December 4, 2011
So often the Old Testament is perceived as portraying a wrathful God of vengeance; but in this Old Testament passage, we see the compassionate, loving nature of God. Comfort is spoken to those who suffered through the Babylonian exile. These Israelites saw the destruction of their homeland, Judah; their capital, Jerusalem; their sacred temple on Mt. Zion. They were exiled from their land to live among the enemy for nearly 50 years. The prophets described the exile as punishment for the rebellious, apostate house of Judah. They saw Babylon as the rod of God’s anger against His people.
The tables turn in Isaiah 40. Comfort is extended because the house of Judah has paid the price for its sin (vv. 1-2). The end of the exile is proclaimed. The landscape is about to be reversed (vv. 3-5). The life the Israelites had come to know in Babylon is about to be altered. Hope is around the corner.
Restoration is waiting in the wings. The Lord was coming to redeem His people and their land, and He was coming in power and might. The prophet calls the people to imagine the impossible because it’s coming.
Are we imagining the impossible? The exile was a seemingly hopeless situation. The return to Judah after the exile made possible the impossible. How can this speak to us today? Are we in exile, or are we living in the realm of possibility?
The very birth of our Lord heralds a message of hope. God is all about redeeming His people. Author Francine Rivers best expresses this character of God in her book Redeeming Love. She portrays a Hosea figure who loves a prostitute similar to Gomer. His constant love for her, despite her rebellion and resistance eventually changes her. She becomes a redeemed person. Rivers accurately communicates God’s redeeming love…life-changing love, through her story.
Much like Rivers’ novel, God longs to take the chaos and failure of our lives and completely rework the landscape. He is a God who makes the rough places smooth and the crooked places straight (v. 4). Are there rough places in your life? In what ways have you been exiled from the Lord? Where are you in need of redeeming love? Are you in the middle of a troublesome marriage, dealing with family problems, a difficult job situation, an impossible boss, frustrated with your parents, your children, your roommate, struggling with baggage from the past, a lack of commitment, etc.
My husband is a pastor, and I am a college professor. Between the two of us, we have had numerous opportunities to counsel with people in crisis situations. We have seen rocky marriages become smooth, chains fall from those in bondage and burdens lifted from those who were heavy-laden. We also have seen many remain in the midst of their exile—functional in their dysfunction. It is heartbreaking. Practically speaking, much prayer, forgiveness, hard work and lots of personal change will heal a marriage and most relationships a whole lot more effectively than expecting the other person to change first. We have to be willing to let the Lord take the plow to our lives, uproot the soil and rework us.
“‘Comfort, comfort, My people,’ says your God.” His message of comfort and hope is for you in the midst of your situation. We have a God who longs to deliver us from exile and redeem us back to Himself. God is offering you comfort and healing today—healing in the present and healing from the past. Will you receive it this Christmas season? “Prepare the way of the Lord” (v. 3). He longs to invade your life and rework the landscape. Will you allow Him to do that today?