Comfort after trouble.
God "has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth;" it is no satisfaction to him to punish. As soon as ever those whom he is forced to punish will submit to the chastening rod in a proper spirit, and allow the staff of the Divine indignation to have its due effect upon them, God is ready to comfort. God the Holy Ghost is the One True Comforter. He and he alone can pour balm into the heart, quiet the conscience, enable the stricken soul to feel that it is once more at one with God. A few words may be said on
I. THE CONDITIONS OF COMFORT . As trouble comes upon us to punish sin, the first condition of our receiving comfort is that sin be put away. The next is that we implore God's pardon for our past transgressions, and acknowledge the justice of his chastisement. The third is that we pray to him of his great goodness to remit his anger, and speak comfort to our souls, and pour his peace into our hearts. If we neglect any of these conditions, we have no right to expect that God will bless us with the great blessing of his comforting grace, which is not, like the rain and sunshine, an ordinary blessing of his providence, but is a special boon reserved for those who have prepared themselves to receive it.
II. THE METHODS OF COMFORT . God sometimes comforts us through the instrumentality of our fellow-men. Job's friends were "miserable comforters, all of them" ( Job 16:2 ); but it is not always so with the afflicted. The kind sympathy of friends, the wise counsel of spiritual guides, is often blessed by God to the relief and solace of those who are in trouble. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people," was his address to the prophets of Israel (verse 1); and we may be assured that his Spirit went with the month of his prophets, and made the comfort which they strove to We effectual. Again, sometimes he comforts us by his Word. Many a time has the despairing soul found peace and joy in the promises of the gospel, which are indeed potent to raise up hope in the most despondent, and to comfort the most unhappy. But frequently—perhaps we may say mostly—God gives his comfort himself, without intermediary. The stricken soul strays itself' upon him, leans on him, makes its moan to him; and he "comes to it," and with his blessed presence puts an end to the soul's trouble, dispels the darkness, drives away despair and fear, infuses hope, breathes peace, imparts comfort (see Psalms 71:2 ; Isaiah 51:3 ; Isaiah 66:13 ; 2 Corinthians 1:3 , 2 Corinthians 1:4 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:17 , etc.).
III. THE RESULTS OF COMFORT . The immediate result of comfort is peace and happiness. The soul comforted by God is at least contented, blissful. The further results should be
The prophet's commission.
He is to unfold a theme of consolation, which runs through the whole of the book, introduced by this chapter. He speaks to the prophets: "Ye prophets, prophesy consolation concerning my people" (Targum of Jonathan); or, "O priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem," according to the LXX . The former is probably correct. The prophets were numerous both in Isaiah's time ( Isaiah 3:1 ; Isaiah 29:10 , Isaiah 29:20 ) and during the Babylonian exile ( Jeremiah 29:1 ). Jehovah is now reconciled to his erring people, and calls them no longer by names expressive of rejection or contempt (as in Hosea 1:9 ; Isaiah 6:9 ), but as my people. "Israel, my people, and I their God," is the great word on which both Judaism and Christianity rest. Now the prophets are to "speak to the heart of Jerusalem." It is to be in a voice clear and distinct and penetrating. "Heart," in Hebrew use, is a comprehensive word; it stands for" intelligence, conscience, feeling," in one (cf. Genesis 34:3 ; Genesis 50:21 , where the Hebrew is, "to their hearts"). Perhaps chiefly the latter here. The vocation of the prophet is now especially to comfort and encourage. And so ever with the preacher. We may compare with these words the scene in the synagogue at Nazareth. Christ announces himself as the Bearer of consolation to the heart of his people, to the heart of mankind, especially to the poor and the distressed and dejected. And surely the burden of every ministry may well be the "Christ of consolation."
I. THE MESSAGE TO JERUSALEM .
1 . "Her warfare is fulfilled." "Warfare" standing for "enforced hardships." The metaphor "very suggestive of the peculiar troubles of military service in ancient times:" "Hath not man a warfare [hard service] on the earth?" ( Job 7:1 ). The idea of an appointed time of service enters into the word—the discharge of a duty for which a man has been enlisted , or solemnly engaged , as that of the Levites in the tabernacle ( Numbers 4:23 ; Numbers 8:24 , Numbers 8:25 ). Life as a period of enforced service. It means for most of us, perhaps for all of us, toil, danger, suffering. From this enlistment the only discharge is by death ( Job 14:14 ; Daniel 10:1 ). Our times are in the hand of God. A period is fixed to all suffering and trial. It may calm the apprehension of calamity in the most susceptible heart to see how quick a bound has been set to the utmost infliction of malice. We rapidly approach a brink over which no enemy can follow us. "Let them rave; thou art quiet in thy grave."
