NLT Study Bible Blog.
Isaiah 40:1-11 (Mosaic, Advent 2)
Advent, week 2 has hope as its theme. Our hope as Christians is for the living presence of Christ himself, and all that he means.

Isaiah 40:1-11 speaks to a people who have known God's favor, but have now experienced exile and apparent abandonment. The previous chapters of Isaiah, written in the era of Hezekiah king of Judah around 700 BC, warn the people of Judah against coming judgment for their sins against the Lord. Now judgment has come, and the people face a time of exile. "Throughout chs 40-66, Isaiah prophesied from the vantage point of the Exile having already become a reality. Therefore, the Babylonian exile provides the background for understanding these chapters" (NLTSB, note on 40:1--66:24). The violent exile of the Jews from Judah to Babylon not only brought death to thousands and misery to the ten thousands, it uprooted them from their land -- from the place where God had promised to be with them and bless them. Their hopes were crushed.

To these people, the Lord speaks words of hope. Isaiah 40:1-11 promises that God has forgiven their sins, and that he is coming to reveal his glory to them. When he comes, he "will rule with a powerful arm. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes" (Isa 40:10). "The Lord's rule is not like that of the unjust ... rulers whom he will judge. It is compassionate, just, righteous..." (NLTSB, note on Isa. 40:10). What God's people needed to hear was exactly this: that God will rule them once again, and that his rule will be pleasant and just, that he will care for his people tenderly. "He will feed his flock like a shepherd. / He will carry the lambs in his arms, / holding them close to his heart. / He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young" (Isa. 40:11). With this passage, God begins to assure his people that he has not abandoned them, but that he continues to watch over them and care for them, and that in due time he would come to them with power and rescue them from foreign rule, leading them gently into his kingdom. Throughout the rest of chs 40-66, the Lord says, "Comfort, comfort my people" through his prophet, who speaks words of comfort and hope for the future.

Isa. 40:1-11 is the background for the ministry of John the Baptizer, for he is identified in the Gospels as "the voice of someone shouting, 'Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD!'" (Isa. 40:3; see Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23). John announced the coming of Christ, urged people to repent of their sins, and baptized with water all who were willing. In this way John prepared the way for the Lord's coming -- those who underwent John's baptism had hearts that were ready to receive the Lord (see, e.g., Luke 7:29-30).

Now Jesus has returned to heaven, and we await his coming again, while we live in a world governed by powers foreign to God's kingdom. What is our hope? It is the same as Israel's in exile: That the Lord will come, establish his rule with justice and peace, and lead us gently as his people.

How can we prepare, and what is the basis of hope? John the Baptizer teaches us that we must repent of our sins and turn to God. Then we will experience his forgiveness, and have hearts that are ready to receive his kingdom. God's coming and his rule are not a source of hope for those who will not repent. But for those who repent, God's coming and his rule are cool water flowing over a thirsty soul.

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posted by Sean Harrison at 11:12 AM
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