18 September 2012

Isaiah 40:1-9

"Every valley shall be lifted up." (v. 4)


Yesterday's passage reminded us of God's role in our suffering and subsequent comfort. Today's passage tells of how that comfort becomes permanent. The writer informs us that a certain period has passed, and now new things can begin! The passage begins (verses 1-2) with a suggestion that the punishment served by Israel has been more than was necessary, and so God's comfort has been well earned. We hear the prophesy that is later reiterated by John the Baptist in both Matthew's (Matthew 3:3) and John's Gospels (John 1:23). What we don't hear from the Gospel writers (and therefore maybe not from John) is the further statement that "the glory of God shall be revealed" (v. 5), as well as the mountains and hills being made low, and ground that is uneven becoming level. Let us assume that these are metaphors for huge changes that are on the horizon.

Today's passage concludes with the proclamation to Jerusalem: "lift it up, do not fear" (v. 9). These people have previously been on the receiving end of some reprisals that they believe to be judgements upon their behaviour, yet this prophesy seems to suggest that the time is coming when good news will arrive, and everything will be different from then on, irrespective of future actions by these listeners. We, of course ascribe this passage to a prediction of Jesus' coming, which is reinforced further by John the Baptist's use of the prophecy as well. If we take the imagery of mountains, hills and valleys and suggest again that these might be metaphors, then the first readers of this text may have foreseen a time when difficulty would be removed from their lives, and things would be much more straightforward. It's an interesting thought from Isaiah, that once these obstacles are removed, then the people will see the glory of God. Is Isaiah suggesting that God's glory can't be seen past the problems or issues that we may have, or that God doesn't wish to bring God's own glory until everything is resolved? We can debate either of these meanings, and shan't ever know what the writer intended to suggest, but what I am reminded of, and reassured of is that I often feel the impact of God's glory all the more when the mountain is steep, or the valley is dark, or the world's goodness seems a long way from where I happen to be.

"He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms" writes Isaiah (Isaiah 40:11), and this image resonates through much of Scripture - we the hopeless are given hope, we the weak are sustained by God's strength and we the lost are found time and time again. Our heavenly Father is the saviour of the downtrodden and regretful Israelites, and calls out to all nations, past borders and boundaries, past inequities and regrettable histories, so that when we hear this incredible news, that we too may be brought into the fold.

To Ponder

  • How do you think it might have felt to those Israelites who for the first time heard of better times ahead?
  • To what extent can we ever truly understand the importance of the Messiah, without being part of pre-Jesus culture?

Bible notes author

Jon Curtis

Jon Curtis is a Venture FX pioneer minister in Exeter, Devon. He lives with his exceptional wife Beth, and beautiful baby Freddie.