2 . "Her guilt is paid off." For punishment is viewed as the payment of a debt , and so as the satisfaction of the demands of Divine justice. In the Law, the sword and dispersion among the heathen are threatened against the disobedient and the unreformed; but never does Jehovah forget the covenant between him and the people; he is ever ready to suspend punishment when they suspend sin. Here the people are represented "as having suffered what God had appointed them—endured the natural punishment he saw to be necessary. They had served out the long term he had appointed. Now he is satisfied, has pleasure in releasing them and restoring them to their own land." Happy that moment in the personal life when the soul can be assured that suffering has done its work, and that it may be self-forgiven, because God-forgiven.
"At the last, do as the heavens have done:
Forget your evil; with them, forgive yourself."
3. "'She hath received double for all her sins.' The expression seems to denote what is amply sufficient (cf. Jeremiah 17:18 ; Revelation 18:6 )" (Cheyne); "As much as God judged to be sufficient" (Grotius); "Double to be received for large and abundant" (Calvin). The great law of compensation running through life, we must believe, is exact in its operation. God makes no mistakes in his reckonings. Suffering may continue long after sin has been forgiven. If the memory of guilt be still poignant, if the consequences of sin seem still "ever before us," it is as if God were saying, "Not enough hast thou suffered yet to know how precious is the peace of forgiveness." And when that blessed sense of forgiveness steals into the soul, it is the symptom that the hand of God is removed, that the cup of sorrow has been drained, that the medicine has done its work. The justice of our God will exact sufficient from us in the way of suffering; his clemency and mercy will never add a superfluous stroke from the scourge; rather he will stop short of the full exaction—thirty-nine rather than the full forty stripes.
II. THE MYSTERIOUS CALL . From what is to be believed of Jehovah, we pass to what is to be done for Jehovah. So ever does faith push on to practice. The internal act of the mind realizes itself and is made perfect in the external act of the life.
1 . Mysteriously a voice bids the listening heart prepare for Jehovah. It is a "non-Divine, yet supernatural voice." The poetic effect is heightened by the mystery (cf. Isaiah 51:9 ; Isaiah 52:1 ; Isaiah 57:14 ; Isaiah 62:10 ). Similar voices are spoken of in the Book of Revelation ( Revelation 1:10 , Revelation 1:12 ; Revelation 4:1 ; Revelation 10:4 , Revelation 10:8 ). There are times when the breath of coming change is felt stirring, and voices are heard calling to men to welcome it in and to help it on. Whence come they? Who knows? A spiritual world is all about us. It has music, and words; but while "this muddy vesture of decay doth grossly close us in, we cannot hear." But at times they pierce through our sensuality and break up our lethargic indolence. "Clear ye Jehovah's way in the desert." The Divine monarch is about to make a progress. Let the heart of the nation be as a highway for their God ( Psalms 84:5 ). So the Gospels understand the cry. From another point of view, the way of Jehovah through the desert is symbolic of his people's destinies. Babylon, as the scene of captivity, reminds us of the scene of captivity of yore in Egypt. When the temple was destroyed and Israel went forth, it was as if Jehovah had departed—perhaps to his sacred seat in the north, where Ezekiel ( Ezekiel 1:4 ) sees the cherubic chariot. His coming back is the people's coming back under his leadership. The imagery of clearing the way may be illustrated from the practice of Oriental princes. Diodorus tells of Semiramis that, in her march to Ecbatana, she had precipices digged down, and hollows filled up, so as to leave an everlasting memorial of herself—the "road of Semiramis' (cf. Baruch 5:7). Then the glory of Jehovah, eclipsed or hidden through his people's suffering and exile, will shine forth in its splendour, and all mankind shall look on.
