Wrongs and Regrets
Have you ever made such a bad decision that at some point you realized that you blew the opportunity of a lifetime, or something else happened that changed the whole direction of your life, forever?
Okay, maybe it was not that dramatic. But still, you are now living with consequences that have changed the outlook of things because of the choice you made. You did not know at the time how important your decision would be. Now you know, and you cannot go back and change it.
When you catch yourself thinking about it you think, “I never would have chosen this. If I had only known, I would have done things differently.” You took that risk one time too many. You gave in to your anger at just the wrong moment. You were careless, cut a corner, let something go and only now realize, too late, how important it really was.
Now you are wondering if you missed God’s best for you.
You must be on Plan B now, or maybe it is Plan C or D or F. It feels like there is something to that thinking, right? You know God would have been pleased to spare you this whole business, if only you had not done that wrong thing, or made that mistake, or that bad decision.
That is exactly where Isaiah’s audience was in their thinking, the people this passage was written for.
They had been guilty of terrible and ongoing rebellion against God. They had disregarded God’s commands, treated God with scorn and dishonor, given in to their base appetites, even worshiped idols. And they had disregarded God’s warnings.
Now they had suffered utter humiliation for it, and lost not only their homes and their wealth, but their nation, and worst of all, the temple and its services. Now there was no way for them to offer sacrifices to God in repentance.
Many of the generations leading up to theirs had committed the same transgressions, but had not endured the horrific consequences Isaiah’s audience had experienced. Perhaps they had mistakenly thought they could “get away with” their choices.
Being in exile had changed the whole course of their lives.
God’s promise to Abraham was to make him into a mighty nation, blessing the whole world. Had they lost that promise forever?
Captivity was certainly a far cry from what God had said God wanted for them. On the one hand, they had failed the high calling God had called them to. But on the other hand, it looked as though God had failed them too. How easy it would have been to be bitter and disillusioned in their defeated lives.
That is often where our thinking can take us. In searching for some person or some reason to explain what has happened to us (and to escape our own personal responsibility) we can be tempted to put the blame for our circumstances on God.
What is God’s response?
God’s Comfort and Encouragement
Like the core canon of the Bible itself, the sixty-six chapters in Isaiah parallel the sixty-six books of the Bible. Isaiah 1 through 39 has been compared to the thirty-nine books of the Hebrew scriptures. Like much of the narrative, wisdom, and law in the Hebrew scriptures, Isaiah 1 through 39 focuses primarily on God’s judgment of sin.
The last twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah’s book, Isaiah 40 through 66, are seen as a parallel to the twenty-seven books comprising the Greek scriptures, which emphasize the grace of God.
The “New Testament” section of Isaiah opens with the ministry of John the Baptist, similarly to the Gospels, and closes with the new heavens and the new earth, similarly to the apostle John’s Revelation. In between, Isaiah makes many references to Messiah.
In the first section of Isaiah, his audience was his own generation, talking about God defending Jerusalem, and defeating the Assyrian army.
But the second section of Isaiah’s book is aimed at a future generation of Jewish people, those who would experience the destruction of Jerusalem and their temple, who would be taken into captivity by the Babylonian army, which would all happen in 586 BCE. His message to that future generation was God’s forgiveness, that God would lead them back to their land, rebuild the temple, and restore them as a nation.
What God would do in restoring God’s people after the exile was a preview of what the Lord will do at the end of time, after the “Day of the Lord,” for all God’s people when the world’s last “Babylon” is destroyed.
The Original Audience
As you and I study this second section, we need to keep in mind who the original audience was.
Isaiah had looked forward a hundred years to the exile and another seventy years after that to when God’s chastened people would be returned home. God’s discipline of God’s people often looks like God’s punishment on God’s enemies. These were discouraged Jewish refugees who were exiles in an unfriendly nation. Their way home was going to be long and hard, let alone the work of rebuilding their ruined homeland.
Isaiah’s commission from the Lord was to show them the right perspective on God’s pardon of their sin, God’s purpose to restore them, the dependability of God’s promise, and God’s presence among them. The people had been taken into captivity because of their sin. Their captivity proved that God is really God, because God had been predicting this since the days of the Exodus.
At the end of his life, Moses delivered his final oracle to the people:
When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, if you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven youand return to the Lord your God, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today,
then the Lord your God will return you from your captivity and have compassion on you,
gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the Lord your God has scattered you. Even if you are exiled to the ends of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you back. The Lord your God will bring you into the land that your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.Deuteronomy 30:1-5 (NRSV)
God Would Redeem God’s People
God has not abandoned you, Isaiah was saying. Your best days are still ahead. Because of God’s grace, the Lord is coming to save you; your hope does not need to depend on your ability, but rests completely the Lord and God’s love for you.
In the first eleven verses of Isaiah 40, God would comfort God’s people. The Lord would show them God’s glory and God would amaze them by the Lord’s coming.