Blog 12: Comfort for God’s people in exile

Sunday 6 January 2013 11am.

Isaiah 40:1 – 41:20

Act 7 and it is all change! Everything of which the prophet has warned has now happened. Jerusalem is sacked, the temple is destroyed and the people of Judah are exiled in Babylon. Psalm 137 gives a dramatically accurate picture of how they felt. The exile is to last some sixty years from the first deportation in 597BC[1] to the return in 538BC.

Babylon has stepped into the role of superpower vacated by the fall of Assyria, but their reign is to be short-lived – almost concurrent with the fall of Judah and its exile. The seventh Act, chapters 40-44, are addressed to the exiles. The words of comfort are that the punishment is over – they have seen and endured the consequences of their failure to listen to God – but God is not finished with them – rather he is returning to Jerusalem.

It is important that unlike Chapter 35[2] the road is not being prepared for the people to walk on – it is not a road back from exile. It is a road for God to return to Jerusalem and he is coming, not travelling west as they would have to, but East from Egypt through the Arabah wilderness. God is repeating the Exodus – he is bringing salvation again to Jerusalem. The prophet invites them to remember their God for who he is.  The Shepherd is the first image and a powerful one at that.

But in these chapters two words predominate: ‘create’ and ‘redeem’. Create is rarely used outside Exodus – here Isaiah is reenacting the creation (create) and the Exodus (redeem) all at once. Here, in what is popularly called Second Isaiah,[3] we get the revelation of a universal God – a God beyond idols, or local Gods – a God before whom the nations are but a drop of water in a bucket – yet those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength…

Here, for them and for us, is a message of the reality of a God who chooses to be found and to work with and through his people.

 


[1] There were two further deportations in 587 and 582BC. The return in 538 was the first of the returns, but see later chapters.

[2] See previous blog.

[3] When textual criticism first analysed Isaiah and realised the huge time gap between the beginning of the book in the mid 750’s and chap 40 following which is addressed to the exiles around 550BC they postulated two Isaiahs – one the historical Isaiah of 2 Kings and a second anonymous Isaiah responsible for chapters 40-66. This was called Deutero- Isaiah or second Isaiah. Later some suggested that chapters 55-66 were the work of yet a third Trito- or third Isaiah. As readers of this blog will realize it is now much clearer that Isaiah was the genesis of a prophetic tradition which spans 12 generations and is brought together in the book we now have in the literary resurgence after the exile to which we probably also owe the final form of the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy)  and the Deuteronomic History (Joshua to 2 Kings).