Comfort for God’s People (Isaiah 40)Related Media
“Behold Your God”
Whether we are reading the daily paper, listening to the radio, or watching TV, the news is filled with what one might call the fruits of discouragement and even despair. Life is like a continuous newsreel showing the futile actions of people trying to live without a biblical hope, one solidly fixed on God as their defense and refuge.
Without question, we live in a strife-ridden world, one torn by wars, by famine, by disease and sickness, by natural disasters of gigantic proportion, by injustices and corrupt governments run by self-seeking politicians who are like capricious children (Isa. 3:4). But what is even worse, they rule over a populace that by-in-large has become indifferent to the moral improprieties in its leaders. Ours is a world polluted by demonic powers and humanistic ideas where man is wise in his own eyes and clever in his own sight. Through this satanically-inspired, man-made wisdom, man perverts and distorts what is good and wholesome, and in the process, takes people further and further away from God. As it was in Isaiah’s day, evil is called good, and good evil, darkness is substituted for light and light for darkness, bitter is substituted for sweet and sweet for bitter (Isa. 5:20). The root of the problem is that we have become wise in our own eyes and clever in our own sight (Isa. 5:21) for we now live in a day where we have not only taken prayer out of the schools, but where it is against the law for a teacher or even a judge to have a copy of the Ten Commandments in their class or courtroom.
In the first chapters of Isaiah, the prophet graphically portrays this whole scenario when man rejects God’s revelation and turns to his own cleverness. Had there been a Jerusalem Gazette in Isaiah’s day, I would imagine its front page was not greatly different from the front pages of our newspapers today.
Certainly, ours is a day that needs to hear Isaiah’s cry where he sarcastically addresses the rulers in Jerusalem (the capital) and the people of the nation, Israel: “Hear the word of the Lord, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:10).
Sadly and ironically Isaiah’s day, as with our day, was also a day of great religiosity (see Isa. 1:11f).
Daily events demonstrate two things in America today:
(1) The restless and yet futile activity of a world full of people who know not the comfort of God because they refuse to live under the shelter of the Most High so that they might enjoy the shadow (the comfort and protection) of the Almighty.
(2) The tragic results of man’s choice to ignore God’s shelter. The result is a society that, in its mad pursuit to find meaning and happiness without God, is bombarded by spiritual, social, and moral decay. Isaiah portrays this as the constant churning of a restless sea with its waves constantly buffeting the shore and casting up mire and mud. What a graphic picture of the moral pollution that covers society.
Isaiah 57:20-21 reads, “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” (NIV)
When we read the word “wicked” in our Bibles, we often associate it with those who have a certain kind of lifestyle very different from ours. To most people, this word brings to mind the concept of gross evil. We think in terms of the fast crowd, the Mafia, or something similar. We think, this couldn’t possibly apply to me! But you see, gross evil is the product of prior choices, choices to live life without God as He is revealed in Scripture and believers can be guilty of that in dozens of ways.
In the Old Testament, the word “wicked” (Heb. r~sh~) generally describes those who have no relationship with God by faith in His promises. It refers to people who live by their passions, their desires, thinking this is the way to peace, security, and satisfaction. They are what we would call ungodly. But why? We call them ungodly because they seek to find happiness through the details of life apart from relationship with God. Look at Isaiah 55:1-7.
But in Isaiah 3:11-12, this word is used of God’s own covenant people who, thinking like the nations, had ignored their relationship with the Lord and His Word. God’s people were attempting to live without fellowship and trust in God alone through the cleansing power of His Word which also pointed to a Messiah who must shed His blood as our substitute for sin (Isa. 53). Indeed, they had ignored the warnings of Moses in Deuteronomy 8:1-3, 11-14.
Because of this, r~sh~ is occasionally translated “ungodly” by the KJV. We should remember the very first sin of Adam and Eve was seeking to live life independently of God. This is the greatest form of wickedness. The word “wicked” or “ungodly” describes people from the standpoint of their choice to try to live without God and the careful application of His Word to all of life.
In Psalm 1 this word, r~sh~, is used four times to contrast the godly man with the ungodly. The godly man puts his delight in God’s counsel thereby showing his trust in God, but the ungodly man seeks to live life by his own counsel or strategies.
Compare the verses below from Psalm 119, that great Psalm that extols the value and importance of the Word.
Psalm 119:52-53 I have remembered Your ordinances from of old, O LORD, And comfort myself. 53 Burning indignation has seized me because of the wicked, Who forsake Your law.
Psalm 119:155 Salvation is far from the wicked, For they do not seek Your statutes.
The unrighteousness of society (that is its refuse and mire) is the product of its ungodliness, its restless and futile activity to find meaning and happiness in life without truly turning to God and trusting in Him and His plan of salvation for all spheres of life.
Note this very thing described in Romans 1:18-32:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
The Fruits of Despair
We live in a nation where many families are having to live with the ripping effects of divorce and this not just among the unbelieving community, but among believers in Christ. While I can’t document this at the moment, I have heard the divorce rate in the Christian community has now surpassed the non-Christian community. The percentage of marriages ending in divorce is far too high, and one reason divorce occurs so often is that people are in despair; they lose hope and give up.
Also today, we see so many despairing parents. As mentioned, we have seen prayer forbidden is our schools and the Ten Commandments removed from the walls of the classrooms. As a result, we have all kinds of juvenile problems even children murdering their parents. But what is even more appalling to me is that even within the Christian community we have parents who know more about what men say about child training than they do about what God’s Word says.
Listen to these verses:
Proverbs 22:6 Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
Proverbs 29:15 The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.
Proverbs 29:17 Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul. (NIV)
We read and hear about suicide among friends and relatives, especially among teenagers and the elderly. Young people despair of life even at the morning of their lives. The elderly despair at the evening of life because of loneliness or because they look back and see no purpose to life.
We see and experience all kinds of addictions such as alcohol and drug abuse. But there are many other legitimate pleasures in life that become addictions such as food, sports, or recreation. People who are empty and despairing of life seek to find relief in some form of substance abuse or activity to numb the pain that only God can remove. The same applies to the pursuit of other things to escape from unhappiness or lack of purpose and emptiness such as materialism, position, power, prestige, applause, and fame.
Others may turn to demonic powers and the promises of the new age movement. Some fall for the lying persuasion of cult leaders like Jim Jones.
Another type of despair or discouragement comes as a result of what happens when people go through painful problems within their church leaving them hurt and angry. Very seldom do the majority of people in a church know the true facts about problems that transpire. But, as rumors fly, everyone eventually has their own opinions, which are unfortunately one sided and incomplete. This leads to a host of negative feelings about what has transpired. Not only do people become worried, hurt, angry, and perplexed, but very often they become depressed, discouraged, sometimes to the point of despair and cynicism even questioning God’s call on their lives. Of course it would help us all to remember there are no perfect churches because churches are made up of imperfect people.
Let me state here a basic principle and a spiritual law of life which is just as real as the law of gravity: Either we experience the comfort of the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible and in the person and work of Jesus Christ, or to some degree we will live in despair. This often causes people to turn to their own solutions which are futile and totally ill equipped to handle life in a fallen world.
Discouragement (or despair) is the absence of hope, the absence of the confident expectation that all is okay, that someone is in charge, that things are going to work out regardless of how dismal they may appear.
Due to the nature of our fallen world and the constant activity of Satan, the man-made, Satan-inspired solutions the world offers will always be inadequate. While the Apostle Paul was writing about the demands and trials of ministry, his cry in 2 Corinthians 2:16, “and who is adequate for these thing,” is certainly applicable to our subject. The answer, of course, is none of us are in the least adequate! But later the Apostle also said, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”
One of the causes of despair is the lack of purpose and meaning in life. This is illustrated by a story in the Ladies Home Journal regarding a rape victim who went into deep depression and despair for months. She gained over 60 pounds as she ate to find comfort. She stayed in this condition, even contemplating suicide, until she read about another victim. Understanding what the woman was going through, she got involved. Finding a sense of purpose brought her out of her despair as well as back to her normal weight.
But while people may find some sense of meaning and purpose in a cause, they are ultimately still without an adequate hope if they are without God and are not living by the encouragement and faith viewpoint of the Scriptures. The reason is that even in this type of a situation, “self” is the center of what is going on and therefore the fight is self-centered and self-motivated. There is still the lack of an adequate center and purpose.
Writing to the Ephesians regarding their past before faith in Christ, Paul wrote:
Ephesians 2:12 … remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Now contrast this with Paul’s words to the Romans in 15:1-5:
Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me.” 4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; …
Note that, based on the example of our Lord, there is a call to a purpose in life—the ministry of serving others. However, the call is one which flows, not from self-centered purposes or personal agendas, but from a vital relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The Apostle carefully orients and anchors his exhortation here to the Word and one’s relationship and trust in the Lord as the ultimate source of encouragement and the center of life.
Helping others can become self-centered and neurotic. Until we learn to cast our pain on the Lord and find our comfort in Him, we will continue to turn to the futile plans of our own hearts to protect us from pain (cf. Ps. 33:10; Prov. 6:18; Jer. 6:19; 18:12 with Prov. 16:3). When we move away from self-centered living to other-centered living through rest in the Savior, we gain a new sense of purpose—one anchored in someone greater than ourselves.
