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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Be comforted, part 8-9, Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

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ISAIAH 36–39

God Save the King!
The former U.S. Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger, once told the New York Times, “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.”
Crises come, whether schedules permit it or not; and sometimes crises seem to pile up. How do we handle them? What life does to us depends on what life finds in us. A crisis does not make a person; it shows what a person is made of.
Hezekiah faced three crises in a short time: an international crisis (the invasion of the Assyrian army), a personal crisis (sickness and near death), and a national crisis (the visit of the Babylonian envoys). He came through the first two victoriously, but the third one tripped him up. Hezekiah was a great and godly man, but he was still a man; and that meant he had all the frailties of human flesh. However, before we find fault with him, we had better examine our own lives to see how successfully we have handled our own tests.
1. The invasion crisis (Isa. 36:1–37:38; 2 Kings 18–19; 2 Chron. 32)

Crises often come when circumstances seem to be at their best. Hezekiah had led the nation in a great reformation, and the people were united in the fear of the Lord. They had put away their idols, restored the temple services, and sought the blessing of their God. But instead of receiving blessing, they found themselves facing battles! “After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah” (2 Chron. 32:1, NIV).
Had God turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to all that Hezekiah and his people had done? Of course not! The Assyrian invasion was a part of God’s discipline to teach His people to trust Him alone. Even Hezekiah had at first put his trust in treaties and treasures (2 Kings 18:13–16), only to learn that the enemy will keep the wealth but not keep his word. Judah had negotiated to get help from Egypt, an act of unbelief that Isaiah severely rebuked (Isa. 30:1–7; 31:1–3). God’s great purpose in the life of faith is to build godly character. Hezekiah and his people needed to learn that faith is living without scheming.
The Assyrians had ravaged Judah and were now at Lachish, about thirty miles southwest of Jerusalem. According to 2 Kings 18:17, Sennacherib sent three of his most important officers to arrange for Hezekiah’s surrender of the city: Tartan (“Supreme Commander”), Rabsaris (“Chief Officer”), and Rabshakeh (“Field Commander”). These are military titles, not personal names. The three men were met by three of Judah’s leading officials: Eliakim, Shebna (see Isa. 22:15–25), and Joah (36:3).
The place of their meeting is significant, for it is the very place where Isaiah confronted Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father, some thirty years before (7:3). Ahaz had refused to trust the Lord but had instead made a treaty with Assyria (2 Kings 16:5–9), and now the Assyrians were ready to take Jerusalem! Isaiah had warned Ahaz what Assyria would do (Isa. 7:17–25), and his words were now fulfilled.
Reproach (Isa. 36:4–21). The field commander’s speech is one of the most insolent and blasphemous found anywhere in Scripture, for he reproached the God of Israel (37:4, 17, 23–24). He emphasized the “greatness” of the king of Assyria (36:4, 13) because he knew the common people were listening and he wanted to frighten them (vv. 11–12). His speech is a masterful piece of psychological warfare in which he discredits everything that the Jews held dear. The key word is trust, used seven times (vv. 4–7, 9, 15). “In what is your confidence?” asked the field commander. “You can have no confidence, for everything you trust in has failed!”
He began with their strategy. They had turned to Egypt for help, but Egypt was only a broken reed. (Isaiah had said the same thing! See 30:1–7 and 31:1–3.) As for trusting the Lord, that was sure to fail. Hezekiah had incurred the Lord’s displeasure by removing the high places and altars and requiring everybody to worship at Jerusalem. (What did a heathen soldier know about the worship of the true God?) So, according to the field commander, Judah had no help on earth (Egypt) or in heaven (the Lord). They were already defeated!
What about their military resources? Hezekiah had fortified Jerusalem (2 Chron. 32:2–8), but the field commander laughed at Judah’s military might. Judah had neither the men, the horses, nor the chariots to attack the Assyrians. Even if Assyria provided the equipment, the Jewish soldiers were too weak to defeat the least of the enemy’s officers. All the chariots and horsemen of Egypt could never defeat Sennacherib’s great army. (Isaiah would agree with him again; see Isa. 30:15–17.)
The field commander’s coup de grace was that everything Assyria had done was according to the will of the Lord (36:10). How could Judah fight against its own God? In one sense, this statement was true; for God is in charge of the nations of the world (10:5–6; Dan. 4:17, 25, 32; 5:21). But no nation can do what it pleases and use God for the excuse, as Sennacherib and his army would soon find out.
According to the field commander, Judah could not trust in its strategy, its military resources, or in its God. Nor could its people trust in their king (Isa. 36:13–20). The king of Assyria was a “great king,” but Hezekiah was a nobody who was deceiving the people. Instead of trusting Hezekiah’s promise of help from the Lord, the people should trust Sennacherib’s promise of a comfortable home in Assyria. The people knew that their farms, orchards, and vineyards had been ruined by the Assyrian army, and that Judah was facing a bleak future. If they stayed in Jerusalem, they might starve to death. Perhaps they should surrender and keep themselves and their families alive.
Hezekiah and Isaiah had told the people to trust the Lord, but the field commander reminded the people that the gods of the other nations had not succeeded in protecting or delivering them. (Hezekiah knew why; see 37:18–19.) Even Samaria was defeated, and they worshiped the same God as Judah. To the field commander, Jehovah was just another god; and Sennacherib did not need to worry about Him.
God summons us to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). To those Jews in Jerusalem who were living in unbelief, the field commander’s arguments must have seemed reasonable, and his evidence compelling. But God had promised to deliver His people from the Assyrian army, and His Word would stand.
Repentance (Isa. 36:22–37:20). By the king’s orders, nobody replied to the field commander’s speech. Insolence is best answered with silence. Jerusalem’s deliverance did not depend on negotiating with the enemy but on trusting the Lord.
