Oh, boy! Today we get into one of my favorite sections of Isaiah. There’s enough here to dwell on for pages and pages — but I’ll spare you my gushes! Let’s get down to the text…
Hezekiah’s illness — chapters 38-39
We’ve touched on these stories twice already (2 Kings 20 and 2 Chronicles 32), so I’ll not comment too extensively here, except to point out “Hezekiah’s writing after his illness and recovery” (38:9-20). In this writing Hezekiah argues “For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness.” Isaiah 38:18 — To modern Christian ears this argument (and other Jewish poetry) sounds like Israel had no concept of an afterlife, but this isn’t so. What Hezekiah’s writing (and others’) is saying is that corpses cannot sing the LORD’s praises in the Temple or proclaim the salvation and help of God to the living. There was a definite afterlife concept among the Jews; Sheol, resurrection, and disembodied spirits, just to name a few, show up throughout the Old Testament. The afterlife is not an evolved New Testament concept.
Secondly, I’ve noticed (haven’t you?) that petitioners to God for special favors (like an extension to Hezekiah’s life) often offer to proclaim to the whole world what good that God has done for them. Do we tell others, when God answers our prayers? This isn’t about trying to bribe God to get positive outcomes, it’s about giving due credit to the Lord and helping others to believe in the One who has answered so many prayers throughout life. To my embarrassment, I think I mostly just thank God in prayer for what He’s done for me — and leave it at that. I’ve got to do better, maybe you do, too.
But then there’s chapter 40
Where do I begin?! There’s so much that I’ll have to only briefly comment — but what a great chapter!
“…Jerusalem…has received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” (40:2) — The idea of receiving double for all their sin is rooted in the Mosaic Law which required double damages to those who stole. It is simply, then, another way of saying that their debt to the LORD was going to be considered paid in full (after the exile and in a double-prophetic way, after Christ’s death on the cross).
“…make smooth in the desert a highway for our God” (40:3) — This passage and its context is another John the Baptist reference, because the idea of the forerunner was to prepare the way for the Lord’s entrance. Matthew 3:3 references this passage. If you’ve ever wondered why John the Baptists was such a big deal in the Gospels, the reason is that he was a major sign given in many of the prophets for the imminent coming of the Messiah, as this passage shows.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” (40:8) — Even though this passage’s context is specifically talking about the certainty of the prophecies and their fulfillment (e.g., “The mouth of the LORD has spoken it!”), it is a wonderful reminder to us all of the permanence and eternality of the Bible. It never gets outdated. Civilizations rise and fall, fashions come and go, empires become great and then decay, ideas develop and then fade away; but God’s word remains constant, His commands remain binding, His way salvation stands as the only way.
“Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; Lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”” (40:9) — This leads into a fabulous section describing the majesty and transcendence of the LORD. “To whom then will you liken God?” the context asks later (v. 18). Bring this passage out with you on a star-lit night and get reminded of the awesome nature of God.
“He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.” (40:23) — As great as a king, president, or nation might be (including our own) they rule or are deposed, they rise and they collapse, at God’s command. America, and every other nation under heaven, will be great only as long as it remains good. God’s plans for nations probably revolve less around economics, policy interests, political parties, and even liberty than we might be inclined to think; God has shown in the Bible — and I think even in recent history — that His overarching interest in the eternal Kingdom is primary. Is He concerned about justice? Yes. Is He concerned about oppression? Yes. But the eternal Kingdom — where righteousness, justice, and love will be present in perfection — is primary in God’s decisions.
“Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?” (40:27) — Have you ever felt like you were too small for God to care about? Possibly all of us have felt this, especially when our prayers didn’t seem to be getting answered. But the thrust of the context is to encourage Israel (and us today) 1) that we are never, ever, too small for God to notice or answer, and 2) to wait on the LORD (see below).
“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.” (40:31) — And it is those who wait on the LORD who will have something to celebrate. Yes, waiting is hard. Waiting is feels like “no”. Waiting feels like the prayer was never received, or if it was, it was ignored. But waiting isn’t “no”, nor does it mean that God hasn’t heard, nor does it mean that we’re too insignificant for God to answer. It may merely mean that God is putting all the pieces into place to answer our prayers in ways that will blow our socks off! “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days– You would not believe if you were told.” Habakkuk 1:5, NAS95.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.