This week we will begin our four-week study of the Book of Consolation found in Isaiah 40-55, with a particular emphasis on the four Suffering Servant Songs found in Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, and 52:13-53:12. This week we will be reading through Isaiah 40:1-42:17. As we read through these verses, I want us to read them at three different levels – particular, universal, and Christological. First, I want us to seek out what the prophet is saying to his immediate particular audience. Most scholars tell us that this prophet wrote during the Babylonian Captivity. Judea and Jerusalem were God’s chosen people living in the land promised by God to Abraham. When the Babylonians threatened, the people believed that because they possessed God in his Temple, they would be spared and God would insure that Judea would survive. Jer. 7:1-4. That did not occur. The Babylonians sacked the City, deported her citizens, and occupied the land. Lamentations and Psalm 137 express the grief and the anger felt by these disposed people who had been abandoned by their God. As Jeremiah puts it: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more” Jer. 31:15. Out of this profound sense of despondency, the prophet comes to proclaim God’s redemption of his people and to give them an understanding of the divine economy and the role that suffering plays. And so he begins with the proclamation of “Comfort, Comfort, ye my people.” Isa. 40:1.
The Scriptures, of course, are not meant only for their immediate audience but are intended for all people. Like the Jews in Babylon, we too are estranged and suffer. As Paul tells us, our citizenship is in heaven where transformation awaits, yet we are here in this world. Phil. 3:20. And in this world, we understand, like Ecclesiastes, that all that is done on this earth is meaningless and a chasing after the wind. Eccl. 1:14. We suffer because we are chasing after an ideal (the perfect family, the perfect life, the perfect job) that simply does not exist. And even our relationship with God is often reduced to mere religious observance or behavior modification or assent to particular words. We are alienated from God, from others, and even from ourselves to the point, that as Billy Joel says, we become a Stranger to everyone. And into this captivity, and suffering, and estrangement, the prophet likewise speaks to us with the words of “Comfort, Comfort, my people.” I have attached Abraham Heschel’s chapter on Second Isaiah from his book The Prophets (pp.184-201) and an excerpt from Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination (pp.67-79) discussing the particular and universal nature of this prophet.
Finally, we must read the prophet Christologically. The true meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures lies in them being interpreted and applied to Jesus. Like Moses in the Exodus or David’s kingship over Israel, the prophet only establishes a type of which Jesus is the antitype. Therefore, as you read through these verses, see where the words of the prophet speak of Jesus. Luke tells us, that there once was a man in Jerusalem who lived in the Temple and who eagerly awaited the one who would bring comfort to God’s people. And upon taking the baby Jesus in his arms, he knew that his search had ended. Luke 2:25-33. Therefore, like Simeon, when we read Isaiah’s Book on Consolation, we too must see its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. Hopefully, as you begin to read through this portion of Isaiah, you will see where the Gospel writers have already made these connections. As part of making this connection, please take the time this weekend to read at least one Gospel account of Jesus’s Passion in Mark 14-16, Matthew 26-28, Luke 22-23, or John 18-19.
Dinner is at 6. The menu is roast pork with a cranberry-beet agrodolce. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here. Please bring a friend.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.Isaiah 40:1-2
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.