Wednesday, January 10, 2024

2024.01.10 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 40:1–11

Read Isaiah 40:1–11

Questions from the Scripture text: What does God now command (Isaiah 40:1, cf. Isaiah 39:6)? How many times? What does He call Israel here? What does He call Himself? How is this comfort to be delivered (Isaiah 40:2a)? What comforting word is spoken (verse 2b)? How can the righteous God do this (verse 2c)? How many sides of the bill of punishment have been executed (verse 2d–e)? What is first to answer (Isaiah 40:3a) the command in Isaiah 40:1? Where is this voice crying? What does it say to do (Isaiah 40:3b–d)? What is one thing that must be done if this path is to be prepared (Isaiah 40:4a)? What is another thing that must be done (verse 4b)? And another (verse 4c)? And another (verse 4d)? What, then, will happen (Isaiah 40:5a)? When this is completed, who will see (verse 5b)? How sure is this (verse 5c)? What second answer comes in Isaiah 40:6a? Of what is it unsure at first (verse 6b)? What is this new word of comfort about (verse 6c)? What is it saying about the oppressions of the flesh (Isaiah 40:6-8a)? What stands, when all of this flesh has withered and faded (Isaiah 40:8b)? Whom does a third voice now address (Isaiah 40:9a, c–d)? What sort of word is it speaking (verse 9e)? In what manner (verse 9f–g)? What is this good news (verse 9h)? In what manner is the Lord YHWH coming (Isaiah 40:10a–b)? What is He bringing (verse 10c–d)? What does He do, to whom, with this power (Isaiah 40:11a–b)? What is His manner with them (verse 11c–d)?

What hope can there be for a people under the judgment of God? Isaiah 40:1–11 prepares us for the first serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these eleven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the only hope for a people under God’s judgment is the good news of God Himself. 

A call for comfort, Isaiah 40:1-2. Hezekiah had recognized the mercy in even God’s chastening (cf. Isaiah 39:8). But he had hardly seen anything yet! For, our God is a Father of mercies and God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). No sooner has Hezekiah spoken than the call for comfort comes from God. Isaiah 40:1 is a plural command. God is calling for a series of comforters, if not a chorus of them. There will be three answers in our passage. 

The urgency of the comfort comes from Whom God has made us to be unto Him, and Whom He has given Himself to be unto us. The comfort is for “My people.” They are bound to Him. They cannot, must not, be left in their pain. And the comfort comes from “your God.” He will be theirs. He will not give them up. God has covenanted with them, and so they must be comforted.

But how? How can the Lord speak comfort to those whose sins demand wrath? How can these messengers speak this comfort (Isaiah 40:1) to the heart (Isaiah 40:2, more literal than NKJ’s “comfort) of His people? How can her warfare be ended (verse 2b)?

Only if the iniquity is pardoned (Isaiah 40:2c). But God does not pardon sin in a manner as if His justice or holiness are negotiable. No, it must be fully paid for. The “double” or “folded” payment for all her sins, refers not to duplication but completeness. Scrolls were ordinarily written only on the one side, so that any revisions or corrections could be made on the back. The idea of “double” here is similar to the two-sided scroll in Ezekiel 2:10. The sentence is so inalterable and full that the scroll is written on both sides. 

In Ezekiel, the image had to do with judgment/sentence. Here, in Isaiah 40:2, it has to do with payment! This, THIS, is how the uncompromisingly, infinitely holy and just God can pardon sin, put away condemnation, and speak comfort: by a payment from His own hand that is as complete as God’s own holiness and justice! The only thing that could ever satisfy what is pronounced, promised, and prophesied in verse 2 is the cross of Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 3:25–26), Hallelujah!

Voice 1: Prepare the way, Isaiah 40:3-5. YHWH’s coming and displaying His glory (Isaiah 40:5a) is assured by His own mouth (verse 5c). The first word of comfort, then, is that everything must be made ready for that coming. Repent (be ye converted!) for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (cf. Matthew 3:2–3)! 

The preparations in Isaiah 40:4 are the sort that are almost beyond human comprehension, making them a good analogy both for the ordering of history for the arrival of the Lord in the world, and especially for the preparation of a heart of stone for the arrival of the Lord by His Word. But the word that commands the preparation has the power to perform it. O, dear reader, when you hear either the comforts or the commands of God’s Word (and, here, they are the same!), do so with confidence that the Word itself powerfully accomplishes what it says (cf. Isaiah 55:11).

Voice 2: Human love fails, but divine love is forever, Isaiah 40:6-8. The English versions do not help us much in Isaiah 40:6. The word translated loveliness (NKJ, though others say “beauty” or similar) is actually ḳessed, the word for God’s covenant love (often “lovingkindness” or “steadfast love” or “covenant love”). Of men, it usually means something like “loyalty.” In this context, it is reminding us how very unlike the Lord we are. 

Covenant love that fails? What a travesty! And, in the case of man, a certainty. How could the breath (Spirit!) of God do otherwise to such sinners as we are (Isaiah 40:7)? But the Word of our God stands forever. And it is a Word that is determined to overcome both the condemnation deserved by our wickedness, and the failure made inevitable by our weakness. Our God’s Word is a Word of almighty power, and it comes to us in covenanted love.

Voice 3: Good tidings of God Himself, Isaiah 40:9-11. It is sweet to us that the Lord would bring us to Isaiah 40 so closely on the heels of the Spirit’s use of it in Matthew 3. For, we know that YHWH, Whose coming is announced here is Jesus Himself. And the power and gentleness of the YHWH, presented here in poetic verse, we see supremely in our Lord Jesus.

Now, the instruction for the voice is to call out with strength and courage (Isaiah 40:9). Why? Because the God Whom they are calling us to behold is Himself almighty and coming with the reward (Isaiah 40:10c)/recompense (verse 10d) that He has decided to give His people. 

And behold the tenderness and gentleness with which He gives it in Isaiah 40:11! As if “shepherd feeding His flock” isn’t tender enough in verse 11a, this is elevated to lambs gathered into the arms and carried in His bosom in verse 11b–c. And He has regard for His people, matching His leading of them to their place of difficulty in life. “Those who are with young” are in a place where everything is physically (and emotionally, for mankind) taxing, and His leading of them takes this into account.

“E'en down to old age all My people shall prove My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love; and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn, like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.”

This is not just the flowery words and wishes of a hymn writer. They are the strong and sure words of the Almighty God. How far we have come in 11 verses! These that are carried close to the chest, bundled in the arms, are those who just a few verses ago were still under wrath and unchanged. Hallelujah!

When have you most felt the need for comfort with respect to your guilt? With respect to your failing? How does His Word meet you? What are some of the ways that He brings that Word near you and into your heart and mouth? 

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank You that You have come near to us in our guilt, failure, and fear. You have come near in Your Word, and by Your Spirit, Who has ministered to us Your power and Your mercy in Your Son, our Lord Jesus. Forgive us, for His sake. Forgive, even, how forgetful we often are of Him. Forgetful of the fullness of His atonement for our sin. Forgetful of the completeness of Your pardon. How can we be forgetful of something so good and glorious? And yet, Lord, our love to You fades and withers like a flower. Oh, forgive our poor, pathetic love, even by Your own perfect and eternal love! Come, and give us according to Your love’s own desire. Gather us into Your arms, and lead us in Christ, through Whom we ask it, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP23B “The Lord’s My Shepherd” or TPH243 “How Firm a Foundation” 

No comments:

Post a Comment