In view of this, the unbelieving world and believers who refuse to respond to God’s direction and comfort, must live with a certain degree of despair especially as they face the painful experiences and tragedies of life. Remember, people may not look like they are in despair, but their lifestyles and the way they handle problems show that’s very often the case. Despair manifests itself in the patterns of the world’s lifestyle and pursuits that are often unconsciously designed to fill a void. This results in the tragic daily news headlines.
Writing to idolatrous Israel in a time when material prosperity and spiritual bankruptcy characterized the day, Hosea the prophet wrote, “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” When we sow the winds of futility we will reap the whirlwind—the tornadic consequences of attempting to live life without God’s direction and comfort (cf. Hos. 8:7). And Christians, in spite of all they have in Christ, are not immune to this. That we are not immune is quite evident from Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians in 4:17-20 which was written to Christians. As Christians we do not always walk in the direction and comfort of our God, under His shelter of protection. And that means we can’t rest in the shadow (the comfort) of the Almighty and His grace.
Satan and his world system offer temporary, shallow, and selfish routes to relief, which always lead us further away from a deep trust in God, from God’s true solutions, and thus, true comfort. Remember, in Scripture God is called “the God of all comfort” because He is really the only true source of comfort. Any solution that is not ultimately designed to lead us to God’s solution becomes a wrong and deceptive solution.
Life is full of pain and problems of all sorts, sizes, and shapes. As a result, our constant temptation is to seek quick, temporary relief so we can cope or make life feel better. Some of these solutions can be legitimate, but only if we learn to see them as a part of a total program leading us to the root problems and solutions. In other words, there are surface problems and solutions, and there are root causes and solutions.
For instance a sedative may dull the pain of an abscessed tooth, but only temporarily. We most likely need an antibiotic and perhaps a root canal.
Telling your wife you are sorry when you have spoken harshly or lost your temper over something may make you and your wife feel better, but have you really dealt with root cause of the harsh words? For that stronger medicine is needed.
Biblical comfort through the Word does not simply chop down the thorns and the weeds that cause us pain, it digs around in the soil of our lives to loosen soil around the roots, and then pulls them up by the roots.
The Need for Comfort
So where is God in all of this. Doesn’t He care? Is there not a solution and that which can bring comfort?
That God cares is seen (a) in the gift of the Word, a book filled with personal promises, and (b) the gift of His Son, the greatest promise of all. Note the following facts:
- In the KJV, some form of the word “comfort” is found 119 times (42 of these in the NT), NIV 69 times (19 in the NT), and the NAS 80 times (23 in the NT). All of these verses don’t deal with the offer of comfort, but they do speak in one way or another to the issue of man’s need.
- Some form of the word “encouragement” is found nine times in the KJV, 55 in the NIV, and the NAS 45 times.
- In addition, there are other words and clauses which call to mind God’s care and man’s need of comfort like “sustain, support, strengthen,” or clauses like “let not your heart be troubled,” “be not afraid,” “fear not,” “don’t give up,” “our hearts melted,” “take courage,” and so on.
In anticipation of His death, resurrection and ascension, and His departure from His disciples (knowing their troubled hearts), Christ loving said to them, “let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1). In these words we see the Savior’s love, but we also see two problems which reveal two needs.
First we see “troubled hearts” and the need of mature faith. Second, we see the solution, belief or faith. If faith is absent, it is actually the cause of a troubled heart.
The Problem of Troubled Hearts
Whether in the form of discouragement, perplexity, fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, or resentment, a troubled heart is a constant difficulty and reality of life.
In John 14:1 our Lord gives us the simple key to troubled hearts—faith in God through fellowship with the Lord Jesus. But He also shows us something else. Dealing with our troubled hearts is our responsibility. Note also Proverbs 4:23.
John 14:1 Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.
Proverbs 4:23 Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.
God cares about our hearts, but man is responsible to come to God by faith and to choose the right solution—His solution. There is a right way, one which works, and hundreds of wrong way streets that always fail. “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25).
Scripture emphatically declares that the God of the Bible is the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4). He alone is the source of real and lasting comfort, the kind that is not based on the fleeting and momentary uncertainties of life. Isaiah 40, begins with the call to comfort God’s people and through the development of this great chapter, God gives us some wonderful principles for dealing with our troubled hearts through faith.
The Need—A Focus of Faith
If man in all his temporality, frailty, and sinfulness is to find comfort, he must be anchored upon one who has the capacity to give comfort, to make provision for his sinfulness, and give strength in the midst of the turbulent waters of life, or he will drown. The great value of the Bible is that it is where we find God and His plan of salvation.
Someone tells the following story:
Karen’s mother was startled to find her five-year-old going through a new Bible storybook and circling the word “God” wherever it appeared on the page. Stifling her first reaction to reprimand the child for defacing a book, she quietly asked, “Why are your doing that?” Karen’s matter-of-fact answer was, “So that I will know where to find God when I want Him.” Wouldn’t be nice to have her confidence that all we had to do was open a book and find God waiting for us. The truth is, we have such a book—the Bible.
The emphasis here is on finding comfort by keeping our focus on the Lord. We must learn to filter all of life through the grid of the WHO and WHAT of God so that we might rest in what He is doing and in who He is.
As we approach this portion of the text, I am reminded of a story about Martin Luther’s wife when he was in a time of severe discouragement or despair. Katherine Luther dramatically revived the depressed Reformer’s confidence in God’s providence. It has been versified by F. W. Herzberger:
One day when skies loomed the blackest,
This greatest and bravest of men
Lost heart and in an over sad spirit
Refused to take courage again,
Neither eating or drinking nor speaking
To anxious wife, children or friends,
Till Katherine dons widow garments
and deepest of mourning pretends.
Surprised, Luther asked why she sorrowed.
“Dear Doctor,” his Katie replied,
“I have cause for the saddest of weeping,
For God in His heaven has died!”
Her gentle rebuke did not fail him,
He laughingly kissed his wise spouse,
Took courage, and banished his sorrow,
And joy again reigned in the house.
In Isaiah 55:8 God declares, “for my thoughts are not your thoughts …” Among other things, this verse declares the transcendence of God, that He is far beyond, different, and totally independent from all else in the universe. Even with His precious Word, we fall far short of thinking, loving, or acting like God, or of even being able to really understand His ways.
Listen to the words of Isaiah 46:8-11:
Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors. 9 Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; 11 Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.
So God asks us not to think and behave according to what we see, according to our understanding of the events of our lives and the world around us. Instead, He calls us to live by faith in His Word, in His sovereign purposes, and in His majestic being. Though His ways and thoughts transcend ours, He calls us to be comforted and to comfort one another as we face the difficulties of life with “behold your God, your God reigns!”
First Corinthians 10:6 and 11 teach us that God’s dealings with Israel as a nation provide examples of God’s dealings with us as individuals and as the church of Jesus Christ. From His dealings with Israel and His revelation to them we can draw certain parallels and lessons for our lives.
Though the Old Testament was not always directed to us, it is always for us. The Old Testament had a certain meaning and interpretation for Israel and the world, both then and now. Based on this, it has application and spiritual parallels for us with the New Testament as God’s final index. Much of this section of Isaiah is quoted in the New Testament.
The Purpose of Comfort
People need encouragement. People need the Lord. People need to know the comfort of God. But the encouragement of Scripture is not simply designed to make us feel better or remove our pain. God loves us and He cares about our pain, but His comfort is always designed to lift us out of the mire of our discouragement that we might have the wisdom and vision to grasp the enduring purposes of God along with God’s strength to run the race the Lord has set before us (Heb. 12:1-3).
Note this emphasis in the following passages:
Isaiah 40:29-31 He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power. 30 Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, 30 Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.
Psalm 40:1-10 For the choir director. A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me, and heard my cry. 2 He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay; And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. 3 And He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear, And will trust in the LORD. 4 How blessed is the man who has made the LORD his trust, And has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood. 5 Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which Thou hast done, And Thy thoughts toward us; There is none to compare with Thee; If I would declare and speak of them, They would be too numerous to count. 6 Sacrifice and meal offering Thou hast not desired; My ears Thou hast opened; Burnt offering and sin offering Thou hast not required. Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do Thy will, O my God; Thy Law is within my heart.” 9 I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation; Behold, I will not restrain my lips, O LORD, Thou knowest. 10 I have not hidden Thy righteousness within my heart; I have spoken of Thy faithfulness and Thy salvation; I have not concealed Thy lovingkindness and Thy truth from the great congregation.
None of us knows exactly what our future holds but, as believers, we do know Him who holds the future. Still, one thing is certain: each of us, in one form or another and to one degree or another, will face suffering, trials, pressures, and heartache in our journey through life. Let’s not allow the difficulties of the past, nor the possibility of difficulties in the future to negatively affect us or keep us from experiencing God’s healing and comfort, and from developing a vision for God’s purpose.
If we are also to experience God’s blessing, joy, peace, strength, fulfillment, growth, along with His purpose in the midst of our trials and heartaches, we must appropriate and experience the comfort God offers to His people through the Word.
The first 39 chapters of Isaiah deal with judgment upon the nations for their indifference to God and His Word. This included both the northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel had already been taken into captivity by the Assyrians when the Prophet wrote the book of Isaiah. In another 90 years, the southern kingdom of Judah would go into the Babylonian captivity. There Judah would be disciplined by the Lord for her disobedience and rebellion for 70 years.