Hezekiah and his officers humbled themselves before the Lord and sought His face. As the king went into the temple, perhaps he recalled the promise God had given to Solomon after he had dedicated the temple: “If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).
Even though the Lord had brought Assyria to chasten Judah (Isa. 7:17–25), He had determined that Jerusalem would not be taken by the enemy (10:5–34). Previous to the invasion, when Hezekiah had been deathly ill, Isaiah had assured him of deliverance (38:4–6). God’s promises are sure, but God’s people must claim them by faith before God can work. So the king sent word to Isaiah, asking him to pray; and the king himself called out to the Lord for help.
In the building up of our faith, the Word of God and prayer go together (Rom. 10:17); and that is why Isaiah sent the king a message from the Lord. His word of encouragement had three points: (1) do not be afraid, (2) the Assyrians will depart, and (3) the “great king” will die in Assyria.
When the three Assyrian officers returned to headquarters, they learned that an Egyptian army was on its way to help defend Hezekiah. Sennacherib did not want to fight a war on two fronts, so he started to put more pressure on Jerusalem to surrender immediately. This threatening message came to Hezekiah in the form of a letter, and he took it to the temple and “spread it before the Lord.”
Hezekiah’s prayer (Isa. 37:15–20) is saturated with biblical theology and is not unlike the prayer of the church in Acts 4:24–31. He affirmed his faith in the one true and living God, and he worshiped Him. Jehovah is “Lord of hosts,” that is, “Lord of the armies” (Ps. 46:7, 11). He is the Creator of all things (96:5) and knows what is going on in His creation. His eyes can see our plight, and His ears can hear our plea (see Ps. 115). King Hezekiah did not want deliverance merely for his people’s sake, but that God alone might be glorified (Isa. 37:20; Ps. 46:10).
Reply (Isa. 37:21–35). God’s response to this prayer was to send King Hezekiah another threefold message of assurance: Jerusalem would not be taken (vv. 22, 31–35); the Assyrians would depart (vv. 23–29); and the Jews would not starve (v. 30).
(1) Jerusalem would be delivered (vv. 22, 31–35). The “daughter of Zion” was still a virgin; she had not been ravaged by the enemy. She could look at the Assyrians and shake her head in scorn, for they could not touch her. God would spare His remnant and plant them once more in the land.
Why did God deliver His people when so many of them were not faithful to Him? First, to glorify His own name (vv. 23, 35), the very thing about which Hezekiah had prayed (v. 20). God defended Jerusalem for His name’s sake, because Sennacherib had reproached the Holy One of Israel. The Assyrians had exalted themselves above men and gods, but they could not exalt themselves above Jehovah God, the Holy One of Israel!
God also saved Jerusalem because of His covenant with David (v. 35; 2 Sam. 7). Jerusalem was the city of David, and God had promised that one of David’s descendants would reign on the throne forever. This was fulfilled ultimately in Jesus Christ (Luke 1:32–33), but God did keep David’s lamp burning in Jerusalem as long as He could (1 Kings 11:13, 36).
The Jewish nation had an important mission to fulfill in bringing the Savior into the world; and no human army could thwart the purposes of Almighty God. Even though only a remnant of Jews might remain, God would use His people to accomplish His divine purposes and fulfill His promise to Abraham that all the world would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:1–3).
(2) The Assyrians would depart (vv. 23–29). God addressed the proud Assyrian king and reminded him of all the boastful words he and his servants had spoken. “I” and “my” occur seven times in this passage. It reminds us of Lucifer’s words in 14:12–17 and our Lord’s parable in Luke 12:13–21. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18, NKJV).
Sennacherib boasted of his military might and his great conquests, for no obstacle stood in his way. If he so desired, like a god, he could even dry up the rivers! But the king of Assyria forgot that he was only God’s tool for accomplishing His purposes on the earth, and the tool must not boast against the Maker (Isa. 10:5–19). God would humble Sennacherib and his army by treating them like cattle and leading them away from Jerusalem (37:7, 29).
(3) The people would not starve (v. 30). We do not know the month in which these events occurred, but it may have been past the time for sowing a new crop. Before the people could get the land back to its normal productivity, they would have to eat what grew of itself from previous crops; and that would take faith. They would also need to renovate their farms after all the damage the Assyrians had done. But the same God who delivered them would provide for them. It would be like the years before and after the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:1–24).
Some Bible scholars believe that Psalm 126 was written to commemorate Jerusalem’s deliverance from the Assyrian army. The psalm surely is not referring to the Jews’ deliverance from Babylonian Captivity, because that was not a sudden event that surprised both Jews and Gentiles, nor did the Gentiles praise Jehovah for delivering Israel from Babylon. Psalm 126 fits best with the events described in Isaiah 36 and 37.
The harvest promise in verse 30 parallels Psalm 126:5–6. The seed would certainly be precious in those days! That grain could be used for making bread for the family, but the father must use it for seed; so it is no wonder he weeps. Yet God promised a harvest, and He kept His promise. The people did not starve.
Retaliation (Isa. 37:36–38). The field commander had joked that one Assyrian junior officer was stronger than 2,000 Jewish charioteers (36:8–9), but it took only one of God’s angels to destroy 185,000 Assyrian soldiers! (See Ex. 12:12 and 2 Sam. 24:15–17.) Isaiah had prophesied the destruction of the Assyrian army. God would mow them down like a forest (Isa. 10:33–34), devastate them with a storm (30:27–30), and throw them into the fire like garbage on the city dump (vv. 31–33).
But that was not all. After Sennacherib left Judah, a defeated man, he returned to his capital city of Nineveh. Twenty years later, as a result of a power struggle among his sons, Sennacherib was assassinated by two of his sons in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (37:7); and it happened in the temple of his god! The field commander had ridiculed the gods of the nations, but Sennacherib’s own god could not protect him.
2. The illness crisis (Isa. 38:1–22; 2 Kings 20:1–11)

