Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out: “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 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. 12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who has directed the spirit of the Lord, or as his counselor has instructed him? 14 Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice? Who taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? 15 Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as dust on the scales; see, he takes up the isles like fine dust. 16 Lebanon would not provide fuel enough, nor are its animals enough for a burnt offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before him; they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. 18 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? 19 An idol? —A workman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains. 20 As a gift one chooses mulberry wood —wood that will not rot—then seeks out a skilled artisan to set up an image that will not topple. 21 Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; 23 who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. 24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. 25 To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. 27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
The issue of suffering and hardship is one of the toughest questions professing Christians face. We almost become immune to news of the tragedies and injustices, poverty and hardship that so many experience – until they touch us. In those times of suffering and grief we so often ask ‘Why?’ and long for genuine comfort and hope.
One of the great chapters of the Bible, Isaiah 40, offers us a framework to live by. Some two and a half milennia ago, Israel, once a great nation of the ancient world, had been brought low by the conquering armies of Babylon. It is quite impossible to imagine the shattering effect those events would have had on the faith of those people. Their temple was in ruins, their economy was in tatters and their homes were destroyed.
Now they were in exile. **The temptation to reject their God would have been enormous. ** But the faith of ancient Israel survived through the voice of the prophets such as Isaiah. Consider the opening words of Isaiah 40: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. And the tenderness of his language continues: He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom… (40:11).
Isaiah’s strategy was to paint a picture of the awesome majesty of God – ‘Consider your God,’ he said; he then asked a question; and finally he challenges and comforts us.
Nowhere does the Bible exult in the greatness of God so triumphantly as in this chapter: To whom then will you liken God? we read in 40:18; and, more personally, in 40:25, To whom then will you compare me? He puts his questions to scientists (40:12), to the wise (40:13–14), to leaders (40:15–17); to idol worshippers (40:18–19), asking, to whom or to what they would liken God. There is no-one or nothing as great and as awesome as God. ‘How can you say,’ Isaiah asks, ‘God has forgotten you?’ (40:27ff) Isaiah wanted his readers then and you and me today to know that God will not abandon anyone on whom he has set his love. Yes, he let his ancient people suffer for a while, but he never let them go. He even let Jesus die on a cross, but at the right time he raised him from death. We can have every confidence in God’s commitment to our good. He’s big enough, awesome enough, and loving enough, to carry out our rescue.
No matter how heart-breaking our situation, no matter how perplexing, we can be assured that life is not out of God’s control. Tragedies and disasters don’t mean that God’s hands have slipped from the helm or that he is asleep. They are events allowed by a sovereign God who is in control, and who often uses such events as a wake up call for us.
Which brings us to Isaiah’s memorable conclusion. Because this God is so great, he has power enough to sustain us in our distress: He gives power to the faint, and gives strength to the powerless (40:29). And what is it that we most need in difficult times – fleetness of foot, the wings of an eagle? No: the persistent endurance and determination of a long-distance walker – walk and not faint (40:31).
1. What does the word ‘God’ mean to you?
2. Can God always be trusted in the tough times of life?
3. How big is your God? Have you ever said to him, ‘I love you Lord’?
© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.