In view of the nations’ present troubles and the coming invasion and captivity by the Babylonians, in chapters 40-66 Isaiah (under the inspiration of the Almighty) proclaims comfort to the people of God. Writing prophetically, the Prophet views Judah as on the eve of her restoration at the close of the 70 years. Ultimately, he depicts Israel’s (the two kingdoms united) final restoration following the tribulation or the blessings of the millennium with the coming of the Lord as her ultimate hope and comfort.
In one sense, this is analogous to the church during her time here on earth. This is a time of affliction and spiritual warfare, anticipation of the rapture and the Lord’s return followed by the tribulation, the restoration of the world and God’s kingdom on earth. These verses are full of principles which the believer may draw upon for comfort and strength in any age.
Though the nation had been founded on the absolutes of God’s Word and His covenant relationship with them, they had turned away from the Lord and His Word. They had ceased to find their real hope, comfort, and meaning in life from the Lord and His purpose for the nation.
As a result, the nation experienced two things:
(1) The despair of the futility of life without a close walk with God. In other words, the futility of man’s substitutes or strategies (Isa. 2:6-8).
(2) But, as always happens, they were also experiencing the despair of spiritual, moral, political, and social decadence on every hand. These were the marks of a nation in rebellion and under God’s judgment because they had turned away from His Word (1:21-23; 3:1-4, 8-9).
Because of the nations’ present troubles (her futility and moral breakdown), and because of the coming invasion and captivity by the Babylonians, Isaiah, the inspired prophet, proclaims comfort to the people of God in chapter 40-66.
But please note, the comfort of the chapters which follow Isaiah 40 is nothing less than the good news of the incomparable majesty of God, and the good news of Messiah in both His sufferings as the Lamb of God and His reign as the Lion of Judah.
Judah was not yet even in captivity, but Isaiah wrote prophetically or proleptically of two deliverances:
(1) He envisioned the nation as on the eve of her restoration at the close of the 70 years just as the Lord had promised.
(2) He envisioned Judah’s ultimate hope and comfort: he depicted the nation’s final restoration, following the tribulation, in the blessings of the millennium with the coming of the Lord in His glorious reign of peace and righteousness on earth.
How does this apply to us, and how do such remote promises bring comfort in our present distresses? In one sense, this is analogous to the church in her time or sojourn here on earth. The Bible views this age as a time of darkness, affliction, and spiritual warfare in which we, as God’s people, are to represent the Lord as His ambassadors. But, if we are going to be successful in this, we must be always looking with anticipation and living for the return of the Lord for the church, and the restoration of the world under God’s kingdom on earth. A great illustration of this is found in 2 Corinthians 4. In a context in which he describes the trials of the ministry (4:7-15), the Apostle concluded with these words:
2 Cor. 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
The possibility of the return of the Lord at any moment is to have a great influence on our daily lives. The old saying, “he’s so heavenly minded he’s of no earthly good” is a misnomer. To be heavenly minded in the biblical sense is to labor here on earth for the Lord, not in our own ability, but in His, knowing that because of the glorious future our labor is never in vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (NIV)
In another sense, Isaiah’s focus in these chapters reminds us that real comfort, comfort that leads to strength, must come from fellowship with an incomparable God through the Savior/Messiah and the knowledge of His Word.
Isaiah 40 is a passage filled with principles which any believer may draw upon for comfort and strength in any age. It is a comfort and strength however which should lead us as individuals (and as churches) to experience the promise of Isaiah 40:31 and Daniel 11:32.
Isaiah 40:31. Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.
Daniel 11:32 was spoken in a context that deals with trouble and persecution, even in the very difficult days of the tribulation:
And by smooth words he will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action.
Isaiah 40 has a special message for the leadership and congregation alike. Don’t miss the fact this chapter is addressed to both those who proclaim the Word and to those who are to hear it. As such, it contains principles that are vital to all of us.
The Plea to Comfort God’s People
The Purpose of The Plea (vs. 1)
Obviously the goal is comfort for God’s people. But a careful analysis of this text will reveal a number of spiritual truths that are important to our ability to experience God’s comfort.
The verb, “comfort,” is a command. God is giving a command to someone and the experience of comfort is dependent on obedience to this command. Also, the verb comfort is a second person plural which means it is addressed to more than one person. In good old Texas style it means “y’all comfort.” God is the speaker who is addressing the prophets (plural), the heralds and ministers of the Word.
“Comfort” is the Hebrew n~j~m@, (mj~n`) “be sorry, repent, be comforted, comfort.” “The original root seems to reflect the idea of ‘breathing deeply,’ hence the physical display of one’s feelings, usually sorrow, compassion, or comfort” perhaps as one takes in a deep sigh of relief as he experiences God’s comfort.1 This is an intensive stem, the piel, and so it means “to comfort.” This same word occurs in Ps. 23:4, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” This Hebrew word speaks of bringing spiritual, emotional, and mental relief to the hearts of men.
As this chapter will illustrate in several places, God’s key means of comfort for His people is through the proclamation of His Word through those who will be faithful heralds of Scripture. People need to be under the faithful teaching of the Bible (Rom. 10:17). This passage illustrates the responsibility to preach and to hear the Word of God (2 Tim. 4:1f).
The Repetition of the Call to Comfort
There is an emphatic repetition of the word “comfort.” This repetition stresses several things:
(1) Regardless of the difficulties of our days and our lack of understanding of His ways, God cares. The repetition stresses God’s care and desire for His people to experience His comfort. He is not indifferent to our needs. (1 Pet. 5:7; Rom. 8:32).
(2) The repetition also stresses our need of comfort because of our frailty and because of the nature of our times. We live in evil days, days full of deception, sin, and despair. Remember, Paul calls these days “difficult times” and times that are going to get worse with men deceiving and being deceived.
Hence, the great need is for the Word of God. Why? Because of the nature and character of Scripture. It is God-breathed, without error, profitable for equipping us for life, and alive, powerful, and able to penetrate into the innermost recesses of man’s troubled heart. Indeed, it is the incorruptible seed that lives and abides forever and that is ever bringing forth life and life abundantly (Isa. 40:6-8).
(3) The repetition also stresses the richness of the comfort offered to the people of God in the message of the Bible. The world has no real comfort to offer. Only the church of Jesus Christ with the Bible has a message of real comfort, the kind that can take us through thick or the thin, even through death.
Again, let us be reminded that the satanically controlled world has many substitutes. Man, in his fallenness and vain imaginations, has his own strategies for finding happiness—alcohol, drugs, power, praise, position, possessions, defense mechanisms, etc. But all these strategies leave one’s life in a void which in turn either: (a) drives people deeper and deeper into the despair of their futility or (b) calluses and hardens them against trusting God or both.
Have you ever noticed that a Bible which is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t. The key to comfort and stability is “thus says the Lord” and not the solutions the world offers (cf. John 14:26-27).
(4) The repetition also reminds us of the responsibility of God’s people to heed the principles set forth in this passage. This repetition lays stress on a double responsibility: (a) the responsibility of men in charge of shepherding God’s flock to preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-5) and (b) for all of God’s people to get involved with one another in the ministry of encouragement as emphasized in Hebrews 10:24-25 (public assembly) and 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (private or personal fellowship).
The Recipients of God’s Comfort
The comfort is offered to those called “my people.” This refers to (a) God’s covenant people who were related to the Lord through the promises of the Old Testament, and (b) who were also the recipients of God’s promises concerning the coming Messiah/Savior.
By application for us today this means that only those who are rightly related to God through faith in the New Covenant accomplished through the person and work of Christ, the Redeemer, can know and experience the comfort God offers. This means that if you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior by having trusted in Him, you will never find purpose in life or real inner peace.
But this also means something else for all who know the Lord. The comfort of God is centered in Jesus Christ and comes from learning to cling to Him. But how do we do that? What does that mean? It means we must know and believe God’s promises and respond in faith rather than turn to our own solutions. The following diagram with the passages involved illustrate the two choices open to us and the biblical process we need to choose.
The Method Employed (vs. 2a)
“Speak kindly” (NAS), “speak tenderly” (NIV), “speak ye comfortably” (KJV). Literally, the text has “speak to or upon the heart.” The verb is the Hebrew, D~B~r (rb~d`). Dabar stresses the activity of speech more than the content, though that is not absent. There is in this word a certain emphasis on the personal element, the element of communication between persons who are close.
May I suggest several things by way of application:
(1) Scripture is God’s personal and loving communication to man from which comes the only real comfort for life. The words of Scripture are aimed at the heart, the inner man.
(2) This also points to the need for a personal and loving relationship between God’s people. People respond to God’s Word best in an environment of love and acceptance. Cold, harsh, impersonal teaching most often fails to touch the heart and fails to bring about change. The words of Scripture are pictured as falling upon the heart like a gentle breeze that refreshes and comforts on a hot and blistering day. Ultimately, the only thing which can bring real comfort is the Word of God because this is how God, as the God of all comfort, speaks to us and assures us of His everlasting love, of His sovereign control, and infinite wisdom (Ps. 138:1-3; Rom. 15:4-5).
(3) To affect the heart, the Word must also be borne by the Spirit of God. This stresses to us that our preaching, teaching, and personal encouragement to others must be preceded by much prayer, dependence on the Lord, and soul searching (Ps. 139:23-24; Eph. 3:16f).
