I Believe I Can Fly – Wednesday, 2nd week in Advent – Isaiah 40:25-31
The book of Isaiah is centred on the Babylonian exile, which began in 586 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and enslaved the Jewish people. The exile ended in 539 B.C. when Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild their temple.
Scholars are divided with regard to the authorship of this book. Some believe that one man wrote the entire book, part of which foretells events to take place long after his death. Others believe that one author wrote chapters 1-39, a second author or group of authors wrote chapters 40-55, and a third author or group wrote chapters 56-66.
But everyone agrees that chapter 40 begins a new emphasis. While chapters 1-39 warned of God’s judgment if the people place their trust in secular rulers rather than in God. Chapters 40-55 lift up the promise of redemption for a people who are experiencing the judgment about which the prophet warned in the earlier chapters.
The text of today is a well-known text from the book of Isaiah. It is loved because it strikes a familiar chord with so many weary people who at times need encouragement. The opening lines of Isaiah 40 announce what was surely impossible to believe. After living as slaves in Babylon for seventy years, their hearts were filled with fear, doubt and concern; their nation was destroyed, Jerusalem was a pile of rubble, the temple was gone. They were beaten, felt alone and abandoned by God and they were hopeless.
Exile had left the people in a land far from their own wondering silently, if not aloud, what had happened to Yahweh. What happened to the covenant promises? The recent experience of Israel at the hands of the Babylonians might have led the Israelites to believe their deity was in some way an inferior deity when compared with Marduk ( the god of their captors), or at least that Yahweh was simply part of a pantheon of the gods in which earthly history played out among the gods at the cosmic realm. We read of their doubt in verses 25-26. The Israelite doubters were comparing their God with the god of their captors. They believed God was failing the test.
It is at this point that God tells His Beloved, “Comfort, O Comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1). The Hebrew word that God uses is “naham,” which means “to breathe deeply.” “Naham, breathe deeply, my people because your time of exile is almost over.” “Naham” is also the root of the Hebrew word that means “repent.” When we repent, we breathe deeply because we are about to head in a new direction or begin a new life.
We translate “naham” into the English word “comfort,” which is also a very interesting word. It’s made up of a combination of two Latin words ‘cum’ and ‘fortis’. ‘Cum’ means ‘with’ and ‘fortis’ means ‘strength’. Together, comfortis means ‘with strength.’ When we comfort someone we give them strength to keep going. When we “encourage” someone we are literally trying to give them “cour” or “heart” giving someone “heart” gives them hope and hope gives them “fortis” or strength.
The text of today was aimed at convincing the wavering, the sceptic, and perhaps the apostate of the ability of God to make a difference in the current circumstances. Second Isaiah sets out to show the unrivalled supremacy of God as compared with Babylonian deities.
Until you realize that there is a holy and powerful god that created you and loves you and desires a relationship with you, you will never be all that He created you to be because you will be looking down in discouragement instead of looking up with encouragement. The exuberance that marks Second Isaiah fits well in the Advent season where the theme of hope surfaces regularly
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