2 . Again the voice is heard saying, "Call!" And the prophet answers, "What shall I call?" The burden of the cry is the frailty of man , and the eternity of the truth. Homer compares the race of man to the successive generations of the leaves of the wood; the prophet to the grass and the flowers (of. Psalms 90:5 , Psalms 90:6 ). Israel and Assyria are both politically extinct, and Babylon is hurrying to its end. The thought is suggested, though not expressed, that if Israel is to rise again from its ashes, it can only be by abstaining from all attempts at secular aggrandizement. The new Israel will be, in all the circumstances of its growth, supernatural. And what is true of one people is true of all. Princes, nobles, and monarchs, armies and magistrates, are feeble like grass and will soon pass away. On the one hand, they would not be able to accomplish what was needed for the deliverance of the people; on the other, their oppressors had no power to continue their bondage, since they were like grass and must pass away. But Jehovah had all power, and was ever-enduring, and able to fulfil all his promises, especially those concerning Israel ( Isaiah 44:26 ; Isaiah 45:19 ; Isaiah 52:6 ; Isaiah 63:1 ; Jeremiah 44:28 , Jeremiah 44:29 ). And the healing results are to be known by all mankind.
III. THE INSPIRING VISION —The prophet is carried away in spirit to Palestine, and sees the fulfilment of the promise drawing near. He personifies Zion and Jerusalem, and calls upon them to lift up their voices and announce to the cities of Judah the approach of God. Perhaps he idealizes the city, or is thinking of the city out of sight—the spiritual commonwealth of which the earthly and visible one was the type. Lo! he comes! the God and Leader of the people returning to the city, the temple, the land. He will come in his might; the arm is the very symbol of his almightiness; and it rules " for him," i.e. for the peculiar people, the people of his possession. He comes to recompense his friends and to execute vengeance on his foes. The ruler of a people is fitly imaged as a shepherd, and they as his flock. And now he has sought and found his sheep again, and will once more lead them to green pastures ( Jeremiah 31:10 ; Jeremiah 50:19 ; Ezekiel 34:11-16 ), and, as a good shepherd, will not overdrive the suckling ewes ( Genesis 33:13 ). In the Syrian plains the frequent removal to fresh pastures is very destructive to the young, and shepherds may now be seen in the Orient carrying, on such occasions, the lambs in their bosoms. We need, by any means in our power, travel, and observation, to realize strongly the grave responsibility , the constant anxiety , the patient and unwearied tendance , connected with the shepherd's life in the East. Compare such a life with that of the hunter, who, from watching, pursuing, outwitting wild beasts, comes to partake of their fierce and cunning nature. The life of the shepherd draws upon the fund of love and tenderness in his heart; it is a humanizing life, full of a fine education; elevating by means of condescension. Then how rich a symbol is the pastoral character of the nature of the redeeming God! And how do the numerous passages in the New Testament, in which Jesus is so described, start into life and beauty, when these things are considered ( John 10:1-42 .; Hebrews 13:20 ; 1 Peter 2:25 ; 1 Peter 5:4 )! There is an ineffable union of might with tenderness in the character of the Redeemer-God, which should in some sort be reflected in the pastoral character of Christ's servants ( John 16:15-17 ).—J.
"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem." Here, after prophetic revelation of danger and warning against the Nemesis of sin, we come upon the evangel of love. For God delights not in denunciation or death. All his universe testifies that he loves life, that he "has no pleasure in the death of the wicked."
I. HERE IS REITERATION . "Comfort ye, comfort ye." It is an inspiration of earnestness in conveying the heavenly message. For God is the God of comfort. Not comfort in sin, but comfort to all who seek to be delivered from it. This is like the "Verily, verily." It gives emphasis to hope. For love deals not in cold aphorisms, but repeats itself, that the heart may be sure of the message. To convince of sin is not enough. To expose evil may be the work of the moral dramatist. To scorn it may be the work of the satirist. But God is more than a Judge; he is a Saviour. The Son of man came (as his great work), "not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved."
II. HERE IS REST . "Her warfare is accomplished." The weapons to be put into the hands of the faithful suffice to secure victory, and therefore the warfare is spoken of as accomplished. Looking forward to the Redeemer's days, Isaiah reminds us that his sacrifice is to be complete, as we read in Hebrews, "Once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Thus Christ spake of his own death, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." This is the spirit of the New Testament. "Iniquity is pardoned." All who believe have full and free remission of sins. And the warfare within them must end in holy conquest—every rebel flag on every province of the nature will be hauled down, and every worldly enemy will be laid low. "This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith."