If the ministry of the Word of God is to be effective, if it is to result in changed lives and lives that reach out to others, it must be aimed at the heart. But that’s not all. God continues and says:
“And call out to her” (vs. 2a). The verb “call” is the Hebrew, q~r~a (ar`q`), which refers to a strong and clear proclamation. Though spoken tenderly and in love, God’s Word is to be proclaimed in a bold and decisive manner; there is to be no hesitancy or uncertainty or indecisiveness in its proclamation.
The capacity to comfort people in a manner that leads them on to growth and effectiveness comes from the clear understanding of the message of the Bible as God’s Holy Word. It never ever comes from the vain substitutes or strategies that we all are so prone to lean on or use for our happiness (cf. Isa. 8:19-20).
According to the directives of Scripture, which are our authority for belief and practice, our needs and responsibilities regarding the Word of God may be summarized as follows:
(1) We are to declare the Word, i.e., “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:1-4), read it (1 Tim. 4:13), and teach it (1 Tim. 4:11).
(2) We are to desire and love the Word, i.e., “have ears to hear” (Matt. 11:14; Mark 4:23; Rev. 2:7; Ps. 119:140) so that we listen, memorize, and meditate on Scripture.
(3) We are to be careful with the Word regarding two things: (a) What we hear (Mark 4:24)—we can hear the wrong teachers, listen to the wrong message because of Satan’s delusion. (b) How we hear (Luke 8:18)—we can listen in the wrong way: without faith, without dependence on the Spirit, or we can hear with our ears, but our prejudices or preconceived notions have dulled our ability to listen with an objective and teachable spirit. Basically, this means a deep respect for the character and authority of the Bible over our lives (Isa. 66:2).
(4) We are to be diligent to study the Word and know it accurately (2 Tim. 2:15).
(5) We are to be doers of the Word (Jam. 1:22-26) We are to be deeply concerned about application, applying what we hear.
The Message Proclaimed (vs. 2b)
Verses 1 and 2 form a prologue to the chapter and present us with part of the consolation of this passage. Remember, it is proleptic, it anticipates the future as already existing because of the sovereignty of God. From our standpoint today, some of this already exists because of the first advent of Christ, though we still wait for the second coming and all the glories that will follow.
Note each of the clauses beginning with “that.” This directs our attention to the content of the first message or the three areas of comfort that Israel needed to hear and likewise with us.
Israel’s warfare has ended
“Warfare” (tsaba’) is used (a) of an appointed time of service, or a duty similar to a soldier’s enlistment in the service, (b) of all of life as a warfare to which we are enlisted involving hard service, trials, and calamities (cf. Job. 7:1; 14:14), and (c) of any time of hardship or trial regardless of the reason.
Because of the law of double fulfillment in prophecy, Isaiah had in view two things:
(1) From the immediate fulfillment aspect, the end of the Babylonian captivity is in view. Judah’s time in Babylon would be short lived; God would soon restore the nation, and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah deal with God’s sovereign actions to accomplish this restoration. This assured them that God had not forgotten His promises to Abraham, that God was at work and would fulfill His promises.
(2) From the far or remote fulfillment aspect, the end of the tribulation in the last days just before the return of the Lord is in view. This too was to remind them God had not forsaken them, indeed He would actively work on Israel’s (both kingdoms) behalf to bring the nation back to Him and to fulfill His covenant promises to the nation.
By way of application for us:
(1) We can apply the promise “that her warfare has ended” to our own situation because the New Testament views our life here on earth as a temporary sojourn and a tour of duty as soldiers in the service of our King (cf. 2 Tim. 2:3, 4 with 4:6-18 and 1 Pet. 1:12, 13, 17).
(2) We are not now in the millennium. We are in a time of battle with insidious forces of evil, but our tour of duty, the season of the night is almost gone (Rom. 13:11-14). The day is at hand and never has there been greater reason to look up by virtue of world conditions as today. While the church does not look for signs because the coming of the Lord is imminent (could happen at any moment), it would seems that certain conditions would be needed to prepare the world for the events of the Tribulation like the continual rise of apostasy and the one world movement going on today. This would naturally suggest the coming of the Lord could very well be just around the corner.
(3) The promise of the cessation of our warfare, regardless of whether the rapture or the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:13f occur in our life or not, certainly anticipates the glorious future of both Israel and the church. For the church, it calls us (1) to live as sojourners, (2) to recognize we are not in Eden or the Millennium as yet, and (3) not to expect this sin-ridden world to provide what only life with God ruling on earth can give (Tit. 2:11f; 1 Pet. 1:13; 2 Thess. 1:6f).
Her iniquity has been removed
“Iniquity” refers to the series of rebellions, corruption and idolatry of Judah and Israel that God would purge away, partially by the two captivities, and then completely by the Tribulation, a time when God will purge out the rebels of Israel and bring the rest of the nation to repentance (cf. Hos. 5:14-15; Jer. 30:7f; Ezek. 20:33-39).
Ultimately, however, the removal of iniquity refers to the redemptive work of Messiah/Savior (Isa. 53). It is this alone which provides the basis for our forgiveness through the payment of our sin and our reconciliation to a Holy God through the person and finished work of Christ.
“Has been removed” states this as an accomplished fact. Though speaking prophetically, Isaiah declares this as an accomplished fact because God is sovereign and in control. He is perfectly faithful and true to His word.
By way of application for us today:
(1) It refers to our redemption in Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sin, and the privilege of fellowship with God now.
(2) It reminds us that the trials of this life, which make up part of our warfare, are one of the tools that God uses to remove the dross and impurities from our lives in the process of sanctification, though always, the basis of our forgiveness is the cross.
Knowing the truth of our forgiveness based on the finished work of Christ, and knowing how God uses suffering as a tool of growth and cleansing, and accepting the necessity of suffering in our lives as the work of a loving and wise God is a great source of comfort and joy if we will just accept it in faith. It emphatically declares our acceptance, security, and significance. It also declares God loves us and accepts us in grace, though He is committed to our sanctification (cf. Jam. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6, 7).
She has received double for her sins
“Double” is simply idiomatic or metaphorical for all that is necessary to accomplish the job. It emphasizes that God does what is necessary to accomplish His purposes (cf. Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:6; Heb. 12:5f; and John 15:1f).
Does life seem to be unfair? Are you under pressures that you just don’t understand? Are you experiencing the despair of man’s futility? If so, you can be sure God is at work and He has not forgotten you. He is just not finished with you yet.
The Preparation for Comfort
Remember that, under God’s directions, Isaiah was writing to bring comfort to God’s people who would become exiles in Babylon in a little less than a hundred years. Furthermore, Judah was in a spiritual wilderness and would remain there (except for a remnant of people) for centuries. Well, what about the promises to Abraham and to David? Was God going to forsake His people? How were God’s people to handle the coming invasion, the exile, and the continued domination by Gentile powers? As already suggested, this chapter tells us how.
One of the key notes of this chapter is the coming of the Lord (vs. 10) and the revelation of His glory to the world (vs. 5). The Lord is coming in a mighty way, but before He does, certain things are necessary. Israel must be prepared spiritually for the Lord. That He will not return and manifest His glory to a stubborn, unrepentant, and stiff-necked people was one of the themes of the Old Testament prophets. So the theme of verses 3-8 is PREPARATION, the preparation necessary for God’s people to experience the Lord, first in His comfort now, and ultimately in His personal coming.
But before we are given this message of preparation, we are introduced to the messenger.
The Messenger of Preparation (vs. 3a)
The messenger is left unidentified. He is viewed as simply a voice. Actually, three voices are mentioned (vss. 3, 6, 9). This may have in mind the ancient near eastern custom of sending representatives ahead to prepare the way for the visit of a monarch. So, important to a proper response to the king is the messenger, his message, obedience to his message, and the preparation for the coming of the King.
Significantly, the identity of the messenger is not revealed because the crucial issue is the message, not the man. The messenger pales by comparison to the message. It’s never the personality that is important, though his character needs to back up his words to demonstrate the authenticity of the message. It is the message that is important because it is the message which is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). We must ever recognize that as human beings we are but earthen vessels, mere instruments that God has chosen to use to reveal His eternal truth (1 Cor. 2:1-5; 3:4-8; 2 Cor. 4:5-7; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).
Though Isaiah was the voice in his day, from the New Testament we learn the identity of the voice. It is John the Baptist. All the gospels apply this passage to John (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23). John was the precursor or forerunner of Messiah in His first advent to earth. John himself clearly understood his virtual unimportance because, when asked who he was, he denied that he was anything but “a voice crying in the wilderness.” Later, he said, “He (speaking of the Lord) must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Likewise it should be with all of us. We have been left here to represent the Lord Jesus as His witnesses. We are not to promote ourselves. But too often we seek to find our significance and security and comfort in the opinions of men or in position, praise, and applause rather than in the Lord and what we have in Him. In doing so we not only fail to experience real comfort, but we become sources of pain for others.
The Message of Preparation (vss. 3b-8)
Removal of the obstacles (vss. 3-4)
3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (KJV)
3 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” (NIV)
The Hebrew is to be read as the NIV. The Hebrew construction lays stress on the spiritual preparation that was greatly needed in the life of the nation because of its wilderness condition. Literally, as the NIV translates according to the word order, the text reads:
In the wilderness prepare or clear the way of the Lord, Make smooth or straight in the desert a highway for our God (emphasis mine).
