Monday 18 December 2017

Bible Book:

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD.’” (v. 3)

Isaiah 40:1-11 Monday 18 December 2017

Psalm: Psalm 141:1-5


These verses form the prologue to a separate section (chapters 40-55) of the book of Isaiah. Their unknown author is called Second Isaiah. He wrote just before 538 BC. He was situated in Babylon (modern day Iraq), where the people of Israel had been in exile for well over 40 years. Their situation was bleak, not to say hopeless. Was there no end in sight to their suffering?

Second Isaiah announced a new era for the exiles, of hope and change in their circumstances. This was to be God’s doing entirely. Certainly their brutal treatment in exile was just punishment for the people’s disobedience and sins back in Judah, long ago, before Babylon invaded. But the penalty has now been more than paid for. In verses 1-2 God’s message is ‘Comfort’ (repeated to stress its emotional significance) and tenderness for ‘Jerusalem’ (meaning the Israelites in exile).

God’s word of promise is that God will miraculously construct a motorway-like road through the wilderness. God will lead the people back to Jerusalem, making an easy journey of what seemed to a disheartened and captive people to be well-nigh impossible. Everyone everywhere, all at once, will be astounded to see God’s self-revealed power (“glory” – v. 5) in this turnaround in Israel’s fortunes.

But can God’s word be believed? It certainly can, because (verses 6-8) it is utterly un-like human words and existence (which are fickle and short-lived, like grass and flowers in the hot scrubland). Even Babylon’s might will crumble! Only God’s word survives.

So the prophet continues his vision (verses 9-11). To the city of Jerusalem (or Zion) and to the cities of Judah good news is announced, as if a messenger shouted to them from a high mountain top: “Here is your God!” (v. 9) God returns to the land of Israel with power (verse 10) and, more strikingly, as a caring, gentle, providing shepherd (verse 11). This is the imminent goal of God’s ‘comfort’ for Israel.

To Ponder

  • ‘Good news’ from God (above all the Christian gospel) always transforms people and situations. What words have you found helpful to share your experience of God’s grace?
  • Some of the vast tide of displaced people and refugees triggered by civil wars and internal unrest around the world may be living now in your local community. How does your church relate to them? Does a message ‘You are welcome here’ allow them to hope ‘One day we will return home’?
  • The words “Here is your God!” are used by Christians to unveil the true meaning of Jesus at his birth. In all the distracting activities and images of the secular preparations for Christmas, where and how do you find time to focus on God’s presence among us?
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