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Passage: Isaiah 40:1-11

Isaiah 40:1-11 – Comfort My People

Summary

God summons voices to speak comfort to Jerusalem, for her term of hard service has ended. Everything prepares for the coming of God.

Analysis

This text serves as a prologue to Second Isaiah, announcing its major themes and preparing for God to come to do a "new thing" (43:19). The time of judgment--the exile--will end. With this chapter, the book moves to a different time--no longer the period of Assyrian conquest of the eighth century (First Isaiah) but the time of the Babylonian exile (sixth century B.C.E.). Nebuchadnezzar had conquered and destroyed Jerusalem (597 and 587 B.C.E.) and taken many of the inhabitants into captivity in Babylon. Now, says the prophet, God is coming to release them, which happened when Cyrus the Persian captured Babylon in 538 B.C.E.

"Comfort" is a key term for Second Isaiah, occurring thirteen times with this sense of removing fear and restoring security for God's people. There are only two other similar uses in the prophets (Isaiah 12:1; Jeremiah 31:13). The heart of the matter is God's announcement, "I, I am he who comforts you" (Isaiah 51:12). Bringing comfort functions as one of God's own self-definitions. In the time of exile, Israel had lamented repeatedly that there was no comfort and no comforter (Lamentations 1:2, 9, 17, 21), but now there is: God has come to comfort the suffering and the oppressed.

Who is called to announce comfort (v. 1)? The Hebrew imperative is plural ("Comfort my people, you all"), so it cannot be the prophet. The prophet seems to overhear God calling heavenly messengers (the "voice" in vv. 3 and 6) to announce the time of comfort. Since access to the heavenly council is one of the gifts given a true prophet (Isaiah 6:8; Jeremiah 23:22), many see this text as a call narrative for a new prophet, a Second Isaiah. The prophet is commissioned to "cry out" or "preach" (v. 6), and then typically declines, not knowing what to say in such a desperate time (vv. 6-7). Reassurance comes with the reminder that God's word endures forever, despite the decline of everything else (v. 8).

The emphasis on the enduring power of God's word (v. 8) is another key theme of Second Isaiah. Everything in this text is set in motion by the "mouth of the LORD" (v. 5). In a literary inclusio surrounding the chapters of Second Isaiah (40-55), the section closes with another familiar announcement of the strength of the word, which will not return empty but will accomplish God's purpose (55:10-11).

The voices announce the building of a highway in the desert for God and God's people (see 35:8-10). Babylon had great roads and gates for the procession of the gods into the city at major festivals. But God's road leads out of Babylon; it is the place for a new exodus out of captivity.

Zion is called to be a "herald of good tidings"--the voice on the mountain announcing the good news of God's coming. "Herald of good tidings" (v. 9) is translated into the Greek Septuagint as euangelizomenos or "evangelist"--one of the first times this term is used to announce the gospel or good news of God (see also Psalm 40:9; Isaiah 52:7).

The Divine Warrior appears again in this text (see the note on 34:5-7)--the Lord GOD of might with the strong arm of power (v. 10). But here the image is deliberately transformed, since the arm of the warrior immediately becomes the gentle arm of the shepherd (v. 11).

The New Testament uses the "voice in the wilderness" to point to the work of John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus just as the people of Isaiah's day were to prepare for the coming of God (see Mark 1:3).