I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: The Sufficiency of God's Comfort
From a 1991 article in the Moody Bible Institute Magazine entitled: 'Today in the Word', there is a story that is quite touching. It goes like this:
One night while conducting an evangelistic meeting in the Salvation Army Citadel in Chicago, Booth Tucker preached on the sympathy of Jesus. After his message a man approached him and said, “If your wife had just died, like mine has, and your babies were crying for their mother, who would never come back, you wouldn’t be saying what you’re saying.” Tragically, a few days later, Tucker’s wife was killed in a train wreck. Her body was brought to Chicago and carried to the same Citadel for the funeral.
After the service the bereaved preacher looked down into the silent face of his wife and then turned to those attending. “The other day a man told me I wouldn’t speak of the sympathy of Jesus if my wife had just died. If that man is here, I want to tell him that Christ is sufficient. My heart is broken, but it has a song put there by Jesus. I want that man to know that Jesus Christ speaks comfort to me today.”
God indeed can comfort any soul who looks to him for solace in the midst of trouble. And nobody knew that better than the prophet Isaiah when writing the book attributed to him. And one famous passage out of this long book is Isaiah 40. This section was written during a momentous and sad time in the history of the people of Judah. If you remember, due to civil war, Israel split in half, between North and South, shortly after the reign of Solomon.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel, because of their sins, went into captivity under the Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C. Now, years later, the Babylonian empire was threatening to do the same to her sister to the South.
The major thrust of the prophesies of Isaiah in chapters 1-39 are written to the Southern Kingdom of Judah and are a warning that their sins are leading them into destruction and captivity just like Israel.
Isaiah had a long ministry. He prophesied between 739 B.C. and 686 B.C. During that time he saw the fall of Israel and the wickedness of the Southern Kingdom leading up to the time when God would take action against them for their continued sins.
In chapter 39 of Isaiah, King Hezekiah of Judah is told that Babylon would come, after his reign, to destroy Jerusalem, their capital, and lead them away to captivity. Following this, chapters 40-66 address Judah. And this nation is spoken to as though the prophesied Babylonian captivity was already a present reality, though it is still in the future. The captivity actually happened between 605 B.C. and 586 B.C. when Jerusalem ultimately falls.
And God's first words to His people during this time are those of comfort and hope for a blessed future. We see this beginning in the first 2 verses of chapter 40. Isaiah says this:
"Comfort, O Comfort my people", says your God. Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins."
Today, through looking at God's comforting words to His people Israel, we can receive consolation for the problems that we are having today as well, both in our personal lives and in the life of our nation. The same God of might and power, who consoled His people then, can do the very same thing in our day. And it is sufficient for any problem that any of us might be facing.
But first let us begin by giving a general outline to this wonderful chapter.
I. A General Outline
1. God Speaks Comfort to His People (1-2)
Chapter 40 is an exciting section of Scripture because it reveals to us that the Lord never gives up on His people no matter what may happen in their lives. In this case it is His people Judah. We have just looked at the first two verses which announce His comfort to them.
God instructs His prophet to specifically emphasize that comfort to a captive people in a foreign land who were many miles from home. He wanted them to know that they were still His people because of his everlasting covenant with them. He would never permanently cast them away. The cruel slaughter and captivity were to be sufficient to pay for the past sins. Now, one day, after the dispersion, the people will once again return to their land in the glory of their Messiah's kingdom.
2. A Prediction of Messiah's Predecessor (Isaiah 40:3-5; Mark 1:1-5)
In verses 3-5 we have a tremendous prediction of the coming of John the Baptist as the predecessor of our Lord Jesus Christ. His job was to preach a message for His people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah who was promised them. The remnant is able to remove obstacles from the Messiah's path. They do this by repentance. It is interesting that the language here reflects the custom of some Eastern monarch's of the day to send heralds ahead of themselves to have the people prepare the way for their arrival.
The people, now in distress and mourning, will have a bright future ahead to look forward to when Messiah comes.
3. The Transience of the Flesh Versus the Permanence of God's Word (6-8)
In verses 6-8 the predecessor asks: "What shall I call out?" God tells him to talk about the transience or impermanence of the flesh versus the permanence of God's Word. It is that permanence of His Word that guarantees that His plans for His people will come to pass. The Lord has promised that His children will be delivered by the coming of Messiah, so it will indeed happen just as He has predicted it would take place.
4. Christ the Good Shepherd (9-11)
In verses 9-11 we see the Lord, the Messiah who is to come, as the Good Shepherd. He will lovingly tends to His flock. Scripture tells us that:
"In His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes." (11).
This is a beautiful picture of God's compassion and care for His feeble people who need a strong but gentle hand to lead them where they need to be.
5. The Omnipotence and Omniscience of the Coming Lord (12-28)
In the next part of the chapter, verses 12-28, we see that the One who is coming, the Lord, is all-powerful and all-knowing. Further, no one and nothing can compare with Him. Let's look at a little glimpse of this as we read verses 21-24. Isaiah tells us:
"Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff."