This is what is called a chiastic construction (Greek ciasma, cross-piece, from ciazein, to mark with an X, from the Greek letter ci, which has the shape of an X (c). It lays stress on the elements in the center of the verse. We can show this as follows:
- In the wilderness
prepare the way of the Lord
- in the desert a highway for our God.
This construction focuses the reader on the target or central points of the statements. Because the nation was in a wilderness or desert-like condition, certain actions must be accomplished by way of preparation before the people will be ready to truly respond to the Lord. The first command suggests the need to remove any obstacles that may be in the way as well as arranging things in proper order. The second command suggests preparing a special road, a raised causeway, a super highway, like our freeways.
In the New Testament, John came preaching in the wilderness and so the words of the prophet were applied to John like the KJV translation, as one preaching in the wilderness, but John undoubtedly did this because the desert portrayed Israel’s spiritual condition. John’s emphasis was clearly on Israel’s need of spiritual preparation.
How do we understand these words about preparing a way for the Lord? What does this mean? May I suggest several things.
First, for Isaiah’s day, these verses may have had a more immediate application for the Jews who would, in less than one hundred years, be taken into exile as discipline from the Lord. Isaiah’s words undoubtedly anticipated the coming of the Lord in the sense of His providential work to return Israel to their homeland from the Babylonian captivity following the 70 years as later prophesied by Jeremiah the prophet (cf. Jer. 29:10; Dan. 9:2). Note that Jeremiah 29:10 portrays the Lord as visiting His people to take them back to their land. But even then, only a remnant returned, those who had removed the obstacles of apathy and self-centeredness from their hearts so that they meant business with the Lord. Many simply refused to return because they had become prosperous in the land of their captivity. They had no burden for God’s purposes for the nation. They were unconcerned about being involved in the work of God. For them, it was simply business as usual.
Furthermore, if the people were to experience God’s comfort from the promises of this message, they must deal with the barriers in their own hearts, barriers like unbelief and complaining. See verses 27-31.
But, as we saw above, verses 3-4 also look beyond the immediate time of Isaiah to the time of John the Baptist. Compare Malachi 4:5-6 with the announcement of John’s birth to Zacharias in Luke 1:15-17. John was sent by God as Messiah’s forerunner to prepare the people of Israel for Christ’s first advent.
(1) He came preaching in the wilderness and proclaiming a message of repentance to prepare people so they might see their need of a righteousness that exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
(2) He came to cause them to see their sinfulness so they might turn from trusting in their religious externalism and self-righteous ways to trust in their Messiah not just as the King who would reign, but as the Savior who must die.
(3) John came to get Israel to remove the obstacles of their self-righteous externalism which, if not removed, would keep the nation as a whole from excepting their Messiah at His first advent.
But this does not exhaust the meaning of Isaiah 40:3-4. Because Israel rejected John’s message and the Lord, John did not fulfill Malachi’s prophecy which must await a later fulfillment (cf. Matt. 11:14; 17:10-13; Mark 9:11-13).
So Isaiah 40:3-4 anticipates another set of events and persons in preparation for the coming of the Lord at the second advent. This seems clear from the strong wording of verses 3b, “a highway for our God,” and similar elements of verse 4. The second advent alone can exhaust the meaning of these two verses.
Before the return of the Lord at His second advent, there will be another preparation, only this time, in addition to the spiritual preparation accomplished by the Tribulation and its special witnesses, God will bring about special changes in the topography of the land and in the political conditions of the world at the second coming of Christ to earth (cf. Zech. 14:1-5; Micah 1:3-4). This will literally prepare a highway for Messiah’s entrance into Jerusalem and for His glorious and universal reign in the millennium.
By way of personal application for us today, note several points:
(1) Verses 3 and 4 remind us that we too can have obstacles and impediments in our lives which hinder and stand in the way of God’s blessing because of our inability to respond to what the Lord means to us as His people. These obstacles hinder His reign over our hearts and our capacity to experience His comfort and our ability to serve the Lord.
(2) A major obstacle is a preoccupation with the present and our problems combined with an attitude that thinks God does not care or is indifferent to our needs (cf. 40:27). A prepared heart is one that looks beyond the present to the sure promises of a loving and caring God. AS Israel was to live in view of the certainty of the coming of the Lord, SO we are to live in view of both advents of the Lord. The fact that He has come as our suffering Savior and will come as the King of kings should positively impact the way we live (see Tit. 2:11-14).
(3) In the light of John the Baptist’s message of repentance and the verses that follow in Isaiah 40 proclaiming man’s temporality and the incomparable greatness of God, another barrier is a lack of repentance. The issue before us is a deep down repentance that recognizes our sinfulness as displayed in our self-sufficient, self-seeking ways by which we seek to handle life. Without this, we will not turn to the Lord as our only source of deliverance and comfort.
You see, one of the great goals of repentance and confession is to learn dependence and faith. It is designed to turn us FROM our own strategies by which we seek to handle life TO knowing, trusting, and loving God.
The Revelation of God’s Glory (vs. 5)
Please note the “then” that begins verse 5. The revelation of the glory of the Lord is a consequence of the preparation that has proceeded it. The glory of the Lord refers to the essence of God’s holy character and power, but the revelation of His glory refers to some historical act by which God reveals His character and power.
Of course, Isaiah has in mind the coming of the Lord in the person of Messiah in His appearance among men. Isaiah spoke of both the sufferings, especially His substitutionary death, and the glories of Messiah, His reign, but the prophet evidently did not see the great time separation between the two. This was often a problem for the prophets as we are told by Peter in 1 Peter 1:10-11. Listen to the translation of the NIV.
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. (NIV)
Though all the disciples saw Christ’s glory in the sense of John 1:14, only some of the disciples, Peter, James, and John, were given a glimpse of His millennial glory through the transfiguration. In His second advent, the whole world will see His glory through His glorious return and the events associated with it (cf. Mark 9:1-9).
Verse 5 then shows us that the glory of the Lord will be revealed—a reference to the two advents of Christ. But only when men prepare their hearts and respond to God’s message will they be able to see and experience the glory of God’s salvation.
This was true at the first advent when only a remnant recognized their sinfulness and responded by faith to Jesus as their Messiah. It has likewise been true during the church age for Jews and Gentiles alike. But it is also true in reference to the second advent and Christ’s return to earth as the Savior who will reign. Let me explain:
The Tribulation—the time of Jacob’s trouble—is designed to prepare the way of the Lord through its catastrophic judgments, through the ministries of the 144,000, the special ministry of the angels of the apocalypse, and through the two witnesses of Revelation 11. The Tribulation will bring Israel to her knees so that she repents and returns to the Lord. One of the messages of the prophets is that the Lord will not return until Israel repents and turns from her self-righteous ways and returns to the Lord (cf. Joel 2; Zech. 1:3; Mal. 3:7; Jer. 29:12-14). The Lord will then return to earth to destroy His and Israel’s enemies and establish the Kingdom, but it is the events of the Tribulation, the day of God’s indignation or wrath also known as the time of Jacob’s trouble, that will accomplish this (Jer. 30:7).
With verses 6-8, we turn to the third aspect of the message. This next part of the message builds on the last two phrases of verse 5, the words “all flesh” and “the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Understanding the significance of these words is crucial for turning to the Lord and knowing His comfort.
Man’s Condition and the Faithfulness of God’s Word (vss. 6-8)
The final thrust of the message in verses 6-8 is on the frailty and temporality of man versus the eternality of God and His Word. For man to exercise faith in God’s grace provision, certain things are essential. Here, the voice is probably that of the Lord telling Isaiah what to call out.
Before a man will reach out for God’s salvation so he can experience God’s comfort, he must face the reality of what he is—mere flesh. Men must realize their sinfulness and inability, repudiate any form of self-trust, and then rely on God’s provision.
“All flesh” calls to mind two things:
(1) All flesh looks at mankind in general. It looks at man in his natural state as he exists in his human body, in his natural life, born to natural parents, and so spiritually dead, without the new birth, the second birth from above by the eternal Word and the Spirit of God.
John 3:3-6 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” 4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” 5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
1 Pet. 1:23-25 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25 but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you (NIV).
(2) For believers, “all flesh” calls to mind the futility of life when we are walking in the energy of the flesh, by our sinful nature, trusting in ourselves and our own pursuits or solutions rather than walking by the Spirit of God and living by trust in the Word (Jer. 17).
Jeremiah 17:5-6 This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. 6 He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives” (NIV).
Man is like grass that produces the lovely flowers of the field. All man’s glory—his exploits, inventions, ideologies, accomplishments, kingdoms, strengths, his self-made religions or religious strivings, everything in which he glories—is like the grass that withers and the flower of grass that fades. Man’s accomplishments are often glorious and beautiful in the morning, but in a short time, like the flowers under the hot Palestinian sun, they soon becomes scorched, withered, and gone, lost forever. Isaiah has in view the climatic conditions of Palestine. In the morning after a cool night with its dew, the hills would be an array of colors from the flowers that would spring up during the night, but before the evening, because of the hot Palestinian sun and the dry scorching winds, they would be scorched and withered.