Peril (Isa. 38:1). As mentioned before, this event took place before the Assyrian invasion, though the invasion was impending (see v. 6). When the president or prime minister of a country is sick or injured, it affects everything from the stock market to the news coverage. Imagine how the people of Judah reacted when they heard that the king was going to die—and Assyria was on the march! If their godly leader died, who would govern them?
But there was even more involved. Apparently, Hezekiah did not have a son and therefore would have to appoint a near relative to take the throne of David. Would God’s promise to David fail? (2 Sam. 7:16) And why would it fail at a time of national calamity?
Prayer (Isa. 38:2–3). The king did not turn to the wall in a sulking manner, like Ahab (1 Kings 21:4), but in order to have privacy for his praying. It may be too that he was turning his face toward the temple (8:28–30). Some have criticized Hezekiah for weeping and praying, saying that his prayer was selfish; but most of us would have prayed the same way. It is a natural thing for us to want to live and continue serving God. Furthermore, Hezekiah was burdened for the future of the throne and the nation.
Hezekiah did not ask God to spare him because he had been such a faithful servant (Isa. 38:3). That would be a subtle form of bribery. Rather, he asked God to spare him so he could continue to serve and complete the spiritual restoration of the nation. Certainly he was concerned about his own life, as any of us would be; but he also had a burden for his people.
Promise (Isa. 38:4–8). The request was granted quickly, for Isaiah had not gone very far from the sick room when the Lord gave him the answer (2 Kings 20:4). The prophet became the king’s physician and told the attendants what medicine to apply (Isa. 38:21). God can heal by using any means He desires. Isaiah also told the king that his life would be prolonged for fifteen years. The king asked confirmation of the promise (v. 22), and God gave him a sign. The sundial was probably a pillar whose shadow marked the hours on a double set of stairs. In another promise, Isaiah assured the king that the Assyrians would not capture Jerusalem.
Pondering (Isa. 38:9–20). Hezekiah was an author of psalms (v. 20) and supervised a group of scholars who copied the Old Testament Scriptures (Prov. 25:1). In this beautiful meditation, the king tells us how he felt during his experience of illness and recovery. He had some new experiences that made him a better person.
For one thing, God gave him a new appreciation of life (Isa. 38:9–12). We take life for granted till it is about to be taken from us, and then we cling to it as long as we can. Hezekiah pictured death as the end of a journey (vv. 11–12), a tent taken down (v. 12a; and see 2 Cor. 5:1–8), and a weaving cut from the loom (Isa. 38:12b). Life was hanging by a thread!
He also had a new appreciation of prayer (vv. 13–14). Were it not for prayer, Hezekiah could not have made it. At night, the king felt like a frail animal being attacked by a fierce lion; and in the daytime, he felt like a helpless bird. During this time of suffering, Hezekiah examined his own heart and confessed his sins; and God forgave him (v. 17). “Undertake for me” means “Be my surety. Stand with me!”
The king ended with a new appreciation of opportunities for service (vv. 15–20). There was a new humility in his walk, a deeper love for the Lord in his heart, and a new song of praise on his lips. He had a new determination to praise God all the days of his life, for now those days were very important to him. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).
There are some students who feel that Hezekiah was wrong in asking God to spare his life. Three years later, his son Manasseh was born (2 Kings 21:1); and he reigned for fifty-five years, the most wicked king in the entire dynasty! Had Hezekiah died without an heir, this would not have happened. But we have no guarantee that any other successor would have been any better; and Manasseh’s grandson was godly King Josiah, who did much to bring the nation back to the Lord. Manasseh did repent after God chastened him, and he ended his years serving the Lord (2 Chron. 33:11–20). It is unwise for us to second guess God or history.
3. The investigation crisis (Isa. 39:1–8)

