belong to God, and He has sovereignty in disposing of them as He will. Inasmuch as He is their Creator, He is able to lower them so that they become the way itself. Thus, a complete reversal of the situation occurs. The way over which the people are to travel is specially raised up, so that their way will be clear to them, preventing them from going astray and protecting them from other threats. The main emphasis of the prophet is upon a spiritual return from the bondage of sin unto the one living and true God. The thought is similar to that expressed in 40:4.
• The picture should be clear for us. The path that God often has for us will have tremendous obstacles before us. There are there to both strengthen us and show how God can show His greatness to others.
The prophet now points out in verse 12, the extent of the dispersion in that he indicates the places from which the redeemed will come, a regathering of the children of God that were scattered to the four corners of the earth (cf. 43:5ff.). At the same time only two technical terms are used to indicate the directions. The first points to the regions north of Palestine and the second to the west, the isles of the Mediterranean Sea.
The other two directions (if the reference really is to them) are indicated by more general terms. If the first term from afar refers to the far east, there is great debate as to the land of Syene.
It need not be maintained that each of these words represents a place where the Jews had actually been in exile. The language is universal; at the destruction of the theocracy the concentration of God’s people in a nation had been destroyed and they were cast out in the earth to live among other peoples. Now, however, when the day of favor has come, they return unto the Lord from all the earth. The earth gives back what belongs to the Lord.
Commensurate with the magnitude of the salvation is the command that all nature rejoice in verse 13. By commanding all nature to rejoice he is foretelling the joyful change that the day of favor will bring. As in 1:2 so here also, both heaven and earth are used without the definite article. The first two verbs are imperatives, Sing/Shout and exult/rejoice. The heavens and earth are to sing/shout for joy at the marvelous redemption the God of Israel has accomplished. They that proclaim the glory of God (Ps. 19:1) are now to break forth into joyful singing/shouting (cf. 42:10–12; 44:23; 52:9 and 55:12ff.).
The third verb in Isaiah 49: 13 is a jussive, break forth, O mountains, i.e. let them into singing/in jubilation. Ecology is a term usually applied to the environment where everything is connected with everything else. Because the environment is so finely tuned, we know that pollutants on earth can produce holes in space, and explosions on earth sends shock waves to the stars. Isaiah tells us that ecology may also be applied to the spiritual realm as well. Salvation does not stop when it spreads to the ends of the earth. Because of the connections within creation that caused the universe to groan under the curse of human sin, the same connections will cause creation to sing praises for human salvation (McKenna, D., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1994). Vol. 18: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 18 : Isaiah 40-66. The Preacher’s Commentary series (128–129). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.).
Please turn over to Isaiah 42
It is the task of the converted Gentiles to praise God to even more Gentiles in order to bring them into the ranks of the people of God (Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (1316). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.).
Isaiah 42:10-12 Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the end of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants. Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar inhabits; let the habitants of Sela sing for joy, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory to the LORD, and declare his praise in the coastlands (ESV) (cf. Romans 8:19-21).
• Worldwide redemption calls for cosmic celebration. The people of God, now from all the nations, are so richly comforted and loved, it takes nothing less than the heavens, the earth, and the mountains to shout their hurrahs to God. (Ortlund, R. C., Jr, & Hughes, R. K. (2005). Isaiah : God saves sinners. Preaching the Word (328). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.).
That the Lord has comforted, has a connotation of reestablishing. The thought is that God has shown comfort to His people in that He has once more established them as such. The phrase his people refers not merely to those who were Israelites after the flesh but to all whom He has chosen unto life eternal. Parallel is a verb in the imperfect ("will have compassion"), which expresses a continuous work, namely, that of showing mercy. The objects of this mercy are the afflicted ones who belong to the Lord. The One who shows them mercy is their true Protector.
The redemption just pictured was contrary to Zion’s expectations. Not only had Zion not created that redemption herself, verse 14 states that she even believed that her God had forsaken and forgotten her. The first verb is best rendered as a past, for it expresses the attitude of Zion before the deliverance was accomplished. Zion designates the chosen people, whose great city is Zion, the capital and center of the true religion. Zion’s despair is expressed in a chiastic manner. To be forsaken suggests an outward rejection, whereas to be forgotten suggests an inner (feeling of being abandoned). Zion believed that she was completely forgotten of her God. That cry is one of unbelief and doubt, for God had promised that the Messiah would come, and that there would never be wanting a man to sit upon the throne of David. When the people of God, the true Zion, are plunged into the darkness of despair and doubt, the glorious light of the day of favor appears to them.
Zion concentrates on the implied wrongs done here in Nebuchadnezzar’s invasions of 598 and 587 B.C. and the intervening decades. The complaint ignores the thrust of the Vision’s presentation that Yahweh had called on exiles to be messengers of good news to Zion (40:1–11) some twenty-five years before, that the rise of Cyrus was directly related to Yahweh’s plan to rebuild Jerusalem (44:28b; 45:13b), and that Yahweh had inspired the edict of Cyrus and the expedition of Sheshbazzar in the previous decade (48:20 and Ezra 1:1–8). (Yet) Sheshbazzar had apparently accomplished very little and that exilic Israel had, by her own admission (49:4), been ineffective in doing her assigned work (Watts, J. D. W. (2002). Vol. 25: Word Biblical Commentary : Isaiah 34-66. Word Biblical Commentary (189). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.).
