The prophecy of Isaiah concluded in chapter 39 with devastating words. Everything will be carried away to Babylon. “Nothing shall be left, says the Lord” (39:6). Your sin has brought this disaster. Your rebellion toward God has caused your devastation. Your lack of faith has led to your ruin. Isaiah 39 ends with depressing words. “Nothing shall be left.” Fellowship with God is now severed. God will no longer be with his people. The covenant with God has been broken by the people. Sin has ruined everything. The book of Lamentations is written by the prophet Jeremiah as he wails for the fall of Jerusalem and the loss of the nation because of their sins. In the first chapter of Lamentations the author declares four times that there is no comfort for the people (Lamentations 1:2,9,17,21). There is no comfort for our sins. There is nothing that we can do for our sinful condition. What will God do now? What will God do with a people steeped in their sins and deserving of wrath? What will God say now?
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” God is going to comfort his people despite the disaster they have brought on themselves. Notice two declarations. Comfort my people says your God. God says that he has a people. He has not forever forsaken them. God is willing to be their God. God is willing to take possession of these people. This is covenantal language. “I will be your God and you will be my people” (cf. Exodus 6:7; Genesis 17:7-8).
God says to speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Literally this reads to speak to the heart of Jerusalem. God wants an important message to be delivered to the heart of his people. There are three aspects of this tender message. First, the time of their service is fulfilled. The time of punishment is ended. Second, their iniquity is pardoned. Forgiveness has now been obtained by the people. Third, their sins have received double. This does not mean that they received twice the punishment they deserved. Rather, this is an idiom to say that God has matched sin with payment. Every sin has been doubled or matched by God. This is an amazing declaration because the people hear that God’s purpose is not their destruction but their redemption. Notice that these three points are stated in the past tense though it has not occurred yet. This is another example of the prophetic perfect, where a prophet speaks of an event that has not yet happened as if it already has happened. There is such security in a coming future event that it is spoken of in the past tense. God will comfort his people because the people’s sins have been pardoned and paid. Now we will see three heralds that will cry out what God is doing to validate this comfort.
Herald #1 – “A Voice Cries” (40:3-5)
The cry is amazing. God is coming! God is coming! Prepare the highway for our God! Remove the obstructions. Get ready! God is coming! This herald has a historical reference. When a king was going to visit an area, it was customary to send a herald in advance to command the local residents to repair the royal route. Roads then were not properly maintained so a cry went forward to prepare for path for the coming of the king. The Lord God, our King is coming.
The wilderness recalls chapter 35. Wilderness portrays the land that has suffered the divine judgment for its sin. The Christ was not coming during the good times but when the nation of Israel was in the wilderness, lacking the blessings of God and separated from God. There are remaining obstacles that must be attended to for the arrival of the Lord. The preparation the people are to make is a spiritual preparation, namely, repentance. All spiritual obstacles and every spiritual obstruction must be removed from the hearts of the people. God is the king. He does not make himself ready for us. We are to make ourselves ready for him by getting spiritually ready.
Now we understand the exciting message of John the Baptizer when he arrived. Matthew connects this prophecy to John the Baptizer (Matthew 3:3) and he preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). John is proclaiming that God the King is coming and everyone must get their hearts ready for his arrival. Remove the spiritual hindrances! God is coming. Repent! Bear fruit in keeping with repentance!
Notice the result of the coming of the King in Isaiah 40:5. When he comes, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” This is what the Gospel of John affirms in John 1:14-18, “We have seen his glory!” Get ready for God is coming and his glory will be seen!
Herald #2 – “A Voice Says, ‘Cry!'” (40:6-8)
A second herald occurs in verse 6. The command of a voice says to cry out. The question returns, “What shall I cry?” The message to cry out follows in the rest of verse 6 through verse 8. People are like grass which fade and wither. People are like the flower whose beauty passes away. But the word of our God will stand forever.
The point is everything earthly is temporary. But the word of God is permanent. Now there is something unique about verse 6. God is saying something about us. The ESV reads, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.” Some translations read similarly. But the word translated “beauty” is the Hebrew word “hesed” which is translated throughout the Old Testament as “faithfulness, loyalty, and devotion.” The NIV therefore reads, “All people are like grace, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.” The NRSV reads “constancy” and the NET reads “promises.”
Here’s the point: We are unreliable but God is not. This is why we must never depend on ourselves but rely on God’s promises. Only God is worthy of trust because his words never fade. Our confidence belong in God’s words alone. No human force can prevail against God’s promise. Therefore, these words are a message of hope. God says, “Comfort!” God says that the Lord is coming. God’s message is that he does not desire the people’s destruction but their redemption. The word of the Lord will stand forever! God keeps his covenant! This is massive. We are unfaithful. We are not dependable. We fail. We do not keep our word. We perish. Humans fail. This has been the message of the first half of Isaiah’s prophecy. Physically and in moral character, humans are a failure. Our moral steadfastness is unreliable. Humanity can neither save itself nor hinder the one who determines to save.
Listen to the Lord: God does not fail! God is faithful. God is dependable. God keeps his word. God does not perish. Though we fail our joy is not extinguished because God’s promise is secure. Our hope cannot rest on our own actions but on the certainty of God’s word.
Now Peter quotes this text in his first letter. He tells the Christians who are going through trials and suffering that they have been born again, not from something perishable, but from the imperishable word of God. “The word of our God will stand forever.” Our hope in God is grounded in the fact that God keeps his word. We have been born again because of the certain, unchangeable nature of God’s word. God is coming. God brings comfort. God will save.
Herald #3 – “Herald of Good News” (40:9-11)
Zion is called to go up on a high mountain and shout out the good news. Lift up your voice with strength to the ends of the earth and tell people to, “See your God!” Do you see your God? Look, God comes with might. His reward and his recompense is with him. God has power and God has reward. Now listen how God is coming. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are young.” God is coming with compassion and care. He is coming as a shepherd to tend his flock. God is coming to save. God desires to save like a shepherd for his sheep. Listen again to the words of Jesus:
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:14-16 ESV)
Spiritual comfort cannot truly exist without an adequate understanding of the character of God. We must see his tender care toward his people. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). Get on a mountain and shout it from the rooftops that God is the God of all comfort who gathers his sheep like a shepherd and carries them in his bosom.
We are faithless and unreliable but God is faithful and reliable. He has promised to carry you in his bosom and gently lead you. I learned of the Lord as one to be terrified of. I saw him as a God of wrath alone, ready to destroy at any moment. God desires to save, not destroy. God desires our redemption. Prepare your heart for the Lord. Remove your spiritual obstacles. Purge from your life anything that in hindering you from trusting Jesus. Confess your sins. Be cut to the heart. Let Jesus lead you in right paths to the promised eternal reward.