Torah reading: Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11
Haftorah reading: Isaiah 40: 1-26
This chapter of the book of Isaiah is the prologue to a series of oracles and songs that follow; it has the basic themes that are found throughout the following chapters. The passage begins with an instruction to comfort the people of God (vs.1,2), followed by the oracle of the one preparing the way (vs. 3-8), and the heralds announcing the coming of the LORD in accordance with the Word of God (vs. 9-11). Israel was in need of such good news because they were in captivity at the time. The heralds bring the good tidings not to Babylon, but to Zion where the glory of the LORD will reappear when He leads His people like a Shepherd.
The second part of the chapter is an encouragement that God is able to do all this (vs. 12-26). The message of comfort is based on the omnipotence of God (vs. 12-17) and the incomparable nature of God (vs. 18-26). This portion is a passionate appeal from the prophet intended to stir the people’s faith and re-direct their focus away from their captivity to the God who is in the process of restoring them to their ancestral homeland.
The theme of the message of comfort and the hope for the people of God is God’s presence. Two images are presented. First, He is the sovereign LORD coming with power and His arm rules for Him. Powerful majesty will be the pattern of His dominion as King. He will bring rewards to dispense to His faithful subjects.
The second image is that of the shepherd. “He tends His flock”. The figure of a shepherd was commonly used in the ancient Near East for monarchs; it is the natural figure for any culture with a great deal of animal husbandry. It signifies the care, leadership, and provisions that the LORD will bring to His people.
The great message of comfort hangs on this point. Look to God. He is coming to establish His kingdom. He will come in power. Without Him the “sheep” are weak and frail; with His presence they find everlasting peace and righteousness.
How do we know God will do this for His people?
In vs. 12-14 He is affirmed as the God of creation. The Scripture is clear: He spoke and creation came into being. No one gave God any advice, ever! God created everything by His own design and counsel.
In vs. 15-17, God is declared as sovereign over all nations. Governmental leaders, even the best of them, are under His authority whether or not they realize or acknowledge it. In the final end of all things, it is to Him that they will answer for their leadership, its successes and its failures. The nations exist by the sovereign will of our Father and it is to Him that they primarily owe their allegiance and their respect. The fact that some nations don’t, nor do they wish to, doesn’t change the reality of God’s supremacy one single bit.
In vs. 18-20, Isaiah goes on to declare with emphasis and passion that there is NO ONE like our God – NO ONE. He is the true and only God. To compare Him to idols is blasphemous. Even the materials for idols comes from God (see Isa. 44). Humans who are weak and frail have made the idols; they look for ways to make idols that will last. No one made God; rather, God created humans. The question in verse 18 then is rhetorical and put there to express that there is no one to whom we may compare the Almighty. He is totally OTHER.
If God made everything, and if He is sovereign over all nations, and if He is incomparable to anyone or anything, then all creation is under His power. Verse 21 begins this section with four rhetorical questions to remind the people of what they already knew. The repetition is meant to be a rebuke, like hammering a point home:
“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?”
They had centuries of time to have these truths sink in, but their weak faith and stubborn hearts had not taken it all to heart. The distractions and interests of daily life clouded their thinking and removed the reality of God Almighty from their consciousness.
In tune with Torah this week = The people are called to look and contemplate the heavens and see God’s handiwork. It is by His power that the starry hosts were created and keep their order. Creation is meant to be a witness to the sovereignty of God, His existence, His creativity, His superiority over everything created.
Pondering these truths should inspire a fresh humility in our hearts; we, who so easily fall into thinking the the world revolves around us. No it revolves around Him and it is incumbent upon us to consider His interests even more than our own. He has made a world and filled it with people that He loves. How are we responding to that love that He so generously pours out upon us?