9 January 2012

Isaiah 40:1-24

"The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever." (v. 8)


Today's passage marks a significant change in style and content from what has gone before in Isaiah, so much so that it is generally recognised that chapters 40-55 are not the work of the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah who received his calling "in the year that King Uzziah died" (Isaiah 6:1) which was around 746 BC. Instead these chapters were written by an unknown prophet and reflect the time when the Jewish people were in exile in Babylon after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. So the author is often called Deutero-Isaiah or Second-Isaiah.

The Jewish exiles must have felt a long way from home and that their God had abandoned them. They had been conquered by more powerful neighbours. Many would have considered this as a result of the way they and their kings had behaved, repeatedly failing to worship the God of Israel in the way that was expected, or indeed at all (eg Isaiah 1:1-17). There were echoes of the time the Jewish people were in the wilderness (verse 3) after fleeing from Egypt. They were unsure what the future would hold.

However almost immediately in these first few verses the message to which the author repeatedly returns is heard loud and clear - the exiles have been forgiven by God and will be redeemed by God. They will return from exile and, above all, there is hope for the future.

It is as if the prison sentence that they were given for their behaviour has now been served (verse 2) and there is no question that they have been forgotten for God is now going to actively help them leave the wilderness. Valleys and mountains will not prevent this (verse 4). The way to Jerusalem will be made clear for them. The Jewish people may have been fickle and frail like flowers but the word of God can be utterly depended on. For this is a God who created and controls the heavens and the earth (verse 12), and no nation, not even Babylon, can stand in his way (verse 17).

To Ponder

Consider the similarities between the feelings of the Jewish exiles and those in the 1st century who lived under Roman occupation. Does this explain why Gospel writers used this passage (eg Mark 1:2-3)?

What valleys or mountains act as barriers for you today preventing you from responding fully to the word of God?

If you are going through a wilderness time in your life, try to listen for the voice of God calling out to you, offering you hope for the future.

Bible notes author

Dr Richard Vautrey

Richard Vautrey is a local preacher and church steward in Leeds, and a former vice-president of the Methodist Conference. He works as a GP, is an elected member of both the BMA council and Royal College of GPs council as well as being the deputy chair of the BMA's GP committee.