Illustration: From 1986 to 1990, Frank Reed was held hostage in a Lebanon cell. For months at a time Reed was blindfolded, living in complete darkness, or chained to a wall and kept in absolute silence. On one occasion, he was moved to another room, and, although blindfolded, he could sense others in the room. Yet it was three weeks before he dared peek out to discover he was chained next to Terry Anderson and Tom Sutherland. Although he was beaten, made ill, and tormented, Reed felt most the lack of anyone caring. He said in an interview with Time, “Nothing I did mattered to anyone. I began to realize how withering it is to exist with not a single expression of caring around [me].… I learned one overriding fact: caring is a powerful force. If no one cares, you are truly alone.” The care that we show others speaks volumes as to the God who cares for us. (Larson, C. B. (2002). 750 engaging illustrations for preachers, teachers & writers (46–47). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.).
3) God’s Compassion: (Isaiah 49:15-16)
Isaiah 49:15-16 "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.(ESV)
In verse 15 a question is asked to which a negative answer would be expected. How great is the love of the mother for the little child that she nurses; surely she will not forget the child, one that has come forth from her own womb. Night and day the child demands her attention and affection. That a woman should forget her nursing child is unthinkable. Yet, even these may forget, for mothers, like everyone else are sinful and their love is sometimes overcome. Even the greatest of human love may fail. We have only to think of the recurring stories of mothers standing passively by while their boyfriends abuse the mothers’ children. But whatever the failures of mothers, God does not forget! God’s attachment is more than a mother’s. The prophet asks us to think of a mother’s attachment and then go one step farther (Oswalt, J. N. (1998). The Book of Isaiah. Chapters 40-66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (305). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
Please turn to Jeremiah 31
God’s love, in distinction from even the highest of human love, will never fail. Not merely will God not forget, He cannot forget. God’s people may waver to fulfill their calling, wander in exile or otherwise suffer because of it, yet God disciplines them that they may return to the blessing of His love:
Jeremiah 31:20-24 Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the LORD."Set up road markers for yourself; make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went. Return, O virgin Israel, return to these your cities.How long will you waver, O faithless daughter? For the LORD has created a new thing on the earth: a woman encircles a man." Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: "Once more they shall use these words in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I restore their fortunes: "’The LORD bless you, O habitation of righteousness, O holy hill!’ 24]And Judah and all its cities shall dwell there together, and the farmers and those who wander with their flocks. (ESV)
Finally, as an evidence of His unforgettable love and also by means of another comparison, in verse 16, the Lord states that He has engraved Zion upon His palms. Israel would have been acquainted with two customs in Babylon. Idol worshipers tattooed the name of their god on their palms as an ever-present symbol of their worship, and young men in love also tattooed the name of their beloved on their palms as a symbol of faithfulness. Believers in Zion would have been visibly moved by the thought of a tattoo on God’s palm that read I-s-r-a-e-l. (Although this is figurative language since God the Father is Spirit, the imagery was intended to convey the thought that:) every time God opens His hand, then, He sees the reminder of His people in bondage and the walls of His city in ruins. The tattoo will never let Him forget them or fail in His promise to deliver them and restore Jerusalem (McKenna, D., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1994). Vol. 18: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 18 : Isaiah 40-66. The Preacher’s Commentary series (131). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.).
Poem: Christian poet, Augustus Toplady, expressed it beautifully:
My name from the palms of His hands. Eternity will not erase; Imprest on His heart it remains
In marks of indelible grace. (As quoted in MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997). Believer’s Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (Is 49:14–16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.)
The walls of Jerusalem were destroyed by the Babylonians (cf. Ps. 74:3; 102:14). But God intends to rebuild Zion (Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (1331). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.).
The walls are a symbolic representation for the personal presence of God Himself. Since God is with His people, He provides salvation and security. God is like a wall protecting His people. (Whitlock, L. G., Sproul, R. C., Waltke, B. K., & Silva, M. (1995). Reformation study Bible, the : Bringing the light of the Reformation to Scripture : New King James Version (Is 26:1). Nashville: T. Nelson.).
We need not fear that God forgets us, Now is "The Time of God’s Favor". Even though the forces of infidelity and unbelief, of indifference and ignorance, may attempt to overthrow the Church, yet God is with her, for she is ever before His eyes. Christ promised to never leave us nor forsake us (Heb.13:5) and He fills us with the Holy Spirit as a down payment of that promise (2 Cor. 1:22).
(Format Note: Some base commentary from Young, E. (1972). The Book of Isaiah: Volume 3, Chapters 40-66 (277–286). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)