Some points to ponder:
(1) God wants us to reckon with the fact of our frailty, inability, and the transient, fleeting nature of life apart from Him.
(2) He wants us to see that, in ourselves, we can produce nothing that lasts or that we can take into eternity or that can take us into eternity with God.
(3) He wants us to see that when man does not base his life on the foundation of God’s Word, and attempts to live without a deep trust in God, then all his ideologies, ideas, purposes, hopes, dreams, accomplishments, and his strategies for life are temporary and futile.
The most majestic of man’s glory is still only flesh. Remember our Lord’s word in John 6:63? He said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” Fleshly man, man in his natural state, is simply insufficient to break the barrier of time and extend beyond this life or even give him the true meaning in this life.
Isaiah closed these verses with “But the word of our God stands forever” (vs. 8b). Isaiah calls our attention to the eternal character of God’s ALL-SUFFICIENT WORD, the inerrant, infallible, and God-breathed Bible that has stood the test of time regardless of man’s and Satan’s attempts to stamp it out. It is this Book, the Holy Bible, the Word of God, that is the means, along with the Spirit of God, by which we are begotten to new life, can find strength for this life, and can count for eternity (1 Pet. 1:23; Jam. 1:21). In other words, it is God’s Holy Word that gives comfort because, regardless of the temporality of one’s life, regardless of what transpires in history during one’s life, God’s sure Word, when believed and acted on, does several marvelous things:
(1) It brings us into fellowship with God through its message of salvation through Christ and gives us eternal life. It extends our life into the eternal future with God and firmly assures us God’s promises will be fulfilled.
(2) It is the basis for making this life count for eternity, for taking us beyond the superficial, the plastic, and the temporal. It takes our lives out of the realm of futility and into the realm of eternal meaning with eternal rewards (cf. Ecc. 1:7; Ps. 90:12; 39:4-6; 2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Psalm 39:4-6 Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. Selah Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. (NIV)
Psalm 90:12 Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (NIV)
(3) God’s eternal Word becomes the means of strength and comfort, peace and joy in the ups and downs of this life, not as the world gives, but as only the Lord Jesus gives through His Word (Isa. 40:31).
As with Israel, we too have the promise of seeing and experiencing God’s glory through the person of Jesus Christ. For instance, Christ in the believer is the hope of glory, the glory of a transformed life, the glory of a resurrected body, the glory of rewards, and the guaranteed glory of heaven.
But there are obstacles which stand in the way. For the unbeliever as well as Jews, there is the obstacle of self-trust. For believers in Christ, for those who have trusted in the Savior, the resurrected body and heaven are guaranteed by the finished work of Christ, but the glory of a transformed life and eternal rewards are not. To experience these, we must make way for the Lord, we must remove the impediments, the things standing in the way of our walk with God (note Isa. 57:14).
Compare the following:
- Failure to rest in the full sufficiency of the finished work of Christ, or hanging on to dead works in the form of legalism, mysticism, or asceticism, stands as an obstacle to growth and spiritual deliverance (Col. 2:8-23; 3:1f; Heb. 9:14; Gal. 2:21; 5:1-7).
- Failure to properly deal with sin in one’s life becomes an obstacle to walking under the control and power of the Spirit (1 John 1:8-10; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).
- Wrong relationships in marriage likewise become obstacles to one’s prayer life (1 Pet. 3:7).
- Failing to confess sin in the life is an obstacle to prayer. Note that most of the sins mentioned in Isa. 59:1-3 deal with trusting in man’s strategies for handling life (Ps. 32:3-5; 66:18; Jam. 4:3; Isa. 1:15; 59:1-3).
- Failure to deal with known sin through confession is an obstacle to hungering for the Word, to understanding Scripture, and to its proper impact on one’s life (Jam. 1:20-21; 1 Pet. 2:1-3).
- Living as earthdwellers, making this life and its pleasures our prime objective, rather than living as sojourners is a tremendous obstacle to living as God’s people, as believer priests (1 Pet. 1:17-2:3, 11).
- Failing to deal with areas of weakness and failing to keep our focus on the Lord becomes another obstacle to running the race the Lord has laid out before us (Heb. 12:1-3).
- Failing to see the various pressures of life as the work of God’s loving discipline to train and shape us, becomes an obstacle to growth and the experience of God’s power in life (Heb. 12:5-15).
- Failing to make proper preparations for worship in any form becomes an obstacle to true worship— worship in spirit and truth, worship that affects the heart and has an impact on the life for change, ministry, and glory to God (Luke 22:7-9; 1 Cor. 11:28f; John 4:23-24).
- Failure to abide by the law of love often creates obstacles for others in their walk with the Lord (Rom. 14:13).
The Prescription for Comfort
The Primary Procedure (vss. 9, 18, 25-26)
Verse 9 calls on the prophet, and by application for today, it also calls on us to proclaim one of the most important messages God’s people can know and proclaim, the message of “Here is your God.” Older translations like the KJV, ASV, and the RSV translated this as “Behold your God” following the normal translation of the Hebrew, h#nn@h, an interjection designed to arrest and focus the attention on an object because of its importance in the argument or purpose of the writer. The newer translations like the NASB, NIV, and NRSV evidently follow the idea advanced by T. O. Lambdin, who suggests that sometimes h#nn@h is used to state the existence of something. “It differs from yesh in that it emphasizes the immediacy, the here-and-now-ness, of the situation.”2 Interestingly, in the very next verse, h#nn@h is used twice and is translated, “behold” or “see” in the versions.
Regardless, clearly the occasion or means of comfort comes from placing one’s attention or focus on God who is here revealed and proclaimed in four wonderful ways:
- He is a Personal God, “behold your God” (vs. 9),
- He is a mighty Deliverer and King who will come “with His arm ruling for Him” (vs. 10a),
- He is a Rewarder, “Behold, His reward it with Him …” (vs. 10b), and
- He is a Shepherd, “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, …” (vs. 11).
As these verses make clear, “Behold your God” points to the person of the Lord in His future coming to Zion or Jerusalem and His salvation for Israel and the world.
(1) Isaiah has in mind God’s saving activity for the nation in God’s work to return Judah from the Babylonian exile. He is saying God is going to come and deal with your exile. His judgment is temporary, but His love and faithfulness to His promises are everlasting.
(2) But primarily, the prophet has in mind the coming of Christ in what we now know as His first and second advents and what His personal coming means to Israel and to the rest of mankind. The primary emphasis of these verses is on the second advent, but the second advent presupposes the first advent and Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and session at God’s right hand since these historical events form the basis for the Savior’s victorious return and reign on earth (cf. Rev. 4 and 5).
It is this idea of beholding or maintaining a right focus that becomes the topic and emphasis of the rest of the chapter which, by a series of comparisons and contrasts, focuses the reader’s attention on the Attributes and Activities of God. Note verses 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, 25, and 26. Isaiah is saying, “Behold your God.” “Think about the nature and works, the attributes and actions, of your God.” “Let your mind dwell on Him.”
These verses are telling us to behold our God in all His incomparable glory, majestic splendor, and saving grace as He has manifested Himself in creation and in Scripture. And today we can add to that God’s manifestation in His personal coming to earth in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:1-14; Heb. 1:1-3).
Isaiah is saying, “do you want God’s comfort?” Then always focus on who and what God is as you face the warfare of life, whatever it may bring. Get your eyes on your God. Behold Him, your God reigns.
Isaiah spends most of the rest of chapter 40 helping us to do just that. But before we look at these verses, let’s take a moment to think about the concept of “beholding” or our focus.
The Concept of Focus
One of the most important and difficult issues for us concerns how well we keep our eyes on the truth of Scripture, especially the truth of God’s PERSON, PLAN, PRINCIPLES, PROMISES, and PURPOSES. Knowing them is one thing. Keeping the mind and heart fixed on them is an entirely different matter.
Of course, we can’t apply what we do not know. But knowing truth is not enough. Knowledge alone can cause arrogance and it can also be deceptive. It can leave us with the impression we are living by the Scripture when in reality we are not. We may know the principles (have knowledge or the wisdom of God’s perspective), but fail to apply it (have spiritual understanding that truly changes the way we live) (Col. 1:9).
One of the keys to applying the Word, living by faith, and waiting on the Lord IS OUR FOCUS. A biblical focus is crucial to three things: (a) to correcting our beliefs and sources of trust, (b) to developing, and maintaining faith, and (c) to cultivating Christlike character in attitudes and actions.
But what do we mean by focus? Does it mean simply to look in a certain direction? No! Not at all.
A Definition of Focus
The verb “focus,” means “to bring into view, to make something clear.” It means “clarity.” But it also means, “to devote oneself to a task, an idea, or to a person, or to whatever is in the field of focus.” A point of focus is a place of activity, influence, or importance. It is a point of origin from which ideas, beliefs, influences, and controls emerge.
As applied to God and His Word, we are talking about so centering or fixing our minds and hearts on the truths of Scripture concerning God (His person, promises, principles, plan, and purposes) that we not only see them with spiritual clarity, but they become the focal point of our lives, a place of mental activity that in turn corrects our attitudes and values, influences our behavior, and controls our minds, emotions, and wills
2 Cor. 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes (italics mine) not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (NIV)
The Proclamations About God (vss. 9-26)
Since God is the God of all comfort and our only true source of comfort in the final analysis, we will refer to Him as the Comforter.