III. HERE IS DEPENDENCE . We receive double from "the Lord's hand." This is the theme of all the true Churches of Christ. Whether we express our gratitude for redemption in the words of Lyte or Watts, Keble or Doddridge, Faber or Wesley, it is still the same, and antedates the great Church worship of heaven: "Unto him that loved us, and washed us kern our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God,… be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."—W.M.S.
Pardon and penalty.
Israel is to be comforted by her teachers and pastors, because the time of her exile, which is the period of the Divine sentence, has nearly expired, and the hour of her redemption is consequently nigh. If we ask what ground of comfort we find here for the Christian Church, or for the chastened human soul, we have to reply—
I. THAT COMFORT IS NOT TO BE FOUND IN THE SUPPOSED LENIENCY OF GOD . No thought can be more perilously false than the imagination that God is too great to concern himself with our misdeeds, or too "good" to take offence with our shortcoming. Scripture, providence, and a sound philosophy alike protest against that ruinous doctrine. Sin is clearly a most serious thing, a heinous and terrible departure in the sight of God. Let no man comfort his soul with the hope that "le ben Dieu" will overlook his life of impiety or his various acts of iniquity. God does, indeed, pardon sin on man's penitence and faith; but even then pardon does not absolutely exclude penalty. We may not press into our service here the word "pardoned" ( Isaiah 40:2 ), as it may perhaps there signify expiated ; but elsewhere the redemption of Israel is treated as an act of Divine mercy. Yet here we have judgment and mercy blended. The guilty nation is not to be restored until "her warfare" (the time of her service) has been "accomplished," until she has received at the Lord's hand "double" (full and ample chastisement) for all her sins. And the fact is, as we find in our daily experience, that when God now pardons and restores, he lets his reconciled children feel the effects of their past folly and sin. The consequences of a vicious youth go far on into even Christian manhood. The penalties of an unwise and irreverent fatherhood follow the parent to the very foot of the grave. God's mercy does not immediately arrest the tide of suffering and sorrow which flows from a long course of wrong-doing. The man "bears his penalty until his warfare" (his time of servitude) "is accomplished;" and that is often a long time, covering many years, extending over whole periods of human life.
II. THAT COMFORT IS TO BE FOUND IN THE FACT OF A REAL RESTORATION to the love and favour of God. In a very true sense, when a man repents and seeks the Divine mercy in Christ Jesus, he is one of God's "people" ( Isaiah 40:1 ); God is his God, as he was not before ( Isaiah 40:1 ). And the ills that he now suffers lose their stern aspect; penalty becomes discipline—it is no longer the sentence of the Judge, it is the correction of the Father.
III. THAT COMFORT IS TO BE FOUND IN THE RELEASE OF DEATH and the free(loin of the heavenly country. When the end of life's hard service comes, and the note of the soul's return shall be sounded, then shall there be a glorious deliverance from evil, and entrance on the highest good.—C.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem ; literally, speak ye to the heart of Jerusalem. Address her inmost feelings, her very spirit and soul. Her warfare is accomplished … is pardoned … hath received . These perfects can only be viewed as "perfects of prophetic certainty." According to every theory of the authorship of Isaiah 40-46, they were written before the close of the Captivity, when Israel's warfare was not yet accomplished, her iniquity not yet fully pardoned. Isaiah, however, sees all as already accomplished in the Divine counsels, and so announces it to the people. Israel's warfare, her long term of hard service (comp. Job 7:1 ), will assuredly come to an end; she will thoroughly turn to God, and then her iniquity will be pardoned, she will be considered to have suffered enough. Double. "It was the ordinary rule under the Law that 'for all manner of trespass' a man condemned by the judges should pay double" (Kay; comp. Exodus 22:9 ). Heathen legislators adopted the same rule for certain offences (Arist, 'Eth. Nic.,' 3.5, § 8). It is not here intended to assert that the law of Divine judgment is to exact double; but only to assure Israel that, having been amply punished, she need fear no further vengeance (comp. Isaiah 61:7 ).