One might expect Second Isaiah to begin, “I told you!” As the people have been exiled, one might expect the prophetic voice to remind the readers that this was foretold; that it could have been avoided if faithful and just living had been practiced in Israel.
This might have been what I would have done.
Isaiah 39 ends with the prophet telling the King that all will be lost; that possessions and descendants will be taken to Babylon. The prophet tells the King that the very future of Israel is at stake; Hezekiah’s sons will become eunuchs in Babylon.
When we turn the page from Isaiah 38 to Isaiah 40 something significant has happened. Evidently what the prophet spoke has happened. I’d expect the first words of Second-Isaiah to be something along the lines of, “Don’t act like you’re surprised!”
But our author knows that to a people who are tired and weary, to a people who long for the voice of the Lord, the word needed is comfort. Hence Isaiah 40:1.
The world has changed. Things aren’t as they once were. Exile is, for Israel, a new form of wilderness. Hence Isaiah 40:3. The ground beneath them is different. The language is foreign. The cultural expectations and social imagination have shifted. And in this new world it can be difficult to hear the voice of the Lord.
The people now dwell in a land whose leaders claim divine status. “…Babylon (Isaiah 40:12) is identified as the Day Star, son of Dawn, a familiar Canaanite astral Deity.”
The people now dwell in a land where God’s activity appears absent.
The people are tired and weary. Even the ones who are supposed to be filled with energy grow weary.
Instead of criticism or condemnation, they need comfort…
Here is the word comfort to the people; God is doing a new thing. But this new thing is actually a very old thing. We see this in the author’s double proclamation, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” Instead of asking “Didn’t you see this calamity coming?” the author says, “Don’t you know that YHWH is creator of all that is?” Instead of “I told you so,” it is, “Remember who your God is.”
The first inquiry is followed by a few other questions, “Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” (V 21)
That is, despite living in Babylon who claims heavenly status, the God of Israel isn’t even limited to the heavens! The God of Israel sits above the heavens because God created them. Even if Babylon inhabited heaven they would still look like grasshoppers to YHWH. Princes and rulers who claim divine authority are brought to nothing by YHWH.
The second inquiry is followed by a proclamation, “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” The LORD does not grow weary. Even if those who are supposed to have tons of energy grow tired, YHWH does not…
God’s faithfulness is an everlasting faithfulness not contingent upon the particular circumstances of God’s people. And those who will wait on the God who does not grow weary will be filled with divine energy.
Preacher, are you weary? Are your people? Have you sensed within your parishioners a lament for a shifting world? Have you sensed a longing for the time when it seemed God was speaking a bit more plainly?
Perhaps as the Church moves out of her power structures and places of cultural influence into a place of wideness, the pastor needs to take on a prophetic role. But perhaps right now we need the prophet of Isaiah 40, not Isaiah 39. Maybe those mourning loss need comfort.
Preacher, can you preach comfort amidst cultural confusion?
Can you remind your people that the God we worship placed the foundations of the world?
Sometimes this is tough for Wesleyans, but can you remind your people that God is sovereign?
Maybe this week the church doesn’t need to be criticized for a lack of faithfulness during difficult times, but needs to be comforted that even if their faithfulness is shaky, God’s isn’t.
 Seitz, Christopher, “The Book of Isaiah 40-66," New Interpreters Bible, Abingdon, Nashville, 2015, p. 404.