Project 119: Overview of Isaiah 40-55 & Isaiah 40:1-11

 |  Project 119  |  Amy Hirsch

Overview of Isaiah 40-55

After the weighty historical section of last week (Isaiah 36-39), we’re all ready to hear about some hope!
This section begins in exile, as Isaiah prophetically speaks to the Israelites in captivity in Babylon. They have been exiled to a foreign country because they refused to trust in the Lord. They put their hopes in foreign kings and false gods, in their own strength and prowess. But God hasn’t abandoned them. This section of Isaiah is full of good hope and comfort - the Lord promises that He has not forsaken His people. He will bring them home and restore them from physical exile. And, He will send a suffering servant who will fix their ultimate problem of spiritual exile - He will send a Savior to pay the penalty for their sins. God’s people will see His glory revealed to all of the earth. These words in Isaiah 40-55 were comfort to those living in exile, unsure if God would keep His promises to Israel. They are also comfort to us today as we wait for the day when our faith is sight - for the day when we will dwell forever in the presence of God as His people (Revelation 21:3). 

Monday, October 2 | Isaiah 40:1-11 

We pick up the scene years after King Hezekiah’s blunder in Isaiah 39. Our last section ended with the sentence of exile. The people had broken the promises of God’s covenant that they had sworn to keep (Deuteronomy 28); God promised to punish Hezekiah and his people for their sins through allowing them to be exiled to Babylon. Now the curtain opens on a new scene with the promises of comfort and hope. 

Comfort might sound strange to our ears. Is there any hope? Could there be anything left for Israel? Has exile forever separated God’s children from their Father? Will punishment go on forever? The resounding answer to the questions of Isaiah 40:1-11 is “No!”. God allowed His children to be exiled, yes, but their punishment was for the purpose of restoring them. Their warfare has now ended and their sins are pardoned (Isaiah 40:2). 

And who brings deliverance? The people aren’t delivered by an earthly king or even by their good behavior. Indeed, Isaiah reminds us in verses 6-8 that human flesh is like grass, which withers and dies (Isaiah 40:7). Even the most beautiful flowers fade and must be discarded. I once heard one of my professors from Beeson Divinity remark that scientific studies suggest that, given the right external conditions, once we die, our bodies can decompose to skeletal form in a matter of weeks. All human flesh really is like grass. When we begin to understand our depravity and brokenness, we can sympathize with the desperation that Israel faced in exile. Who would save them from their sins? 

There is comfort because a Savior is coming - God Himself! Verses 9-11 describe how He will come. He will deliver His people from exile in strength and might - and yet He is also a God who will care for His people in the same way as a shepherd tends His flock, with compassion and care. All flesh will see the glory of the Lord - the glory of this God who is mighty and all-powerful, and yet who comes near to gather His people and to bring them home. And the rest of Isaiah 40-55 helps us unpack this promise of God’s coming glory.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,     
and cry to her that her warfare is ended,     
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord's hand  double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;     
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,     
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,      
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,     
and all flesh shall see it together,     
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry!”     
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it;     
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,     
but the word of our God will stand forever.

9 Go on up to a high mountain,     
O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength,     
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;     
lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah,     
“Behold your God!”
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might,     
and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him,     
and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;     
he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom,     
and gently lead those that are with young.