Some of the memories I cherish most are trips to new destinations. I think of visiting St. Augustine with my wife, camping out on Lake Erie with friends, visiting different schools with one of my best friends, or seeing Niagara Falls with my family. As fun as these memories were, however, there’s still nothing like crossing the South Carolina state line knowing that my own bed is not far away. There’s nothing like coming home.
Last month, I mentioned that the previous section of Isaiah was like the first half of a hurricane. The first half was the Assyrian invasion, and by chapter 40 that half was over. The second half was coming, and it would carry many of the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem far away to Babylon. Other and later sections of the Old Testament show the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies, and several of the books were written in Babylon (Ezekiel and Daniel) or about Babylon (Jeremiah and Lamentations). What made the second half of the storm so bleak is the fact that in the mindset of the Jews in Babylon, they were gone for good. They were never coming home.
The hopelessness these Jews must have felt is what makes the opening verses of Isaiah 40 so powerful: “Comfort, comfort, my people,” the Lord says. Several truths help us understand the significance of these nine chapters (Isaiah 40-48) today. First, God was promising to come to them Himself. A bearer of the gospel or good news of Isaiah shouts, “Behold, your God!” (Isaiah 40:9, 41:10). The people are to prepare the road for their God to come. All humanity, moreover, will see His glory (Isaiah 40:5, 41:5). They could be sure of this promise, since God’s word stands forever (Isaiah 40:8).
A second truth prominent in these passages is that Israel’s God was the true God. The gods of the other nations were (and are!) incapable of predicting or determining the future as the true God can do (Isaiah 41:4, 41:21-24, 44:6-8, and 46:5-11). He is utterly incomparable (40:25). His power and wisdom are unfathomably great (40:12-17, 28-31). He has anointed the Persian king Cyrus to send God’s people home (45:1-7). By contrast, false gods are as nothing.
A third truth in these chapters is that God will judge the enemies of His people (Isaiah 47:1-11). They had been living as captives, but their situation would one day change drastically. In terms reminiscent of the angels leading Lot and his family from Gomorrah, God’s people were to make sure they separated themselves from Babylon (Isaiah 48:20). The Lord was, and is, the only way to peace (48:22).
A final truth we see in this passage is the role of a Servant in ensuring these things take place (Isaiah 42:1-4). Although we learn more about the Servant in the next section of Isaiah (especially chapters 49 and 53), we do learn that the Servant is God-ordained, Spirit-directed, gentle, successful, and international in this section.
This final truth reminds us that all of the other truths are not simply relevant for Jewish exiles now long deceased. They pertain to God’s people today. We, too, are far from home — far from seeing God face to face. He will, however, come to us (John 14:3). He is the true God, and He will judge His enemies (Revelation 3:9). The Lord’s Servant — or Son — will ensure that all these things take place. We live for now as exiles (1 Peter 1:1), but we will come home (Revelation 21:3-4).