Proclamations of His Ways (vss. 9c, 10-11)
(1) He is a personal God who cares. He is “your God” (vs. 9c). That He cares is evident by His call to the prophets to comfort His people (1 Pet. 5:7). He is the transcendent, yet personal and immanent God who desires to sustain and care for us in a personal way, and He is free to do that because we become His people and the object of His personal love through faith in the Lord Jesus.
(2) He is a Deliverer and King (vs. 10a). God has come to deliver men, to save them from their sin, from Satan, and from themselves. He has come to reign, to take over, to take charge of our lives. When Joshua was faced with the man with his sword drawn, Joshua approached him and asked, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” But this was no ordinary man. Rather it was a theophany, a divine manifestation of Yahweh who had come as the Captain, the Commander of the armies of the Lord. He had not come to take sides, but to take over. Joshua then fell on his face in worship, recognizing that it was the Lord (cf. Josh. 5:13-15). Furthermore, He will one day return to bring perfect peace to a sin-ridden world.
I remember reading the story of the new believer who began to read his new Bible. Finally he came to the book of Revelation having observed the conflict with Satan and sin throughout the pages of Scripture and their intensification and culmination in Revelation. But when he finished reading Revelation—the conclusion to the whole Bible—he joyfully exclaimed, “We win! We win!”
The hope of His coming again is to bring comfort and become a motivation to service and godly living (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 John 3:1-3). In the meantime, we are to live with the understanding that this life is neither Eden nor the Millennium.
(3) He is a Rewarder (vs. 10b). Our labor in the Lord will never be in vain either for this life or the life to come. (1 Cor. 15:58, “therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”)
(4) He is a Shepherd who tenderly cares for his people. He leads and feeds them (vs. 11). This is a tender picture that portrays God’s love, but it does not mean the removal of our problems. It does, however, guarantee His presence and strength for whatever life may bring whether we are on green pastures or walking through the shadow of death. It reminds us of the presentation of the Lord in the New Testament as the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, and the Chief Shepherd.
Proclamations of His Being (vss. 12-26)
Note the methodology of this passage. Through a series of rhetorical questions it makes the reader focus on the greatness of our God rather than on the nature and size of our problems. Compared to God, our problems are nothing. This is not to minimize them, for problems are real, cause great pain, and are a personal concern to the Lord. But we must learn to see them against the backdrop of the incomparable majesty of God.
When I think about the greatness of God’s Word and how it points us to God I am reminded of the child’s description of an elevator: “I got into this little room and the upstairs came down.” God’s Word is the little room that brings the reality of God who sits in the heavens, down to the realities of my life.
Note four things about our God:
(1) His power is limitless—God is omnipotent (vs. 12). This stresses the awesome immensity and infinite greatness of the Almighty God. He transcends even the vast universe. God’s immensity and omnipotence are highlighted by the smallness of the measure. He is so omnipotent and great that He has dealt with the vast universe just as finite man deals with the smallest details of his life: with the hollow of his hand, or the span of his hand, or with the small instruments he uses to measure things like a balance or a pair of scales.
(2) His wisdom is unsearchable—God is omniscient (vss. 13, 14). Does the eternal God consult with anyone? Of course not. He is the all-wise God and He doesn’t need my council concerning my life or yours or concerning the way He is running the world. Man in his arrogance and pomp doesn’t like that. We want to tell God how He ought to do things, especially how He ought to let me run my affairs and pave the way for life as I would like it.
This was the lesson that Job had to learn. Job didn’t understand the calamities of his life just as we wouldn’t, and though he originally faced the pain of his trials with trust and recognized that God has the right to give and take away, still, in the process of his testing over time, he grew to be demanding with God. The thin line between legitimately desiring relief and demanding relief from God is thin ice through which we all seem to fall sooner or later.
The fact is the longer we must wait for the relief we want, the greater the struggle becomes to trust God’s wisdom and goodness. Very often, what we want to call trust is little more than the expectation that God is going to remove our pain or the cause of trouble. This kind of trust often settles into a demanding spirit with God that manifests itself, not in rest, but in some form of anger. Like Judah, we feel God has forgotten us, or doesn’t care, or hasn’t given us a fair shake (cf. 40:27).
Compare Job 6:8 (here we see Job’s pain and longing); 9:3 (here we see his unwillingness to argue or be demanding with the Almighty). Now compare this with 13:3; 19:7. In the continuation of his pain, Job changed. Next compare 38:1f with 40:1f and 42:1f. Here God deals with Job’s demanding spirit which also shows us what He thinks about ours.
(3) His authority is absolute—God is sovereign (vss. 15-17). Kingdoms and nations come and go, rise and fall, but “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens and His sovereignty rules over all.” And again, “But our God is in the heavens, He does what He pleases” says the Psalmists (Ps. 103:19; 115:3).
He is no more weighed down or burdened by that [the nations] than a man is burdened by a mere drop of water clinging to a bucket of water he carries, or a pair of scales is affected by an infinitesimal speck of dust settling on it (Isa. 17:13; 29:5).3
(4) His being is incomparable—God is infinite, without limits (vss. 18-26).
The awesome vastness of the heavens which are like a curtain that God has stretched out (vs. 22) ought to swell our hearts with joy and comfort and increase our faith against any obstacle every time we look at the starry heavens. From what I have read, almost anything can be reproduced to scale except the universe. This is shown by the fact that if the earth were represented by a ball one inch in diameter, the nearest star, “Alpha Centaury,” would have to be placed 51,000 miles away. Or to illustrate it another way, the moon, the planets, and the few thousand stars visible to us with the naked eye are as a single drop of water in the boundless sea of the universe. I don’t know exactly how scientists know this, but I have also read that the sun, for instance, is so large that, if it were hollow, it could contain more than one million worlds the size of our earth. Also, there are stars in space so large that they could easily hold 500 million suns the size of ours. There are about 100 billion stars in the average galaxy and there are at least 100 million galaxies in the known universe.4
These verses in Isaiah 40 which make up the majority of this chapter are designed to get us to see our problems no matter how large against the background of our incomparable God.
The problem is that we turn this around. We stand between God and our problems, with our back to God, and we focus on the problems. But by doing so we completely lose sight of God. This has the effect of making a mole hill out of God and a mountain out of our problems from the standpoint of our perspective.
The results are various forms of sinful attitudes and strategies by which we seek to handle our lives like depression, self-pity, complaining, bitterness, demandingness, the instability of wavering back and forth between two opinions (the oscillation blues, like an electric fan), and other forms of defense and escape mechanisms like withdrawal, revenge, overeating, blaming God, blaming others, blaming conditions like the weather, and you name it.
Problems that Hinder Our Comfort (vss. 27-28a)
With verses 27-28, Isaiah touches on one of the problems and consequences of a wrong focus. What does a wrong focus do? It keeps us from experiencing the comfort of the Lord because it blurs our focus and distorts our perspective about the Lord, His love, wisdom, and power. It also distorts our perspective about our problems, their purpose and value and sometimes their seriousness (we sometimes see them as more serious than they are). Furthermore, we lose sight of eternity: laying up eternal treasures and living as sojourners.
To reveal and highlight their problem and ours, Isaiah asks two sets of questions designed to bring reproof and correction. (Remember, Scripture is profitable for reproof (exposure) and correction, 2 Tim. 3:16.)
First, verse 27a asks the question “why.” It is a question of reproof, one designed to expose and cause them to evaluate and examine their ways–their thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
Second, verse 28a, asks questions concerning knowing and hearing the Word about their God. Like the first, it too is designed to expose but with greater emphasis on bringing about correction by pointing them (and us) to one of the main problems—failure to know God and relate our personal lives to God’s greatness through the Word by trust.
B. M. Launderville shares a good illustration:
The vine clings to the oak during the fiercest of storms. Though the violence of nature may uproot the oak, twining tendrils still cling to it. If the vine is on the side of the tree opposite the wind, the great oak is its protection; if it is on the exposed side, the tempest only presses it closer to the trunk.
In some of the storms of life, God intervenes and shelters us. In others, He allows us to be exposed so that we will be pressed more closely to Him.5
The first question (vs. 27)
Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? (NIV)
Note first how Isaiah describes the people—as Jacob and Israel—as the people of the covenants of promise whom God had redeemed and to whom God had revealed Himself and given special unconditional promises.
The idea of this question in this context is: Since God is not only the Creator but also the Preserver of all things, even the heavenly bodies, nations, and individual men, how can you, especially as God’s people, with such special unconditional promises and privileges, say that God has forsaken you?
The grammar of the verb “assert,” or “complain” (NIV) (a piel imperfect) and the context suggest this describes repeated, persistent action. Such thinking and complaining had become the pattern of Judah. How quickly we develop such patterns of living.
No information is given as to the precise circumstances under which this complaint is uttered … It is a universal complaint, raised in times of difficulty and adversity.6
The question asked of Jacob and Israel is designed to rebuke and expose, designed to get them to evaluate their thoughts and actions in the light of God’s person. Why? To help them see just how far off they have drifted from anchoring their hope in the Lord. The trials and pressures of life, no matter how severe, are never an indication God has forgotten us or is unconcerned.
What do these words, “My way is hidden from the LORD,” teach us about the hearts and thinking of the people of Judah and about our own hearts?
