“Comfort, Give Comfort to My People”

Chapters 40-55 of the book of the prophet Isaiah have many passages that are familiar to us. They begin with these words, “Comfort, give comfort to my people.” (40:1) There is a lot of hope for the coming redemption.

Promise of salvation, 40:1-11

In this passage, there is a strong undercurrent of hope and encouragement. The passage can be a little confusing, as it is not always clear who is speaking. In verses 3 and 6, it is the voice of the heavenly choir of angels. So, verse 1 is the voice of God, speaking to the angels.

Mission for the angels

God calls upon the angels to comfort the people. God wants to comfort a people that is suffering and under tremendous political pressure. It is a people trapped and oppressed that hopes for a savior. During Isaiah’s lifetime, Judah and Israel were facing ruin as nations. Looking at their neighbors, they saw that everyone else looked stronger than they were.

Looking at their neighbors, it seemed very tempting to adopt their way of life, including their religion and worship of false gods. If these false gods brought such prosperity and power, maybe it was worth a shot.

The prophet is called to bring Israel back to God, to worship of the true God. Many of his discourses are directed at the leaders of Israel to protect the rights of God in a society that is losing its foundations.

The angels will bring the message of God to the people, reminding them that God has not forgotten and that a Savior is coming.

Precursors

“Prepare the way of the Lord!” These words remind us of the mission of John the Baptist, a first cousin of Jesus. They come from this passage of the book of the prophet Isaiah and they speak to all of us. We are all called to be precursors of Jesus, just as John was.

It is a mission that comes long before the earthly life of John the Baptist. The Israelites were called to live in a constant state of expectation, waiting for the coming of the Redeemer. This comes out in the feast of Passover. On the one hand, it is a remembrance of the miraculous salvation of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians. At the same time, it is a proclamation of a hope of a more definitive salvation in the future. The message is that God has saved Israel once; he can do it again.

As Christians, we have witnessed this salvation and should give testimony to it constantly. When we encounter people, who do not know Christ, we are called to show with our lives the joy that is implied in following him.

Word of God

All things are passing in this world, but the Word of God will never pass away. The prophets remind men often that the things of this world are ephemeral. There is no guarantee of their permanence. The Word of God, on the other hand, has already survived thousands of years. Though sometimes, we may feel distant from the cultural context in which it was written, we still find nuggets of wisdom that help us reach correct decisions and live in a godly way today.

Liberator of Israel, 41:1-29

The Lord asserts his power and his presence in salvation history. There is nothing that happens that is unknown to God. He gives a message of accompaniment and love to Israel. He is God, and he will not forget us.

I have called you by name, 45:4-8

The name was seen as a powerful reality for ancient peoples. Names possessed a quasi-magical quality. For God to know our name is for him to be deeply concerned about each one of us. To know a name is to know the person. The names of Isaiah’s sons were highly significant and prophetic. The older son’s name reminded Israel that a remnant would remain, while the younger son’s name promised the destruction of Damascus and Syria.

Lenten themes

Prayer

Chapter 42:10. “Sing to the Lord a new song.” This phrase would inspire fathers of the Church and men of faith for centuries. So much of religious ritual at the time of Isaiah seemed dead and uninspiring. God does not want old hearts. He wants each man and woman to worship him in the best way personally possible. Religion is meant to be a relationship with God, not merely a fulfillment of curious rituals and moral precepts. 

Chapter 49:14-16. It is a common experience for men and women of faith to feel that they have lost contact with God. Here, God promises to engrave the names of his faithful on the palms of his hands. This is a promise of a strong remembrance, that will not come to ruin.

Chapter 55:6-9. “Seek the Lord while he may be found.” This passage is a reminder of the responsibility of the faithful to seek God. It is easy for us to get caught up in our daily activities and to forget the things of God. This is why we have the need for daily prayer.

Fasting

Chapter 51:22-23. The suffering of the people is described. They have been bullied and oppressed. The Lord will not let their cries be in vain.

Almsgiving

Chapter 41:17. The afflicted and needy seek water in vain, but God himself will cause rivers and fountains to spring up, satisfying their necessity.

Questions for reflection

  1. Do you believe that God wants to save you? Do you feel a need for salvation?
  2. What do you do to give witness to God’s intervention in your life?
  3. How has your prayer progressed during this Lent?

Photo by Markus Schumacher on Unsplash

By

Fr. Nicholas Sheehy has worked with adolescents and young people both in the United States and abroad, especially in El Salvador and Germany. He is currently serving on the formation team of the Legion of Christ seminary in Cheshire, Connecticut. He blogs, vlogs and podcasts at www.fathernicholas.com.

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