Click here for the reading: Isaiah 40:25-31.
“Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold the days are coming, when all that is in your house and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 39:6)
Isaiah prophesied of the coming Babylonian captivity. And strangely it seemed to have no effect on Hezekiah. His response? “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” (Isaiah 39:8). The King could live at ease without a worry of his children’s suffering.
It is those children of Hezekiah, and all who know the pain of exile from our true home, that Isaiah speaks to in chapter 40. The prophesied exile would come and with it would come weeping and lamentation (see the entire book of Lamentations). The words of Isaiah from chapter 40 give hope of return to exiles.
The theme of being in exile will return again in the epistle reading for the day. And the day’s Gospel reading will note grief and sorrow like that which is voiced by Isaiah on behalf of the people of God, “My way is hidden from the Lord and my right is disregarded by my God.” (Isaiah 40:27). It is well worth considering in what way the exile of Israel in the Old Testament compares and contrasts with the experience of the members of the Church in our day. The preacher will want to ask himself if his hearers feel they are even in exile? Is our heavenly citizenship valued over and above our earthly home, or vice versa? Do we have a sense of the alienation from God that our sin has wrought or are we comfortable in it? Unless that sense is known, the lament of Israel and the return that Isaiah speaks of will ring hollow.
But, where Christians are experiencing the tribulation of living in a spiritual Babylon and amidst an increasingly pagan world, there the prophecy of Isaiah will be received with joy. The comfort that the Lord gives through Isaiah is not immediately obvious. What would be most keenly desired is to have a promise of return. But first, Isaiah reminds the people about who God is, with the implication being that He will surely cause them to return.
This may at first appear to be a subtle distinction, as God’s nature and His works always go together. But, what is especially clear in the Isaiah reading for the day is that even while waiting for the Lord to work salvation for them, the people of God have strength. How can this be?
Isaiah focuses on the power of the Lord. His work in creation in especially highlighted. The prophet summons the languishing people to look to the stars and see in them the power of the Lord. The Creator’s power is clearly evident in the night sky and the consistency of the stars and constellations.
However, this is not the first time that the Lord has pointed His people to the stars. It was to Abram, awaiting as he was the promise of a son, that the Lord first pointed to the stars and connected His word of promise to their number, saying, “so shall your offspring be.” When Isaiah points the people of Israel in exile to the stars He is simultaneously reminding them of their father Abraham and the Lord’s promise to him that would not be forgotten.
The Israelites had to wait in exile. Christians too must wait for deliverance. But in waiting there is strength. The supernatural strength of the Lord God is given to His faithful people. The final verses emphasize this with a dramatic promise. Youths and young men, those paragons of energy and strength will faint and grow weary, but those who trust in the Lord renew their power. And even more than that, they will be given the wings of eagles to soar through their challenges.
As the preacher expounds on these amazing promises he will have a rich storehouse of examples to point to of God’s almighty power and promises for His people of old and new. Isaiah’s rhetorical questions, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” (Isaiah 40:28) would well serve as a way to bring out the great treasures of God’s mighty acts of deliverance old and new.