The news about Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery had spread widely so that even people in Babylon knew about it (2 Chron. 32:23). Hezekiah was a famous man, and other nations would be concerned about him and want to court his favor. The stability of Judah was important to the balance of power in that day. At this time, Babylon was not a great world power; and few people would have thought that Assyria would one day collapse and be replaced by Babylon. Of course, God knew, but Hezekiah did not seek His guidance.
The stated reason for the diplomatic mission was to honor Hezekiah and officially rejoice at his recovery. But the real reason was to obtain information about the financial resources of the nation of Judah. After all, Babylon might need some of that wealth in their future negotiations or battles. It is also likely that Hezekiah was seeking Babylon’s assistance against Assyria.
When Satan cannot defeat us as the “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8–9), he comes as the deceiving serpent (2 Cor. 11:3). What Assyria could not do with weapons, Babylon did with gifts. God permitted the enemy to test Hezekiah so that the proud king might learn what was really in his heart (2 Chron. 32:31).
It was certainly a mistake for Hezekiah to show his visitors all his wealth, but pride made him do it. After a time of severe suffering, sometimes it feels so good just to feel good that we get off guard and fail to watch and pray. The king was basking in fame and wealth and apparently neglecting his spiritual life. Hezekiah was safer as a sick man in bed than as a healthy man on the throne. Had he consulted first with Isaiah, the king would have avoided blundering as he did.
The prophet reminded Hezekiah that, as king, he was only the steward of Judah’s wealth and not the owner (Isa. 39:6). Some of that wealth had come from previous kings, and Hezekiah could claim no credit for it. All of us are mere stewards of what God has given to us, and we have no right to boast about anything. “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you glory as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7, NKJV) “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven” (John 3:27, NKJV).
Isaiah 39:7 is Isaiah’s first explicit announcement of the future Babylonian Captivity of Judah. In spite of Hezekiah’s reforms, the nation decayed spiritually during the next century; and in 586 B.C., Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and took the people captive. Hezekiah’s sin was not the cause of this judgment, for the sins of rulers, priests, and false prophets mounted up from year to year till God could take it no longer (2 Chron. 36:13–16).
Is Hezekiah’s response in Isaiah 39:8 an expression of relief that he has escaped trouble? If so, it would certainly be heartless on his part to rejoice that future generations would suffer what he should have suffered! His statement is more likely an expression of his humble acceptance of God’s will, and 2 Chronicles 32:26 bears this out. The king did humble himself before God, and God forgave him.
Even the greatest and most godly of the Lord’s servants can become proud and disobey God, so we must pray for Christian leaders that they will stay humble before their Master. But if any of His servants do sin, the Lord is willing to forgive when they sincerely repent and confess to Him (1 John 1:9). “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
INTERLUDE

“THE BOOK OF CONSOLATION”

ISAIAH 40–66
The Book of Isaiah can be called “a Bible in miniature.” There are sixty-six chapters in Isaiah and sixty-six books in the Bible. The thirty-nine chapters of the first part of Isaiah may be compared to the Old Testament with its thirty-nine books, and both focus primarily on God’s judgment of sin. The twenty-seven chapters of the second part may be seen to parallel the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, and both emphasize the grace of God.
The “New Testament” section of Isaiah opens with the ministry of John the Baptist (40:3–5; Mark 1:1–4) and closes with the new heavens and the new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22); and in between, there are many references to the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and King. Of course, the chapter divisions in Isaiah are not a part of the original inspired text, but the comparison is still interesting.
In the “New Testament” section of Isaiah, the prophet is particularly addressing a future generation of Jews. In chapters 1–39, his audience was his own generation; and his primary message was that God would defend Jerusalem and defeat the Assyrian invaders. But in chapters 40–66, the prophet looks far ahead and sees Babylon destroying Jerusalem and the Jews going into Captivity. (This happened in 586 B.C.) But he also saw God forgiving His people, delivering them from Captivity, and taking them back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and restore the nation.
The primary world figure in Isaiah 1–39 is Sennacherib, king of Assyria; but in chapters 40–66, the world leader is Cyrus, king of Persia. It was Cyrus who defeated the Babylonians, and in 541 B.C. issued the decree that permitted the Jews to return to their land to rebuild the city and the temple (Ezra 1:1–4). When Isaiah wrote these messages, Babylon was not yet a great world power; but the prophet was inspired by God to see the course the international scene would take.
Chapters 40–66 may be divided into three parts, (40–48; 49–57; and 58–66), with the same statement separating the first two sections: “There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked” (48:22; 57:21). Chapters 40–48 emphasize the greatness of God the Father in contrast to the vanity of the heathen idols. Chapters 49–57 extol the graciousness of God the Son, the Suffering Servant; and chapters 58–66 describe the glory of God in the future kingdom, and the emphasis is on the work of the Holy Spirit (59:19, 21; 61:1ff; 63:10–11, 14). Thus, there seems to be a trinitarian structure to these chapters.
The heart of Isaiah 40–66 is chapters 49–57, in which Isaiah exalts the Messiah, God’s Suffering Servant; and the heart of chapters 49–57 is 52:13–53:12, the description of the Savior’s substitutionary death for the sins of the world. This is the fourth of the “Servant Songs” in Isaiah; the others are 42:1–7; 49:1–6; and 50:1–11. So at the heart of the “New Testament” section of Isaiah’s book is our Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross for our sins. No wonder Isaiah has been called “the evangelical prophet.”
The Jewish rabbis have called Isaiah 40–66 “The Book of Consolation,” and they are right. Isaiah sought to comfort the Jewish remnant in Babylon, after their difficult years of Captivity, and to assure them that God was with them and would take them safely home. Along with words of consolation, the prophet also revealed the Messiah, God’s Suffering Servant, and described the future regathering of Israel and the kingdom God had promised them. Isaiah saw in Israel’s restoration from Babylon a preview of what God would do for them at the end of the age, after the “Day of the Lord” and the destruction of the world’s last “Babylon” (Rev. 17–19). So as you study Isaiah 40–66, keep in mind that it was originally addressed to a group of discouraged Jewish refugees who faced a long journey home and a difficult task when they got there. Note how often God says to them, “Fear not!” and how frequently He assures them of His pardon and His presence. It is no surprise that God’s people for centuries have turned to these chapters to find assurance and encouragement in the difficult days of life; for in these messages, God says to all of His people, “Be comforted!”

