Divine Amnesia – Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent – Isaiah 40:1-11
Scholars divide the book of Isaiah into three parts; from Chapters 1-30, 40-55 and 56-66. The first part of the book deals with the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians and ends with a narrative in chapter 39.
King Hezekiah in defiance of Gods instructions, hosts envoys from Babylon and the prophet Isaiah predicts the destruction of Jerusalem as divine punishment. While chapter 39 does not explicitly mention the details of the exile its consequences are assumed in chapter 40. It is as if the sacred writer found this memory so painful to talk about that he simply reduced the most significant national tragedy in the history of Israel to a mere eight verses.
With one step into Chapter 40 a new power, Persia, under King Cyrus has now succeeded Babylon and just like that comfort and pardon are offered to the people of Israel. The question is, are the people of Israel truly deserving of a mere 70 year exile in return for generations of infidelity? They who made a sacred covenant with God were guilty of more than just a flirtatious relationship with pagan gods. The prophet Hosea had long accused the people of Israel of ‘prostituting them selves’ at the cross roads to every other god and faith.
Yet chapter 40:1 opens with the double exhortation from Yahweh, “comfort, comfort”! Chapter 40 is set in a heavenly court in which Yahweh now insists and commands that his people be comforted. Even though it would be right for God to continue to admonish his people, he asks that they be spoken to ‘tenderly’, and they be won over tenderly. It is compassion not condemnation that is brought into play.
It seems as though a ‘divine amnesia’ towards Israel’s many sins has now set in. God would rather romanticises an unfaithful people who have shown only contempt for his many loving actions than continue to punish them for their infidelity. Their iniquity should have attracted a longer and harsher sentence and yet merely 70 years later they are let off with a rap on their knuckles
Ironically, Yahweh feels he has dealt harshly with his people giving them a double punishment for their iniquity (verse 3). And so, from now on the voice of God will speak of comfort, pardon, and restoration instead of judgment and punishment which was really His prerogative.
What does this text say to us? It is a reminder of our own relationship with God. He has always kept his covenant of love while we have always wilfully sought disordered affections and fleeting pleasures. Yet God’s last word for us is forgiveness and comfort. His bleeding heart can barely lift the rod and even when he does so, regret and remorse fill His divine being before the rod is fully brought down to bear.
God acts like if He has divine amnesia; we unfortunately foolish mistake His reluctance to punish us as His absent mindedness. In truth he does not forget He chooses to forget so that we may be forgiven
Fr Warner D’souza
Who himself stands in need of God’s forgiveness