Baptist History Homepage

by Rosco Brong

Promise and Comfort
Isaiah 40:1-16

Promises provide comfort in time of trouble only when we are promised an improvement over present conditions and when we are able to believe that the promises may be fulfilled. That is, promises provide comfort only when they impart hope.

Human nature being what it is, human promises tend to be deceptive and undependable. Men generally promise more than they can or will deliver, either with conscious intent to deceive or sometimes with honest inability to perform what may have been sincerely promised. Ordinary intelligence should keep us from trusting too much in human promises.

Nevertheless, and again because of our depraved human nature, our reasons for believing or disbelieving the promises of men (political promises, for example) are rather unintelligent, more subjective than objective; that is, determined rather by what we prefer to believe than by reasonable evidence. So we commonly believe liars and disbelieve honest men.

Recognition of human deceptiveness, however, does not stop us from trying to establish facts on the basis of human testimony. How much more should we believe the "God that cannot lie"! (Titus 1:2.) "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater." (I John. 5:9.)

By every test of objective evidence, the promises of God are the surest promises there are. An infinitely holy, wise, and powerful Creator could have no imaginable motivation to deceive His most favored creatures, even if we did not know Him to be also infinitely true and righteous. The testimony of creation, the testimony of history, and the testimony from experience of all who have put their trust in Him agree perfectly with the testimony of His own written word that His word is truth.

People who disbelieve God disbelieve eternal Truth because of their own depraved preference for error, and in bringing upon themselves the judgments of His word they do but contribute to the overwhelming evidence to the truth of that word.

Now, when God's people are in trouble from His temporal judgments upon them because of their sins, they are in special need of comfort from God's promise of eventual and eternal deliverance. For such situations God gave through His prophet Isaiah the message from which this lesson is taken. In considering the scripture (Isaiah 40:1-16), the following points may be helpful:

1. Consolation, vv. 1-2
2. Preparation, 3-5
3. Declaration, 6-8
4. Consummation, 9-11
5. Interrogation, 12-14
6. Adoration, 15-16 

Notes on the Printed Text:
Consolation, vv. 1, 2.
It is great comfort just to know that God troubles Himself with our troubles and commands our comfort. He is faithful to rebuke and chasten as necessary, but He delights rather in giving encouragement and joy to His children. Ministers of His word ought not to be mere common scolds, but faithful shepherds.

As with Jerusalem, so with all the true children of God, our appointed time of warfare will one day be accomplished. With full pardon of iniquity we are sure of final victory over all the enemies of our souls when we come to "the heavenly Jerusalem." (Hebrews 12:22.)

"Double for all her sins" has been variously interpreted. I prefer to take "double" in the sense of "duplicate" or "counterpart." So God proportions punishment and chastisement to the measure or degree of sin. Punishment of the lost in hell will be individually proportioned to reflect the number and enormity of their individual sins. Punishment of Christ upon the cross was the perfect double or counterpart of what His redeemed would otherwise have had to suffer. And children of God are chastened with few or many stripes according to their ignorance or knowledge of His will and according to their obedience or disobedience. (Luke 12:47, 48.)

Preparation, 3-5.
Luke tells us plainly (Luke 3:4-6) that this prophecy was fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist. In a broader or more general sense, it is in some measure fulfilled whenever and wherever in the spiritual desert of this world a voice is lifted in testimony to the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. Would that we were all as faithful in our testimony as was John!

God's royal highway of divine life leads straight through the desolations of this present evil world to a better world to come. On this road humble souls are lifted up and the proud are humbled; crooked lives are made straight and rough ground is leveled for trusting saints. And though for the present we walk by faith and not by sight, in due time we shall behold our Savior in His glory, and be glorified with Him, and all flesh shall see it. All this is sure, because God has spoken.

Declaration, 6-8.
Man comes and goes, lives and dies, blooms and fades, like the grass. Yet he presumably has an intelligence and a responsibility that grass does not have, and so the prophet is commanded to cry aloud that God's word shall stand for ever. This word of God declares to us, and God's people are commanded to declare to a lost world, that mortal man can become immortal, so that "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." (I John 2:17.)

Consummation, 9-11.
Prophetic glimpses of the Messiah frequently give us mingled views of His first and second comings, and perhaps this is the case here; but the reference seems to be mainly to the second coming.

Certainly it was with reference to His second coming that Jesus said: "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." (Revelation 22:12.)

The figure of a shepherd is a familiar one in scripture to illustrate God's loving care, provision, and protection for His people.

Interrogation, 12-14.
Obviously it is not unscriptural to appeal to human intelligence and reason to recognize the existence, power, and wisdom of God. It is true that a man cannot spiritually know God without the illumination of the Spirit of God; but this does not mean that it is sinful for a man, even a child of God, to exercise his intelligence.

No extraordinary intelligence, but just a little thoughtful observation of nature is needed to make us realize that the answer to verse 12 is not evolution but God. And the questions that follow, once asked, practically answer themselves. We do not need to be very bright to conclude that the Creator could never have needed any advice from a creature.

Adoration, 15-16.
Similes and metaphors may stagger our imagination as we try to get some idea of the greatness of God, but the most striking figures drawn from the finite world must fall infinitely short of depicting the Infinite. In simple adoration, let us worship Him Whose infinity is far beyond our finite comprehension.

To the forests of Lebanon we might add all the forests of all the world, and to the beasts of Lebanon we might add all the beasts of all the world, and still not have an offering, sufficient to please God. But with the offering of His only begotten Son on Calvary's cross He is well pleased; and that offering is sufficient to save every soul that believes in Him.

Key Verse:
"Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away." - Isaiah 51:11.

"Therefore" refers to earlier deliverance (see previous verses). Historical deliverance of Israel furnished prophetic assurance of future deliverance. God does not begin a salvation that He cannot or will not finish: "For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." (Romans 11:29.) Jacob's trouble will have an end, and God's people Israel will yet rejoice in His everlasting salvation.

So likewise with individual believers in Christ, be they Jew or Gentile: "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6.)

In that day "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Revelation 21:4.)
[From Ashland Avenue Baptist newspaper, November, 14, 1976, pp. 2-3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More OT Lessons
Baptist History Homepage