It is clear that we aren't dealing with anyone or anything that we've ever encountered on this earth when looking at God. He had no counselor to teach Him (13). The nations are like a drop in a bucket to Him (15). And idols, unlike Him, are but the creation of some skilled craftsman (18-20). The myriads of stars in the heavens are His creations. He leads them forth and calls each one by name.
This same God is everlasting or eternal and never becomes weary or tired. And His understanding is inscrutable. In other words it cannot be understood or fathomed by we mere mortals who are His creation. That is the God we serve! And that is the Lord who comforts us by always fulfilling His promises to His people. He has done and will continue to do it for Judah of old. And He will for us as well.
5. God Gives His Strength to His People Who Wait on Him (29-31)
The final words of the chapter, verses 29-31, tell us that this same wonderful God who is greater than all, is willing to give us His strength as well. How? By us waiting on Him or hoping in Him and allowing Him to do it in His good time. Here is what Isaiah tells us:
"He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly. Yet those who wait on the Lore will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary."
It is a general principle of Scripture that if we patiently pray to the Lord we will be blessed with strength in our time of trials. The Lord here expected His people to be patient while awaiting the coming of His Messiah to destroy their enemies and to fulfill the promises that He had made to National Israel. In the end, they would come back stronger than ever.
So that's the outline. And now that we've seen the structure of Psalm 40, let us take a moment to view and apply some of it's truths for us today and find comfort from God's Word to Isaiah.
II. Truth #1: God is Greater than Any of Our Situations
The first truth that we can glean from this passage is that no matter what we may go through now, or in the future, God is in control and is working all things out for our good. The world may seem like a mess to us now but the Lord will take that mess and make it into a message, proclaiming His glory.
And that is true even if we caused the mess ourselves. Just like He used His people of old, despite their stupid decisions. And He will continue to use them. Even so, the Lord has taken every foolish decision we have ever made into account and will cause it all work out according to His sovereign will. Now that is a wonderful God!!
III. Truth #2- Our Strength Will Fail Us; God's Will Not
A second Truth that we learn from this passage is that, in our own strength we are going to fail. It is interesting how we seldom seek the will of God in our lives unless we are in a bind. Problems that we feel are beyond our ability always tend to send us to the throne of Grace. What we must realize is that God wants us to ask for guidance and strength in all the areas of our lives and not just the ones we don't feel we can handle on our own. The Lord's wisdom and power are far above our own and we should consult Him on every facet of our existence. And He has promised that, if we wait on Him, He will renew our strength and give us His wisdom.
IV. Truth #3- God Never Gives Up on His People
A third and final truth that we might glean from this passage is the simple fact that God never gives up on those whom He has chosen and who belong to Him. We can see the history of God's people throughout the Old Testament. They failed and failed over and over again to the point that God scattered them over the whole world.
And some of the very first words said to them, even before they had gone into exile are:
"Comfort, O comfort my people' says your God!"
It reminds me of a story I once heard about a man who, even though he was a Christian and had accepted Jesus as his Savior, had committed the same sin over and over again for decades. Each time He would go to the Lord and be truly sorry for that sin. And each time he'd hear in his heart, the Lord saying to Him: "You are forgiven, son. You're free to start over again. Go and sin no more!"
But somehow the sin seemed to have him in its grip. He couldn't manage to get total victory over it.
One day, after months of avoiding that sin, the man sinned in that way again. He fell on his knees crying to the Savior and said: "Lord, I did it again!" "Did, what?" said the Lord. "You know, that sin!" And the Lord asked: "What sin?" I don't remember any sin?"
The Lord has promised to remove our transgressions as far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12). And He has said that:
"Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more." (Hebrews 10:17)
Also, through the pen of the Apostle Paul, God has told us that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38,39).
That same Apostle calls our Lord "the God of all comfort" in II Corinthians 1:3. There is no greater comfort than knowing that you are eternally secure in the one who died for you and rose again, that your sins are forgiven and that you will one day be free from sin's presence and will live eternally with the Lord in Heaven.
Finally, It was the Anglican Bishop S.H.B. Masterman who once said:
"God often comforts us, not by changing the circumstances of our lives, but by changing our attitude toward them."
From Isaiah 40, we may not find out how to get out of our current impossible situation but we will learn to trust the One who holds all of our situations in the palm of His hand. Nothing that has happened to us, or will happen, catches God by surprise. He is totally in control and the sooner we learn to trust His heart the more comforted we will be that our situation, though it may seem desperate to us now, will be just a drop of water in a bucket when we reach eternity.
In the end, it's good to know that our comfort is not in ourselves or in getting through our situations but in someone much greater than we are. Our Comforter is the Almighty, All-Knowing, All-Present God of the universe.
God remembers our tears of sorrow and will one day wipe every one of them from our eyes! Praise the Lord, for there is no greater friend and Comforter than He.
© 2020 Jeff Shirley
Jeff Shirley (author) from Kentwood, Michigan on August 25, 2020:
Thanks brother Bill. I always appreciate and value your comments. The Lord continue to bless your ministry!!
William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on August 25, 2020:
You always have great illustrations, and the points you make are clear. Thank you, Brother.