Isaiah 40-42

Good morning! Today we start the middle section of this first book of the prophets. If First Isaiah was written before the time of the exile, Second Isaiah seems to have been written in the time when the people of Israel were held in Babylonian captivity, longing to return to their homeland. Isaiah 40-42 offers comfort to the people, promise that God will deliver them, and focus on the servant of God who will show the way home.

A dozen different musical settings come to mind when I read these opening verses, the most famous of which is Handel’s “Messiah”: “Comfort, comfort, ye my people…”. One thing I don’t usually catch in these oft-repeated verses is the call to the people to be bearers of Good News. I think of the promise here as receiving Good News, but being “herald[s] of good tidings” is actually what’s called for here. A little later on, the writer compares God to the idols of other nations, and laughs at the preposterousness of it. The great God “above” the (flat) plane of creation couldn’t possibly be contained in worldly things like gold, silver, or wood. This sets up in dramatic fashion the unparalleled excellence of “the Holy One”.  Perhaps the most meaningful descriptors of God here is as the source of power—to the faint, to the powerless, and to anyone who waits for God. The power given from God is strength to walk steadily, run tirelessly, and soar mightily.

The “victor from the east” mentioned at the beginning of chapter 41 is the Persian Empire and its emperor Darius, who will grant liberty for captive Judeans to return home once their captor Babylon is defeated. Here the prophet argues that Darius is God’s instrument, according to the same logic we examined yesterday. Isaiah sees the rest of the nearby civilizations getting nervous because of the display of God’s power in Persia, which is also visible in the care extended to the poor and needy. It is no idol which has done this, but the everlasting God of heaven and earth.

Finally for today, the spotlight of Isaiah 42 focuses attention on the servant of God. This “servant” was likely a living king, prophet or other leader in Isaiah’s time, though this chapter has been used throughout history to describe the characteristics of Jesus too. The messenger of God’s deliverance is a person of mercy and justice who extends influence throughout “the nations”. God defines here what it is to be God—calling people in righteousness, and commissioning for the work of illuminating darkness. In that spirit, the psalmist cries, let every corner of creation praise God! Happy reading!

Read Isaiah 40-42.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Isaiah 43-46. Thanks for reading!

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