That God is coming was good news.
Get you up to a high mountain,Isaiah 40:9-10 (NRSV)
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him
and his recompense before him.
Jerusalem was the center of the nation, so all news came from Jerusalem. Though the people were now living in exile, Isaiah positioned his message as coming prophetically from God’s holy mountain. The people had moved to a new location, the city was left in ruins, the temple was no more. But God had not changed.
Was This Goodbye?
It would have been natural for the people of Judah to wonder if God had finished with them. Ringing in this generation’s ears would have been the prophet Jeremiah’s shocking revelation about God’s divorce from the northern kingdom of Israel.
The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree and prostituted herself there? And I thought, “After she has done all this she will return to me,” but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it.
She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce, yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she also went and prostituted herself.
Because she took her prostitution so lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart but only in pretense, says the Lord.Jeremiah 3:6-10 (NRSV, emphases mine)
Israel Was No More
The people knew Jeremiah was speaking of Israel’s exile, and they understood understood – in rueful hindsight – that they were indeed both false and faithless, having themselves looked on yet not return to the Lord. The people of the northern kingdom of Israel had forsaken God, so God forsook Israel not only from the land, but evidently from their covenant with God as well.
Could that now be happening to the people of Judah?
- Had they, too, proven so false that God would forsake them from the land as well?
- Was their covenant with the Lord God indeed truly done with?
- Had they also been given a certificate of divorce from the one true and living God?
If so, they were a people without a land, a purpose, or a God. They were utterly bereft.
Their only consolation came through this word from God to them, through Isaiah’s ancient prophecy.
God was coming to them, and embedded in that good news was their return to the land. They could count on the Lord, because Almighty God is ruler over all, even the Babylonians who held God’s people captive. God would be coming in power. Many struggled to believe it, but Isaiah’s oracle reassured them God would make it happen.
The Recompense of God
There is one last piece in this passage that bears thought. It comes right at the end of verse 10:
… his reward is with himIsaiah 40:10 (NRSV, emphases mine)
and his recompense before him.
What is God’s reward? is God giving this recompense, or is this something that is God’s to keep?
In one of his letters, Apostle Paul wrote that God in Christ always leads believers in triumphal procession, and through them spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere, making God’s people God’s reward to the Lord.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.2 Corinthians 2:14 (NRSV)
Later, Paul expanded on that idea by saying grace was given to each believer according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,
“When he ascended on high, he made captivity itself a captive;Ephesians 4:7-8 (NRSV)
he gave gifts to his people.”
In both letters, Paul was saying you and I who have put our faith in Jesus, who have been born anew from above, who are now filled with the very Spirit and life of God, are God’s reward to God, and God is also our reward.
The Good Shepherd Is Coming
Then, Isaiah used an image well-known and loved by God’s people, that of a shepherd.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;Isaiah 40:11 (NRSV)
he will gather the lambs in his arms
and carry them in his bosom
and gently lead the mother sheep.
Perhaps for Isaiah’s audience, Psalm 23 came to mind, written by Judah’s most beloved King David, speaking of God as the Divine Shepherd.
For you and me today, it is Christ the Good Shepherd
For the people in exile, this good news was indicating a day would come when Babylon would be defeated, and their captives released.
The good news today is that Jesus, God the Son Messiah has defeated “Babylon” in the form of evil, corruption, and death. The “king” of Babylon, in this sense, Satan, has been thrown down, and every person who longs to be released from their captivity to sin can look to Jesus for liberation.
Ultimately, according to the apostolic writings (and particularly John’s Revelation), God will throw even sin itself and all that goes with it – corruption, and death in – into the lake of fire, and God’s people will be completely freed, forever.
Timeless Good News
Isaiah described God as both powerful and personal, tender and compassionate as well as mighty and just. God’s arm is mighty for winning the battle, but that same arm also lovingly carries God’s lambs, and gently leads God’s flock.
God is the greatest comfort
I think about what I am facing right now: deadlines, work that must be done, relationships that remain complicated, responsibilities and obligations that I must square my shoulders to and undertake. Underneath those things is an aging body, chronic pain and diminishing strength, a desire to do so many more things than I have resources to accomplish, the endless little things that take time, money, and energy, that feel so unrewarding and are so draining.
What are you facing? In what ways do you need God’s might, or God’s rule, or God’s recompense or God’s gentle shepherding this week?
Isaiah’s prophecy was God’s reassurance that the Lord still loved God’s people, that God was still their God, and they were still God’s own.
God was going to give them a chance to start over.
They would still live out God’s Plan A, God’s original purpose for them to be a mighty nation that brought blessing to the whole world.
God did not expect them to go it alone any more than God expects you and me to go it alone either. They – and you and me today – have the Lord’s pardon, God’s promises, and God’s presence, all by grace, to empower.