NINE

ISAIAH 40–48

How Great Thou Art!
In your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society but upward to the Great Society.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke those words at the University of Michigan on May 22, 1964. Reading them nearly three decades later, I asked myself, “I wonder how the Jewish captives in Babylon would have responded to what the President said?”
A rich society? They were refugees whose land and holy city were in ruins.
A powerful society? Without king or army, they were weak and helpless before the nations around them.
A great society? They had been guilty of great rebellion against God and had suffered great humiliation and chastening. They faced a great challenge but lacked great human resources.
That is why the prophet told them to get their eyes off themselves and look by faith to the great God who loved them and promised to do great things for them. “Be not afraid!” he admonished them. “Behold your God!” (40:9)
Years ago, one of my radio listeners sent me a motto that has often encouraged me: “Look at others, and be distressed. Look at yourself, and be depressed. Look to God, and you’ll be blessed!” This may not be a great piece of literature, but it certainly contains great practical theology. When the outlook is bleak, we need the uplook. “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things … for He is strong in power” (v. 26).
When, like Israel of old, you face a difficult task and an impossible tomorrow, do what they did and remind yourself of the greatness of God. In these eight chapters, the prophet describes the greatness of God in three different areas of life.
1. God is greater than our circumstances (Isa. 40:1–31)

The circumstances behind us (Isa. 40:1–11). As the remnant in Babylon looked back, they saw failure and sin; and they needed encouragement. Four voices are heard, each of them with a special message for these needy people.
(1) The voice of pardon (vv. 1–2). The nation had sinned greatly against the Lord, with their idolatry, injustice, immorality, and insensitivity to His messengers (Jer. 7). But they were still His people, and He loved them. Though He would chasten them, He would not forsake them. “Speak tenderly” means “speak to the heart,” and “warfare” means “severe trials.” “Double” does not suggest that God’s chastenings are unfair, for He is merciful even in His punishments (Ezra 9:13). God chastened them in an equivalent measure to what they had done (Jer. 16:18). We should not sin; but if we do, God is waiting to pardon (1 John 1:5–2:2).
(2) The voice of providence (vv. 3–5). The Jews had a rough road ahead of them as they returned to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, but the Lord would go before them to open the way. The picture here is of an ambassador repairing the roads and removing obstacles, preparing the way for the coming of a king. The image of the highway is frequent in Isaiah’s prophecy (see 11:16). Of course, the ultimate fulfillment here is in the ministry of John the Baptist as he prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus (Matt. 3:1–6). Spiritually speaking, Israel was in the wilderness when Jesus came; but when He came, God’s glory came (John 1:14). The way back may not be easy; but if we are trusting God, it will be easier.
(3) The voice of promise (vv. 6–8). “All flesh is grass!” Assyria was gone, and now Babylon was gone. Like the grass, nations and their leaders fulfill their purposes and then fade away, but the Word of God abides forever (Pss. 37:1–2; 90:1–6; 103:15–18; 1 Peter 1:24–25.) As they began their long journey home, Israel could depend on God’s promises. Perhaps they were especially claiming 2 Chronicles 6:36–39.
(4) The voice of peace (vv. 9–11). Now the nation itself comes out of the valley and climbs the mountaintop to declare God’s victory over the enemy. To “bring good tidings” means “to preach the Good News.” The good news in that day was the defeat of Babylon and the release of the captive Jews (52:7–9). The Good News today is the defeat of sin and Satan by Jesus Christ and the salvation of all who will trust in Him (61:1–3; Luke 4:18–19). God’s arm is a mighty arm for winning the battle (Isa. 40:10), but it is also a loving arm for carrying His weary lambs (v. 11). “We are coming home!” would certainly be good news to the devastated cities of Judah (1:7; 36:1; 37:26).
The circumstances before us (Isa. 40:12–26). The Jews were few in number, only a remnant, and facing a long and difficult journey. The victories of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia made it look as though the false gods of the Gentiles were stronger than the God of Israel; but Isaiah reminded them of the greatness of Jehovah. When you behold the greatness of God, then you will see everything else in life in its proper perspective.
God is greater than anything on earth (vv. 12–20) or anything in heaven (vv. 21–26). Creation shows His wisdom, power, and immensity. He is greater than the nations and their gods. He founded the earth and sits on the throne of heaven, and nothing is equal to our God, let alone greater than our God. The next time you are tempted to think that the world is bigger than God, remember the “drop of a bucket” (v. 15) and the “grasshoppers” (v. 22; see Num. 13:33). And if you ever feel so small that you wonder if God really cares about you personally, remember that He knows the name of every star (Isa. 40:26) and your name as well! (See John 10:3, 27.) The same God who numbers and names the stars can heal your broken heart (Ps. 147:3–4).
Someone has defined “circumstances” as “those nasty things you see when you get your eyes off of God.” If you look at God through your circumstances, He will seem small and very far away; but if by faith you look at your circumstances through God, He will draw very near and reveal His greatness to you.
The circumstances within us (Isa. 40:27–31). Instead of praising the Lord, the nation was complaining to Him that He acted as though He did not know their situation or have any concern for their problems (v. 27; 49:14). Instead of seeing the open door, the Jews saw only the long road before them; and they complained that they did not have strength for the journey. God was asking them to do the impossible.
But God knows how we feel and what we fear, and He is adequate to meet our every need. We can never obey God in our own strength, but we can always trust Him to provide the strength we need (Phil. 4:13). If we trust ourselves, we will faint and fall; but if we wait on the Lord by faith, we will receive strength for the journey. The word “wait” does not suggest that we sit around and do nothing. It means “to hope,” to look to God for all that we need (Isa. 26:3; 30:15). This involves meditating on His character and His promises, praying, and seeking to glorify Him.
The word “renew” means “to exchange,” as taking off old clothes and putting on new. We exchange our weakness for His power (2 Cor. 12:1–10). As we wait before Him, God enables us to soar when there is a crisis, to run when the challenges are many, and to walk faithfully in the day-by-day demands of life. It is much harder to walk in the ordinary pressures of life than to fly like the eagle in a time of crisis.
“I can plod,” said William Carey, the father of modern missions. “That is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The greatest heroes of faith are not always those who seem to be soaring; often it is they who are patiently plodding. As we wait on the Lord, He enables us not only to fly higher and run faster, but also to walk longer. Blessed are the plodders, for they eventually arrive at their destination!
2. God is greater than our fears (Isa. 41:1–44:28)

