Their homes had been reduced to rubble, their heritage was in the hands of foreigners, and their holy city lay in ruins. As their captors led them away to an uncertain future the smoke that rose from where Zion once stood threatened to permanently obscure the hope of the nation. The holy city of David, now abandoned and laid waste, bore witness to the sins of the nation; Jeremiah’s oracles, once scoffed at by the rebellious and obstinate people of God, had now arrived in all their horror. As the heap of smoldering rubble grew faint behind them and their pagan captors led them beyond the borders of Israel this was to be seen as more than an image of the tyranny of Babylon; the Promised Land was convulsing, vomiting out its inhabitants.
The Babylonian exile was a brutal chapter in the history of the nation Israel. And yet, somehow, this sinful and rebellious people who had been banished from their homeland managed to take hold of hope in their wasteland; a hope that would move them to songs of celebration in the presence of their enemies; a hope that would not only sustain them in their trials but would go on to flow out of the nation to fill the world.
Isaiah 40-66 is arguably the longest and most glorious sustained oracle of hope in the Bible. It was written for these Babylonian exiles. It speaks of a hope capable of transforming a barren wasteland into a flourishing paradise. It offers profound encouragement and comfort to a people who have nothing left to cling to but the faithfulness of YHWH. Within these glorious chapters the LORD repeatedly affirms his covenant loyalty to his wayward children, assuring them that despite their present circumstances that they remain his chosen people. As the descendants of Abraham his servant, YHWH would prove faithful to his promises to the patriarch; this nation would house the blessing of God for the world.
The Word that Sustains the Weary
And in the midst of this glorious oracle of hope we find these words, “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.” (Isaiah 50:4) This vocational reflection of the prophet sums up well the theme of the entire oracle. The words we find in Isaiah 40-66 sustained Israel in the hour of her greatest need. They spoke hope to the ancient exiles; they have particular resonance in that ancient context. But through them they speak to us as well. The church of today needs servants, who in the spirit of the prophet, arise early with ears attentive to the message of hope the LORD will give them for his people. I aim to be one of those voices. It is my prayer that you find encouragement, comfort, and hope here.