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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 40:1-5

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, May 8, 2008

Comfort for God’s People

As we move into the 40th chapter, we see a new tone in Isaiah’s message. The first two words, “comfort, comfort” sum up the entire final 27 chapters. The first 11 verses as an introduction.

40 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

The word “comfort” is a command—but whom is God commanding?1 This is not just for Isaiah, or the prophet would have made that clear. It is all of us who hear this passage. We are to speak comfort to God’s people. That is the command of God. We proclaim his gospel of forgiveness and peace through Jesus Christ.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
   and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
     that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
     double for all her sins.

There are two different words for sin here. In the fourth line, avon means “transgression; guilt for an intentional sin.” It is a crossing of the line. This is the sin Solomon warns about: “He who despises his neighbor sins” (Proverbs 14:21). It can also be a sin of omission: “If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible” (Leviticus 5:1). And what comfort does God give to us about these and other intentional sins? They have been paid for. Our warfare and our struggle with God is over because Christ paid the price for our sins. God has given faith in Jesus, and he has also given us his commandments to guide us and to keep us from stumbling: “the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (Exodus 20:20).

In the last line, the word for sin, chatah, is a “mistake.” God commanded Saul “completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites” (1 Samuel 15:18) even on the basis of this kind of sin, although they were guilty of much worse. This is the error by which the cupbearer and baker “offended” Pharaoh (Genesis 40:1). Sometimes it is a little stronger, such as when a man who should be celebrating the Passover fails to do so (Leviticus 9:13). However strong or weak the sin may seem to us, it is always something to repent about: “And forgive your people, who have sinned against you” (2 Chronicles 6:39).

But whatever punishment we deserve for these and all our sins, the Lord has inflicted doubly on his own sin. They are paid for—completely, and forever.

3 A voice of one calling:
“In the desert prepare
     the way for the LORD;
make straight in the wilderness
     a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
     every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
     the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
     and all mankind together will see it.
               For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (NIV)

This is the only prophecy that the Evangelist Mark quotes by name in his Gospel (Mark 1:2-3). It is a call to smooth out the rough places in our lives, and to fill in the gaps; to make a path for God, because he is coming. He himself will come again, to judge the world, and we prepare our hearts for him in repentance for our sins—intentional, and unintentional—and we ask him to forgive us.

What do I need to change in my life today? I want to change, and I need to change. Lord, you are the one who changes me.

1 In different forms, this same word, naham, can mean “feel deeply” and even “repent,” but the form used here (a Hebraist would call it a pi’el, or doubled stem) means “comfort them.”

Note: Over the years, some scholars have felt that perhaps more than one person wrote the book of Isaiah. This passage is usually seen as the most obvious dividing point. However, too many witnesses point to all 66 chapters of Isaiah as the product of one man—the prophet Isaiah himself. Some of these things are internal (the use of certain words, etc.), but the most convincing is the testimony of Jesus himself, who quoted from every part of Isaiah’s book and stated simply, “Isaiah says.” Maybe the best example is in John 12:38-40, where Jesus quotes from Isaiah 53 and Isaiah 6 and says “Isaiah says” in both places. That’s good enough for me.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

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