In this section of the book, the Lord seven times says “Fear not!” to His people (41:10, 13, 14; 43:1, 5; 44:2, 8); and He says “Fear not!” to us today. As the Jewish remnant faced the challenge of the long journey home and the difficult task of rebuilding, they could think of many causes for fear. But there was one big reason not to be afraid: The Lord was with them and would give them success.
God seeks to calm their fears by assuring them that He is going before them and working on their behalf. The Lord explains a wonderful truth: He has three servants in His employ who will accomplish His will: Cyrus, king of Persia (41:1–7); the nation of Israel (vv. 8–29; 43:1–44:27); and the Messiah (42:1–25).
God’s servant Cyrus (Isa. 41:1–7). God convenes the court and asks the nations to present their case against Him, if they can. At least seventeen times in his prophecy, Isaiah writes about “the islands” (KJV) or “the coastlands” (NIV), referring to the most distant places from the holy land (11:11; 24:15; 41:1, 5; 42:4, 10, 12). “Produce your cause,” He challenges these nations (41:21); “present your case” (NIV).
God is not afraid of the nations because He is greater than the nations (40:12–17); He controls their rise and fall. He announced that He would raise up a ruler named Cyrus, who would do His righteous work on earth by defeating other nations for the sake of His people Israel. Cyrus would be a shepherd (44:28), anointed by God (45:1), a ravenous bird that could not be stopped (46:11). “He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay” (41:25, NIV).
Isaiah called Cyrus by name over a century before he was born (590?–529); and while Isaiah nowhere calls Cyrus “God’s servant,” Cyrus did serve the Lord by fulfilling God’s purposes on earth. God handed the nations over to Cyrus and helped him conquer great kings (45:1–4). The enemy was blown away like chaff and dust because the eternal God was leading the army.
As Cyrus moved across the territory east and north of the holy land (41:25), the nations were afraid and turned to their idols for help. With keen satire, Isaiah describes various workmen helping each other manufacture a god who cannot help them! After all, when the God of heaven is in charge of the conquest, how can men or gods oppose Him?
Cyrus may have thought that he was accomplishing his own plans, but actually he was doing the pleasure of the Lord (44:28). By defeating Babylon, Cyrus made it possible for the Jewish captives to be released and allowed to return to their land to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (Ezra 1:1–4). “I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways; he shall build My city, and he shall let go My captives” (Isa. 45:13).
Sometimes we forget that God can use even unconverted world leaders for the good of His people and the progress of His work. He raised up Pharaoh in Egypt that He might demonstrate His power (Rom. 9:17), and He even used wicked Herod and cowardly Pontius Pilate to accomplish His plan in the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 4:24–28). “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1, NKJV).
God’s servant Israel (Isa. 41:8–29; 43:1–44:28) The prophet presents four pictures to encourage the people. In contrast to the fear experienced by the Gentile nations is the confidence shown by Israel, God’s chosen servant (41:8–13), because God was working on their behalf. In spite of their past rebellion, Israel was not cast away by the Lord. The Jewish captives did not need to fear either Cyrus or Babylon, because Cyrus was working for God, and Babylon would be no more. As you read this paragraph, you sense God’s love for His people and His desire to encourage them to trust Him for the future.
The title “My servant” is an honorable one; it was given to great leaders like Moses (Num. 12:7), David (2 Sam. 3:18), the prophets (Jer. 7:25), and Messiah (Isa. 42:1). But is there any honor in being called a “worm”? (41:14–16) “Servant” defined what they were by God’s grace and calling, but “worm” described what they were in themselves. Imagine a worm getting teeth and threshing mountains into dust like chaff! As the nation marched ahead by faith, every mountain and hill would be made low (40:4); and the Lord would turn mountains into molehills!
From the pictures of a servant and a worm, Isaiah turned to the picture of a desert becoming a garden (41:17–20). The image reminds us of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness and God’s provision for their every need. Water and trees are important possessions in the East, and God will supply both to His people. Certainly Isaiah was also looking beyond the return from Babylon to the future kingdom when “the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the rose” (35:1).
The final picture is that of the courtroom (41:21–29). “Produce your cause!” means “Present your case!” God challenged the idols of the nations to prove that they were really gods. Did any of their predictions come true? What have they predicted about the future? Did they announce that Cyrus would appear on the scene or that Jerusalem would be restored? “No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you,” taunted the Lord (v. 26, NIV). Not only were the idols unable to make any valid predictions, but they were not even able to speak! The judgment of the court was correct: “See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion” (v. 29, NIV).
The theme of “Israel God’s servant” is continued in Isaiah 43–44 with an emphasis on God the Redeemer of Israel (43:1–7). (Note also v. 14; 44:6, 22–24.) The word translated “redeem” or “Redeemer” is the Hebrew word for “a kinsman redeemer,” a near relative who could free family members and their property from bondage by paying their debts for them. (See Lev. 25:23–28 and the Book of Ruth.) God gave Egypt, Ethiopia (Cush), and Seba to Cyrus as a ransom payment to redeem Israel from Babylon, because Israel was so precious to Him. And He gave His own Son as a ransom for lost sinners (Matt. 20:28; 1 Tim. 2:6).
Israel is God’s servant in the world and also God’s witness to the world (Isa. 43:8–13). This is another courtroom scene where God challenges the idols. “Let them bring in their witnesses!” says the Judge; but, of course, the idols are helpless and speechless. Twice the Lord says to Israel, “You are My witnesses” (vv. 10, 12, NKJV), for it is in the history of Israel that God has revealed Himself to the world. Frederick the Great asked the Marquis D’Argens, “Can you give me one single irrefutable proof of God?” The Marquis replied, “Yes, your majesty, the Jews.”
Along with Israel’s new freedom and new witness, Isaiah writes about Israel’s new “exodus” (vv. 14–28). Just as God led His people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea (Ex. 12–15), so He will lead them out of Babylon and through the terrible wilderness to their home in the holy land. Just as He defeated Pharaoh’s army (14:28; 15:4), so He will defeat Israel’s enemies, and snuff them out “like a wick” (Isa. 43:17, NIV).
When God forgives and restores His people, He wants them to forget the failures of the past, witness for Him in the present, and claim His promises for the future (vv. 18–21). Why should we remember that which God has forgotten? (v. 25) He forgave them, not because they brought Him sacrifices—for they had no altar in Babylon—but purely because of His mercy and grace.
God chose Israel and redeemed them, but He also formed them for Himself (44:1–20). In this chapter, Isaiah contrasts God’s forming of Israel (vv. 1–8) and the Gentiles forming their own gods (vv. 9–20). “I have formed thee” is a special theme in chapters 43–44 (43:1, 7, 21; 44:2, 24). Because God formed them, chose them, and redeemed them, they had nothing to fear. He will pour water on the land and His Spirit on the people (59:21; Ezek. 34:26; Joel 2:28–29; John 7:37–39), and both will prosper to the glory of the Lord. The final fulfillment of this will be in the future Kingdom Age when Messiah reigns.
Isaiah 44:9–20 show the folly of idolatry and should be compared with Psalm 115. Those who defend idols and worship them are just like them: blind and ignorant and nothing. God made people in His own image, and now they are making gods in their own image! Part of the tree becomes a god, and the rest of the tree becomes fuel for the fire. The worshiper is “feeding on ashes” and deriving no benefit at all from the worship experience.
But God formed Israel (Isa. 44:21, 24), forgave His people their sins (v. 22; see 43:25), and is glorified in them (44:23). He speaks to His people and is faithful to keep His Word (v. 26). May we never take for granted the privilege we have of knowing and worshiping the true and living God!
God’s Servant Messiah (Isa. 42). Isaiah 42:1–7 is the first of four “Servant Songs” in Isaiah, referring to God’s Servant, the Messiah. The others are 49:1–6; 50:1–11; and 52:13–53:12. Contrast “Behold, they [the idols] are all vanity” (41:29) with “Behold My Servant” (42:1). Matthew 12:14–21 applies these words to the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. He could have destroyed His enemies (the reed and flax), but He was patient and merciful. The Father delights in His Son, (Matt. 3:17; 17:5).
It is through the ministry of the Servant that God will accomplish His great plan of salvation for this world. God chose Him, God upheld Him, and God enabled Him to succeed in His mission. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, one day there will be a glorious kingdom; and God will “bring justice to the nations” (Isa. 42:1, NIV). Jesus Christ is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), and that includes the Gentiles (Isa. 42:6; Acts 13:47–48; Luke 1:79). Isaiah 42:7 refers to the nation’s deliverance from Babylon (29:18; 32:3; 35:5) as well as to the sinner’s deliverance from condemnation (61:1–3; Luke 4:18–19).
The closing section (Isa. 42:10–25) describes a singing nation (vv. 10–12), giving praise to the Lord, and a silent God who breaks that silence to become a shouting conqueror (vv. 13–17). God is long-suffering toward sinners; but when He begins to work, He wastes no time! The “servant” in verses 18–25 is Israel, blind to their own sins and deaf to God’s voice (6:9–10); yet the Lord graciously forgave them and led them out of bondage. Now God says to the Babylonians, “Send them back!” (42:22, NIV)
How sad it is when God disciplines us and we do not understand what He is doing or take it to heart (v. 25). Israel’s Captivity in Babylon cured the nation of their idolatry, but it did not create within them a desire to please God and glorify Him.
3. God is greater than our enemies (Isa. 45:1–48:22)