It could reveal either unbelief or ignorance or maybe both. Such a statement could reveal unbelief in God’s ability to know about all the details of one’s life, or it could reveal ignorance of God’s love and concern to know about one’s affairs and needs, i.e., He is just not interested enough in me to watch out for my needs, or He is too busy and concerned about other things to be bothered about me. But of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Compare the following Old Testament passages where God declares both His knowledge and love or care over Israel (Deut. 11:12; 2 Chron. 16:9; Ps. 34:15; 55:22; Prov. 5:21; 15:3; Amos 9:8).
These statements, however, could also demonstrate the end result of the process of the hardening of the soul. They show the self-pity, bitterness, frustration, rebellion, demandingness, and anger that develops when people who weren’t getting their way fail to behold their God. They think they are neglected by God. It is like the old expression, “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms.”
This seems supported by the next statement of complaint, “… and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God.” In other words, we are not getting a fair shake. Life is not fair!
“Justice” (mishpat) refers here to one’s particular cause or rights in life and to God’s decision to vindicate and take up that cause on their behalf. Listen to Job’s complaint in Job 19:7:
Though I cry, ‘I’ve been wronged!’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice. (NIV)
The Hebrew word for “escapes the notice,” is aB^r, which literally means “to pass over or by.” It suggest the picture of someone who walks right by you as if oblivious of you or your need. The NIV translates this, “my cause is disregarded by my God.” It’s like being stranded on the freeway and having car after car go by and ignore you and your problem.
But note how they address God as “the Lord.” How ironical! Please note that the people were referring to God as “the Lord” and as “My God.” Lord is YAHWEH, a term which implies some understanding of the nature of God. This is a special name by which God had revealed Himself to Israel. It represented special love, revelation, and redemption for the nation.
This would suggest to me that while the problem could be partially a matter of ignorance of God’s divine essence, it was primarily a matter of a wrong focus and the resultant hardening that began to occur over time as they became bitter and frustrated over their circumstances through unfocused hearts or foggy perceptions about God. The end result was self-pity and a spirit of demandingness.
When we fail to take into account the nature of this world as fallen and our need of the disciplining work of God to train us in righteousness, we tend to see pleasant circumstances as the primary blessing of God and our due as God’s children. And we see the opposite as the lack of God’s love and an injustice. “What did I do to deserve this?”
Remember what happened to Job? He lost everything. His life went from bad to worse to horrible. If ever a man’s life did not support the gospel of health, wealth, and happiness, it was Job’s. He became an impoverished, diseased man whose wife even told him to curse God and die. Yet, Job clung tenaciously to the Lord. In Job 1:21-22 he said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” 22 Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.
In Job’s initial response to tragedy, there is no hint of a demanding spirit of complaint and bitter self-pity. But with time, something began to take place in Job’s heart and thinking that was not good and that led to God’s stern rebuke. Job developed a demanding spirit which gradually replaced trust and submission to God’s wisdom, sovereign authority, and love. Instead of submission, he developed a spirit of insubordination, frustration, and self-centered solutions that demanded relief or life as he thought he deserved it. Note the following passages (Job 9:3f; 10:1-3; 13:3, 15; 16:7-9 [Note Job’s perception of God here; not a loving friend, but a cruel enemy]; 19:7f; 23:1-10).
Job 23:10b, “When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” is often quoted or referred to as a statement of faith, expressing Job’s confidence in the purifying effect of his trials. But such a view does not really fit the context. Referring to verse 10b, Ryrie writes, “the last part of the verse does not refer to the refining effect of suffering, but to his innocence. When the ‘Assayer’ tries him, He will find not secret dross cleverly concealed from men (as his friends charged), but gold.”7
In the immediate aftermath of difficult times, we manage to mobilize our resources and cling to God as we press on. But I wonder if the strength to deal with tough times is sometimes supported by a quiet but strong hope that a good response from us will bring a quicker end to our trials and a return to better times.8
The thought is either “God, I’ve learned my lesson, so now let’s put things back where they were,” or “God, I know I am not perfect, but I have been following your principles, and you have promised to bless me for it.” Compare Job 31:1-4 and Job’s declaration of his righteous behavior and thus, the justice due to him.
It seems to be that the longer we must wait for hoped-for relief, the greater the struggle becomes to trust God’s goodness and wisdom. Much of what looks like trust may reflect little more than the confident expectation of restored blessing which eventually settles into a spirit of demandingness with God.9
This is the way we are as sinful people.
We demand that spouses respond to our needs; we demand that our children exhibit the fruit of our godly training; we demand that our churches be sensitive to our concerns by providing certain ministries; we demand that slow drivers get out of the passing lane; we demand that no one hurt us again the way we were hurt before; we demand that legitimate pleasures, long denied, be ours to enjoy.10
One can’t read Numbers 9:15-23 without being impressed with the fact of God’s sovereign authority over our lives. The children moved at God’s command, not when they felt like it, or were ready to move on. The creature does not give orders to the Creator, nor the slave to the master, nor the child to the parent.
Note how God answered Job’s demanding spirit in Job 38:1-4:
Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (NIV)
There is here no gentle voice to soothe Job’s anguish, no warm invitation to still his troubled heart … When a suffering saint pours out the sorrow of his soul, our Lord reveals Himself as his Great High Priest, a caring Advocate who is touched by his struggles. But when that sorrow has been twisted into a bitter spirit of demandingness, his lament is met by the steely glare of a surgeon, ready to cut out the disease with a glistening scalpel. God thunders out the challenge: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”11
The second set of questions (vs. 28)
“Do you not know? Have you not heard?” These questions suggest that not only was their knowledge inadequate and shallow, but it was inadequate because they had failed to truly listen to the Word either because of their absence or because religious externalism had led to closed and hardened hearts (cf. Isa. 29:13).
Note the following principles:
(1) Spending quality time hearing and studying the Word is just as important to promote careful application of the Scripture and facts about God that we know, as it is for learning new truth.
(2) But, obviously, quality time in the Word is not just a matter of being present at church or of having a daily time in the Word. We must have ears to hear. This means a conscious, determined commitment to apply and relate our lives to the Word (see Mark 6:30-52 and note the closing verse).
How do we handle our frustration with the problems in life and this demanding spirit that so often attacks us? There can be no real comfort in the midst of a spirit that questions God’s justice and love. We must learn to wait on the Lord, but first, we must learn what waiting on the Lord means.
Isaiah now calls on us to “wait on the Lord.” Here we will learn several important lessons and what it means to wait on the Lord.
Promises Concerning God’s Person and Provision (vss. 28b-31)
The promise of these verses is for those who wait on the Lord. These are the ones who will find new strength to carry them through the trials of life. Remember that our word “comfort” comes from the Latin cum fortes, “to give strength.” As our Comforter, God gives us new strength when we learn to wait on Him.
Let’s note the emphasis of these verses.
(1) We must learn to rest in God’s Sovereignty: we must know who is in charge, “The Everlasting God, the Lord, the creator of the ends of the earth” (40:28b).
(2) We must learn to rest in God’s Omnipotence: our problems are never the result of God’s weakness, He “does not become weary or tired” (40:28b).
(3) We must learn to rest in the fact of God’s Omniscience: we must know God knows what He is doing, “His understanding is inscrutable” (40:28c).
(4) We must learn to rest in God’s Love and Care: we must know God cares and wants to strengthen us, “He gives (a habitual practice of God) strength to the weary, …” (40:29).
(5) We must learn to wait on the Lord: we must know what waiting on the Lord means (40:30-31).
“Those who wait” is a participle of continual action. It refers to one who is characterized by waiting. “Wait” is the Hebrew qawah, which means “to trust, hope, or have confidence in.” Originally qawah meant “to twist, bind.” It was used of the twisting process employed in the making of a rope, which of course, produces an instrument or a tool that is strong and capable of holding a heavy weight.
Those who wait in true faith are renewed in strength so that they can continue to serve the Lord while looking for his saving work knowing that there will come a time when all that God has promised will be realized and fulfilled. In the meantime the believer who waits survives by counting on God’s goodness, love, and wisdom. Remember, we are instruments of God, earthly vessels that He uses to carry out His purposes. Focusing on our God and the many truths of the Word is like weaving and twisting threads into a rope; it develops courage, strength, and endurance. The result? We are formed into an instrument that can be used to the Glory of God for which we were created and redeemed.
So God calls us to live by faith in His Word, in His sovereign purposes, and in His majestic being. Though His ways and thoughts transcend ours, He calls us to comfort one another as we face the difficulties of life with the challenge, “behold your God, your God reigns!”
Is beholding God practical? Absolutely!
(1) It replaces our weakness with His strength and that is practical. Isaiah promises, “We will gain new strength.”
(2) It lifts us out of despair and allows us to soar above the pressures of life. Isaiah promises, “we will mount up with wings like eagles.” This means we can soar above the reproaches and pains of this life by hope.
(3) It gives endurance and turns us into endurance runners so Isaiah promises, “we will run and not get tired.”
Daniel 11:32b teaches us, “but the people who know their God will display strength and take action.” In other words, they will do great things. We have two choices open to us:
- We can choose despair as we choose to lean on our own understanding and then turn to our own devices for deliverance, or
- We can choose the comfort of God as we learn to behold Him, trust in Him, and act on His promises.
Which choice will it be?