Why Hope? Isaiah 40:-11, 25-31

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankel argued that the “loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect on a man.”  As a result of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, Frankel contended that when a person no longer possesses a motive for living, no future to look forward toward, that person will curl up in a corner and die.  “Any attempt to restore man’s inner strength in camp,” he wrote, “had first to succeed in showing him some future goal.”

            After their defeat to the Babylonians, the majority of the Israelites were forced in to exile.  Everything looked hopeless.  It was against this backdrop that the prophet spoke, informing the people that their exile was not a sign of Yawheh’s weakness, but rather an indictment of their infidelity to the covenant.

            Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, however, Yahweh would remain faithful.  Yahweh promised to spare a remnant and restore the nation.  It was this assurance that provided the prophet with a foundation of hope for the future.

The good news of hope

            The prophet appeared on the scene announcing the good news that Yahweh (through the words of the prophet) was taking an “initiative to bring comfort into the midst of the suffering and despair of exile” (Bruce Birch, Singing the Lord’s Song, Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1981, page 30).  Even in exile, Yahweh had not abandoned Israel.  The strong arm of Yahweh (v 10) would bring their victory over the dark powers of despair.

            In response to this prophetic hope, the prophet invites the people of Israel to join him in heralding the good news that their suffering was about to end and that Yahweh’s promises were near fulfillment.  The evangelized become evangelists, proclaiming the good tidings that Yahweh, like a strong yet tender shepherd (v 11), would restore and unite the nation of Israel.

            The prophet goes on to contrast the differences between Yahweh and the false gods of the Babylonians (vv 11-24).  These verses describe Yahweh’s sovereignty over creation.  The prophet reminds Israel that none of the pagan gods of the Babylonians could even compare to the “Holy One” of Israel

(v 25).  The “Holy One” is solely responsible for all creation.

            In exile, the Israelites were tempted to renounce faith in Yahweh.  Their culture suggested that a defeat at the hands of their enemies indicated that the gods of their enemies were more powerful than Yahweh.  In addition, their years in exile deepened the feeling that God had forgotten them, abandoned them, or was too weak to save them.

            Placing words into the mouths of the despairing people, the prophet asked, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God?’ ”

Then, responding to the challenge, the prophet declares that Yahweh is “the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth” (v 28).

            In other words, the prophet says that the people’s concept of God is entirely too small; they have forgotten the true dimensions of his strength and understanding” (Page Kelley, The Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 5, Nashville:  Broadman Press, 1971, page 301).

            Yahweh is all-powerful, transcendent and his ways are beyond human understanding.  But two things are certain:  Yahweh is the one true God (vv 12-24) and the word of Yahweh is trustworthy (v 8).  The covenant remains in place and the people have reason to hope.

            The restoration of the nation is still somewhere in the future.  By faith, however, they could make the benefits of that future hope a present reality.  The prophet invited his hearers to enter a new reality based upon the hopeful promises of God.  Things may have appeared hopeless for God’s people but true reality should be based upon God’s promises.

            Christians understand such hope.  Jesus invites all who would be his disciples to enter a new reality that he called “the kingdom of God.”  Though the fullness of God’s kingdom cannot yet be seen, we do not despair. We trust that God’s promises are true, and so we live the life of a faithful disciple seeking to minister the benefits of God’s kingdom to the entire world.

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