These chapters deal with the overthrow of Babylon, and one of the major themes is, “I am the Lord, and there is none else” (45:5–6, 14, 18, 21–22; 46:9). Jehovah again reveals Himself as the true and living God in contrast to the dumb and dead idols.
The conqueror described (Isa. 45:1–25). Just as prophets, priests, and kings were anointed for service, so Cyrus was anointed by God to perform his special service for Israel’s sake. In this sense, Cyrus was a “messiah,” an “anointed one.” God called him by name over a century before he was born! Cyrus was the human instrument for the conquest, but it was Jehovah God who gave the victories. Anyone who opposed Cyrus was arguing with God, and that was like the clay commanding the potter or the child ordering the parents (vv. 9–10). God raised up Cyrus to do His specific will (v. 13), and nothing would prevent him from succeeding.
Note the emphasis on salvation. The idols cannot save Babylon (v. 20), but God is the Savior of Israel (vv. 15, 17). He is “a just God and a Savior” (v. 21), and He offers salvation to the whole world (v. 22). It was this verse that brought the light of salvation to Charles Haddon Spurgeon when he was a youth seeking the Lord.
The false gods disgraced (Isa. 46:1–13). Bel was the Babylonian sun god, and Nebo was his son, the god of writing and learning. But both of them together could not stop Cyrus! As the Babylonians fled from the enemy, they had to carry their gods; but their gods went into captivity with the prisoners of war! God assures His people that He will carry them from the womb to the tomb. Verse 4 is the basis for a stanza for the familiar song “How Firm a Foundation” that is usually omitted from our hymnals:

E’en down to old age, all My people shall prove,
My sovereign, eternal unchangeable love;
And then when grey hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.
(Richard Keen)

How comforting it is to know that our God cares for us before we are born (Ps. 139:13–16), when we get old, and each moment in between!
The city destroyed (Isa. 47:1–15). Babylon, the proud queen, is now a humbled slave. “I will continue forever—the eternal queen!” she boasted (v. 7, NIV). But in a moment, the judgment for her sins caught up with her; and she became a widow. Neither her idols nor her occult practices (vv. 12–14) were able to warn her or prepare her for her destruction. But God knew that Babylon would fall, because He planned it ages ago! He called Cyrus, who swooped down on Babylon like a bird of prey. Babylon showed no mercy to the Jews, and God judged them accordingly.
The Jewish remnant delivered (Isa. 48:1–22). The Jews had become comfortable and complacent in their Captivity and did not want to leave. They had followed the counsel of Jeremiah (Jer. 29:4–7) and had houses, gardens, and families; and it would not be easy for them to pack up and go to the holy land. But that was where they belonged and where God had a work for them to do. God told them that they were hypocritical in using His name and identifying with His city but not obeying His will (Isa. 48:1–2). They were stubborn (v. 4) and were not excited about the new things God was doing for them.
Had they obeyed the Lord in the first place, they would have experienced peace and not war (vv. 18–19), but it was not too late. He had put them into the furnace to refine them and prepare them for their future work (v. 10). “Go forth from Babylon; flee from the Chaldeans!” was God’s command (v. 20; see Jer. 50:8; 51:6, 45; Rev. 18:4). God would go before them and prepare the way, and they had nothing to fear.
One would think that the Jews would have been eager to leave their “prison” and return to their land to see God do new and great things for them. They had grown accustomed to the security of bondage and had forgotten the challenges of freedom. The church today can easily grow complacent with its comfort and affluence. God may have to put us into the furnace to remind us that we are here to be servants and not consumers or spectators.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Comforted (S. 92–120). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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