What does it say?
Isaiah is called the miniature Bible with its 66 chapters just as the Bible has 66 books. It has two major divisions, chapters 1-39 and 40-66, just like the Bible has 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 more in the New Testament. This second half of the book has three main discourses from Isaiah, the first one ending in Isaiah 48.
Isaiah 40 introduces the entire second half. The Babylonian threat God spoke about to Hezekiah in Isaiah 39:5-7 now stares them in the face. Yet even at that, this opening chapter transcends history, looking forward to the end of the captivity that has not yet even begun in history.
Would the Babylonian captivity prove that God is not able to deliver his people, or show that the failure of God’s people caused the failure of his mission? No! Isaiah 41 presents God as different from all other gods and reminds his people of their origins in Abraham’s mission that all earth’s families be blessed in them. Isaiah 42 has heavy Messianic tones pointing to God’s Servant to come. Paul quotes Isaiah 42:7 in Ephesians 4:8-10. The exile is inevitable, but Isaiah 43 encourages God’s people by promising to restore them and bring them back to his mission.
What does it mean?
We enter into one of the Bible’s most majestic portions. Despite sin and spiritual adultery, God does not abandon his missional purpose. Even in the face of disaster, he promises his people grace, mercy and salvation.
What must we learn from this? We learn that God’s plan does not depend on what we do or do not do for him, but upon what God does for us. We learn that there are consequences for sin, disobedience and poor choices. If God’s grace and mercy are so profound even before the finished work of Jesus Christ, how could we today fail to serve him by engaging in his mission? Even before we fail him, God has plotted a way to restore us. This is the great God whom we serve! Trials come for many reasons. Here, God teaches us to look through and beyond our trials to him alone.
How will I respond?
What is the one thing I dread most? If God gives hope beyond his people’s captivity even before it begins, how much more can I trust him to do the same for me? Rather than run, avoid, hide, manipulate or panic, I will face down whatever it is I dread most. I will see God’s grace and love waiting for me on the other side and embrace whatever it is that I must face.